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NSW Budget: Schools take lion’s share of Digital Restart Fund

by Jack Le Guay •
Free resource

The NSW Government has released its 2020-21 Budget,which outlines the first funding commitments for its three-year $1.6bn Digital Restart Fund (DRF).

Announced earlier this year, the DRF cements the NSW approach of treating digital as infrastructure.

The DRF moves away from traditional large ICT waterfall projects which have in the past been associated with scope creep, poor governance and time and cost blow-outs. Announcing the DRF in July, Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello was scathing about “parasitic arrangements” some suppliers had established with government agencies. A faster, more agile funding model requiring approval through the state’s Delivery and Performance Committee (DaPCo) ensuring citizen-centric and data-driven design. The approach would also ensure projects are ‘chunked up’ into small contracts of no more than $20m, according to Dominello.


The largest slice of the digital funding pie has been dedicated to an initiative to "close the digital gap between regional and metropolitan schools". Over two years, $365.8m is to be invested in teacher training, infrastructure and digital platforms with automation capabilities. A total of $85m of this funding will be immediately released to 97 schools through the DRF, suggesting that this project may have exceeded Dominello’s limit for small contracts. However, the NSW Schools Digital Strategy treats individual schools as agencies responsible for their own requirements, potentially explaining the large figures.

$500m of the DRF is to be spent in 2020-21, with $550m set aside for 2021-22 and 2022-23. A total of $400m over the life of the DRF will be recurrent expenditure on ICT infrastructure, rather than new policy initiatives.

The government has also taken advantage of its pre-existing digital infrastructure to provide direct fiscal stimulus measures. $500m will be spent on “Out and About” digital vouchers, accessible to all citizens though the Service NSW app to help stimulate the hospitality and entertainment industries. SMEs will also be able to access up to $1500 each through the MyService NSW portal, which can be used towards the cost of government fees. Measures like these also have the added benefit of encouraging more individuals and businesses to sign up to the two platforms.

Outside of digital initiatives, funding commitments favour transport infrastructure including the Sydney Metro West line, Metro City and Southwest extensions and highway upgrades. Like other governments, the Coalition’s intention behind  large infrastructure commitments is to boost job creation and provide economic stimulus.

Other initiatives funded by the DRF include:

$54.5m over three years for the Digital Courts Reform Program to fund courts and tribunal technology upgrades, including a single point of access for all services and a pilot centralised digital case file management system.

$45.8m over three years ($10m immediate) for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to implement the ePlanning program, which has been building on NSW digital infrastructure such as the Spatial Digital Twin.

$17.5m over two years ($3.5m immediate) for Revenue NSW customer service experience upgrades integrating with Service NSW.

$3.75m over two years for the Service NSW Digital Renewal Notice Program to provide an option for customers to receive vehicle registration renewal notices and reminders via email or text.

$4.95m over two years for Service NSW cyber security upgrades.

Other funding commitments include:

$30m for cyber security investments aimed at protecting highly sensitive data in Communities and Justice.

$6.1m for critical infrastructure and ICT enhancements for the Youth Justice System Reform Program.

$19m over two years for various projects and upgrades for the TAFE Commission including: IT network refresh, cyber security enhancement, digital course migration, staff integrated portal, regional data centre consolidation.

$6.6m over three years for real-time prescription monitoring implementation, following other efforts in Victoria, South Australia and ACT.

$13.5m for digital policing new initiatives including an “integrated intelligence system”, firearms registry and Tranche 1 of the National Criminal Intelligence System.

$4.4m over two years for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for the “CASES Matter Management System Replacement”.

$40.5m over three years for the NSW Legislature, including $26.3m for the creation of a Digital Parliament.

$3m for Land and Housing Corporation ICT upgrades.

A three-year “NSW Pathology Single Statewide Laboratory Information System” was announced with an undisclosed budget allocation. Other jurisdictions have undertaken similar initiatives: South Australia (total spend: $30m), WA ($28m), Queensland ($61m) and ACT ($15m).

$217m in additional funding for the Critical Communications Enhancement Program was also announced in preparation for coming bushfire seasons.

Liberal model favours digital?

With the handing down of both the Tasmanian and NSW 2020-21 Budgets, all Liberal-led governments have now revealed considerable commitments to ICT funding as part of their COVID-19 recovery and stimulus. The WA Labor Budget had little in the way of new digital initiative funding for various reasons, however the Victorian Labor Budget has included massive commitments to telecommunications infrastructure. If other Labor-led jurisdictions’ budgets reveal depressed funding commitments for digital government and service delivery measures, it could indicate somewhat of an ideological split in Australian jurisdictional approaches to ICT investment.

The table below shows that NSW outspends all other Liberal governments with digital initiatives on a per capita basis, which is understandable given the state’s digital-champion approach. However, Tasmania, which has long languished in digital government scoring, appears to have made a considerable commitment, outspending South Australia’s copycat $120m “Digital Restart Fund”, but  the Liberal government in Tasmania presumably has a lot to catch up on.

New digital initiative funding to be spent in 2020-21 as a ratio to Public Sector Full Time Equivalent (FTE) workforce and to Jurisdictional Population1


Public Sector FTE ratio

Jurisdictional Pop. ratio

New South Wales






South Australia







1FTE data from 2019 state workforce profiles. NSW budget figure based on $500m DRF commitment, SA: $57m DRF commitment, Tasmania: $26.5m, Federal: Intermedium Budget IT. Pop. Data from ABS National, state and territory population March 2020. Does not include implicit or unpublished initiatives.

2Headcount used, no FTE.

  • NSW
  • Hardware
  • IT Services
  • Labour Hire
  • Software
  • Telecommunications
  • Border Security
  • Defence
  • Education
  • Finance & Services
  • Health
  • Human Services
  • Industry & Investment
  • Infrastructure
  • Justice
  • Legislature
  • Local Government
  • PM / Premier & Cabinet
  • Policy
  • Resources
  • Revenue
  • Transport
  • Treasury