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Labor government has digital minister decisions to make

by Cameron Sinclair •
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The new Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten has given his first major address on digital service delivery but made only small reference to digital and ICT matters, leaving agencies and suppliers none the wiser about what the future holds for digital and ICT investment.

The Albanese Government is also yet to clarify whether it will continue with the Digital and Data Ministers Meeting (DDMM) and the Digital Economy Taskforce, or send anyone to the G20 Digital Ministers meeting in Bali – which coincides with the recently announced national Jobs Summit on 1-2 September 2022.

Shorten delivered the keynote address of the AFR-hosted Government Services Summit in Canberra on 26 July, coinciding with the first sitting day of the new parliament.

He used the speech to welcome cross-government collaboration and the use of “data for good policy”.

He proposed that digital prescriptions could be issued through myGov, criticised DFAT’s heavily paper-based and manual passport application process and reiterated the government’s intent to conduct a review of Robodebt, which he characterised as ‘beta-testing’ a new technology on vulnerable people.

However, his speech offered little guidance on how the new government will proceed on the various digital initiatives established under the Coalition, apart from noting that Finance Minister Senator Katy Gallagher now has responsibility for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

In the previous parliament, Shorten’s erstwhile counterpart in ‘government services’, Stuart Robert, had oversight of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and chaired the Data and Digital Ministers Meeting (and its precursors) for three years.

Robert worked on digital initiatives across portfolios, including Home Affairs (Digital Passenger Declaration), Employment (Workforce Australia), Trade (Simplified Trade Systems Taskforce), Indigenous Affairs (Indigenous Procurement Policy), and Health (COVIDsafe App).

Under Stuart Robert the DDMM met consistently, and largely monthly, until the change of government. It has not met since March 2022 and its fate remains uncertain.

Intermedium has documented the correlation between a government’s digital achievements and the commitment of its ministers in its Digital Government Readiness and Maturity Report. Robert, NSW minister Victor Dominello and ACT minister Chris Steele were the only three ministers with perfect (or near perfect) attendance records.

Much of what was on the DDMM agenda four years ago remains a ‘work in progress’ in 2022. These include data sharing between jurisdictions, (where there has been virtually no progress on the pilots announced in July 2021), digital identity, and life events.

If the DDMM were to continue it will need a Commonwealth chair with as much personal commitment as Robert if it has any chance of being effective.

While Katy Gallagher has oversight of the DTA and data policy, which has been a major focus of the DDMM’s work, she has a lot on her plate as the Minister for Finance, Minister for the Public Service, and Minister for Women as well as Manager of Government Business in the Senate, where she will be responsible for negotiating and passing legislation.

Shorten is therefore firming up as the minister most likely to emerge at the helm of the DDMM, should it continue. He has been shadowing the government services portfolio for three years, lining up first against Stuart Robert and then Linda Reynolds.

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