The Digital Transformation Agency’s (DTA) budget-funded blockchain investigation – requested directly by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – could fast-track the adoption of distributed ledger technology to improve government service delivery.
Speaking at Senate Estimates hearings this week, DTA’s Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Peter Alexander said that the Prime Minister had written to Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan to ask the DTA to “look into” the technology, after “a number of agencies had commenced looking at blockchain” and that “lots of vendors were coming to government and talking about blockchain”.
Following the written request, DTA received $700,000 in the 2018-19 budget to “investigate areas where blockchain technology could offer the most value for Government services.”
At the CeBIT conference in May, DTA’s then acting CEO Randall Brugeaud revealed that the investigation will initially focus on exploring potential applications of the technology to improve welfare payments systems, with a view to producing a prototype by the end of the 2018-19 financial year.
DTA’s blockchain investigation will be conducted in two stages. The first stage will involve research into the current maturity of blockchain, government’s readiness to adopt the technology, and the problems that blockchain might be able to solve. The second stage will be the development of a solution for one of the identified problems.
According to Brugeaud, the blockchain solution will incorporate DTA’s Digital Service Standard, which necessitates a user-centred approach.
Elsewhere in the public sector, a few select agencies have started experimenting with blockchain to make government operations more efficient and improve the delivery of services.
The Department of Health (DoH) has recently signalled its intent to implement the technology – as reported exclusively in ZDNet – to record who is accessing its data, after the department committed to enabling authorised scientific researchers to access metadata from patient health records.
Agile Digital in collaboration with Vault Systems delivered a Proof of Concept (POC) to DoH in mid-2017. The solution relies on Agile Digital's blockchain technology via Vault Systems' ASD-certified “protected” cloud.
Agile Digital is currently in talks with DTA for the possible use of this platform by other agencies.
The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is considering blockchain as part of its agenda to modernise trade flows, according to submissions to a Joint Standing Committee (JSC) Inquiry into the Trade System and Digital Economy early this year.
DHA expects that the take-up of blockchain will lead to more efficient border inspection clearance procedures. The technology can assist in: reducing trade documentation; processing costs and human errors; providing visibility into the supply chain; and “improving the information available for risk analysis and targeting”.
Further, DHA’s submission states that the “trade information required by governments for border clearance purposes is created by industry operators in the international supply chain” who might be utilising blockchain technology. As such, DHA is “assessing how it could leverage information that might be held on a trade blockchain.”
Australia’s financial intelligence agency Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) are both considering using blockchain to execute secure transactions of digital currencies. ASX has spent the last two years developing a solution, and AUSTRAC is now in the process of developing a Proof of Concept.
Federal government is not the only jurisdiction looking to harness blockchain technology.
The New South Wales Government announced a three-year $11.4 million agreement with Data61 in mid-2017 to trial the use of blockchain in cross-agency information sharing around cybersecurity.
In Victoria, the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee received a submission in 2016 from Australia Post advocating the use of blockchain to “deliver secure, scalable and reliable digital solutions aligned to the digital voting challenge.”