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Who's Who in the New Albanese Cabinet (and their ICT priorities)

by Cameron Sinclair •
Free resource

With the announcement of the full Albanese Ministry, and related Machinery of Government (MoG) changes, Intermedium offers a sweep over the ICT, digital, and cyber security related portfolio appointments, the projects they are inheriting (including recent Budget funding), and pledges made during the election.

Responsibility for de-regulation, data policy, and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) will return to the Department of Finance. Katy Gallagher replaces Stuart Robert at the centre of all government ICT, digital, and cyber security spending, and will likely become chair of the national Digital and Data Ministers Meeting.

There are some changes to how the incoming Labor Government has assigned portfolio structures and ministerial titles, and it is not yet clear exactly what the reporting lines and supporting roles will be in some areas. It appears – at least initially – that the five person leadership group sworn in after the election will have significant cross-portfolio oversight.

Minister for Finance and the Public Service – Katy Gallagher

Gallagher moves into cabinet after seven years shouldering a heavy work load the senate, and three years shadowing both portfolios. She looks likely to exercise a greater degree of control over both spending and procurement than her predecessor in the role, Simon Birmingham.

The high-profile senator inherits plans to develop a new Whole of Government digital platform, dubbed GovDXP, to run alongside and eventually replace myGov, and to “actively explore” the adoption of a national digital identity ecosystem to provide interoperability and mutual recognition.

Labor has pledged to conduct a review into the effectiveness of the DTA, and made it clear that it wants all departments to “eliminate unnecessary spend on contractors, consultants and external vendors.”

Gallagher has been particularly diligent in her scrutiny of contractors during Senate Estimates, where she has regularly criticised the previous government for possible violations of Commonwealth Procurement Rules (CPRs).

The senator is well known to Canberrans, and her appointment will be welcomed by many in the APS.

She spent three years (1998-01) as an organiser for the ACT Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), before being elected to the territory Legislative Assembly, where she held a wide range of ministries between 2002-14, including health, education, and industrial relations, becoming Treasurer in 2008 and Chief Minister in 2011.

Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security – Clare O’Neil

The news that O’Neil was being assigned to these two sprawling and notoriously challenging portfolios came as a  surprise, given they had been in the  hands of shadow ministers Kristina Keneally and Tim Watts for three years.

She inherits responsibility for a range of cyber security initiatives, as well as a public service that, according to a string of ANAO reports, consistently struggles to comply with basic cyber hygiene obligations.

As minister, she will oversee new critical infrastructure powers and Project Redspice,* the $5 billion cyber security uplift that was the centrepiece of the 2022-23 Budget.

Watts previously indicated Labor would support Redspice, while noting the sector was being hamstrung by delays in processing security clearances.

There is also $30 million in the 2022-23 Budget to further support four Cyber Hub pilots, which have been ‘announced’ on several occasions since being included in the August 2020 cyber security strategy.

One of her first orders of business may be whether to review the introduction of the much maligned Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD), which continues to cause frustration as international travel resumes.

It is not yet clear how the various elements of cyber security oversight will be spread across the ministry.

The Australian Federal Police (which has considerable cyber capability) has been moved to the Attorney General’s portfolio; and  responsibility for the ASD (and Project Redspice) was previously shared with the Assistant Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology – Ed Husic

Husic’s work in opposition, initially as a junior minister for Digital Innovation and Startups (2015-16), then Digital Economy (2016-19), and his frequent attendance at tech industry trade shows, has left many with the impression he is the pre-eminent ambassador for the Australian ICT sector.

He will oversee a huge industry development war chest, with $20 billion set aside for the Rewiring the Nation Corporation (RNC) to rebuild and modernise the national energy grid. A further $15 billion for the National Reconstruction Fund/Authority to drive private investment in new manufacturing and industrial capability will include $1 billion for a Critical Technologies Fund to expand capability in areas such as AI, robotics and quantum computing.

The new Department of Industry, Science and Resources will take responsibility for “national policy issues relating to the digital economy” that were previously held by Senator Jane Hume in the Treasury portfolio.

It is not clear whether Labor will continue to maintain the PM’s Digital Technology Taskforce, which received $4.8 million in the March Budget to continue for a further two years.

Labor will establish a Future Made in Australia Office, backed up by laws that will lock in key elements of Commonwealth Procurement Rules (CPRs) to support local industry to take advantage of government purchasing opportunities.

While Husic will exercise significant control over industry and innovation policy and grants, he does not have a substantive role in government procurement.

Minister for Health and Aged Care - Mark Butler 

Butler inherits several ongoing digital initiatives in the Health portfolio. He has served as the shadow minister since January 2021 and was a junior minister for both Health (2009-10) and Mental Health and Ageing (2010-13) during the Rudd-Gillard era.

The recent Budget included $96.8 million for phase three of the Health Delivery Modernisation Program, which aims to automate claims processing for Medicare and other health payments.

Additionally, $32.3 million will go towards the Intergovernmental Agreement on Digital Health (primarily supporting My Health Record) and there is another $2.9 million for a data migration program at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Labor pledged $220 million for the Strengthening Medicare GP Grants program, would see investment in IT upgrades to support telehealth services.

Butler will have his hands full addressing the many challenges in the Aged Care sector, where he will be supported by Assistant Minister Anika Wells. There are a further three junior ministers in Health portfolio: Ged Kearney, Emma McBride, Malarndirri McCarthy.

Minister for Communications – Michelle Rowland

Rowland enters cabinet after a nine-year stretch shadowing the communications portfolio (initially as Shadow Assistant Minister, from 2013-16). She was a lawyer specialising in competition and regulation in the telecommunications, media and technology sectors prior to entering parliament in 2010.

She inherits a $1.3 billion funding plan for regional telcos, with the lion’s share ($811.8 million) going to Mobile Black Spot and Regional Connectivity programs and the remaining $480 million to improving NBN infrastructure (NBN Co will contribute a further $270 million to bring the total value of the upgrade to $750 million).

This substantial boost was included in the 2022-23 Budget in response to the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review (RTR), a triennial inquiry chaired by long-serving former MP Luke Hartsuyker, which commentators noted included “nearly all of the recommendations made in the past three RTR reports.”

Rowland was responsible for developing Labor’s Better Connectivity for Rural and Regional Australia plan, that includes:

  • $400 million for rural mobile coverage;
  • $20 million for an independent audit of national mobile coverage;
  • $30 million for connected-machinery tech on farms; and
  • $6 million for a Regional Tech Hub.

Labor has also pledged to establish a National Anti-Scam Centre, based on the successful UK ‘Fusion Cell’ model (the National Economic Crime Center), bringing together telecommunications providers, law enforcement, banks, and consumer advocates to ‘harden’ protections for consumers and small businesses.

She will serve under portfolio minister Catherine King in a renamed (word salad) mega agency – the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DITRDCA).

Notable Mentions 

Minister for Government Services – Bill Shorten

There had been speculation that Shorten would replace Robert on the DDMM after three years as shadow minister, and while this remains a possibility, we suspect his primary focus will now be (and really always was) the NDIS, which he played a significant role in establishing.

The former party leader’s role sits (on paper at least) under the new Social Services portfolio minister Amanda Rishworth. Labor has pledged to conduct a ‘user audit’ of the MyGov platform, and a Robodebt Royal Commission. We anticipate that the some of the digital elements of the portfolio will be shared with Assistant Minister Justine Elliot.

Minister for Trade – Don Farrell

The powerbroker will inherit the ambitious digital transformation agenda of the Trade Simplification Task Force, established by former minister Dan Tehan and led by former DTA head Randall Brugeaud.

The 2023-Budget allocates $267 million over four years for various trade modernisation initiatives, including $127 million to expand the Digital Services to Take Farmers to Market program, $11.7 million for the Trade Information Service, and $48 million that we assume will support Brugeaud’s team.

Farrell will be supported by NSW Senator Tim Ayers as Assistant Minister for Trade.

Minister for Skills and Training – Brendan O’Connor

The experienced O’Connor will inherit another ambitious digital agenda as Minister for Skills and Training, under Tony Burke in an expanded employment and industrial relations portfolio.

He will likely oversee the 1 July launch of the Workforce Australia digital platform, a ‘single front door’ for employment and skills programs that has resulted in many government-funded ‘shop front’ employment services close (or as the Budget paper notes, “a refreshed and refocussed network of providers”).

While the structure of the new department will emerge in due course, Labor has pledged to establish a new entity, Jobs and Skills Australia, modelled on ‘Skills Future’ in Singapore. The entity will conduct data driven workforce forecasting, identify skills shortages, and analyse the effectiveness of the training and vocational education system.

O’Connor spent the last three as Shadow Defence Minister. Elected in 2001 after 15 years as a union official, and he held multiple ministries throughout the Rudd-Gillard years.

Minister for Defence – Richard Marles

Marles move into the Defence portfolio has been an open secret for months. He was the Shadow Minister for more than 4 years, from 2016-21. The long list of ongoing ICT project funding across the portfolio has largely recieved bipartisan support, and only time will tell whether any significant changes will be made.

During the election Labor pledged $1.2 billion in funding over ten years to create of an Australian Advanced Strategic Research Agency (ASRA). The agency is modelled on the long-running US DARPA program, responsible for innovations leading to the creation of the internet, personal computers and GPS alongside other ubiquitous technologies.  

Treasurer – Jim Chalmers

While Chalmers will obviously control the Budget, as Intermedium has noted, he is also very close to the country’s top public servant, the newly appointed Secretary of PMC, Glyn Davis.

It is not yet clear whether Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones or Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Andrew Leigh, will have responsibility for the ABS (which has extensive data collection responsibilities, including for Data.gov.au and Closing the Gap) and the Consumer Data Right, which was allocated $38.4 million over three years (then $12.6 million ongoing) in the recent Budget.

Further reading

Intermedium has written extensively about possible changes under a Labor Government:

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