The federal parliament returned amidst a cascade of news and happenings for government ICT sector, including some notable changes to at the top of the public service, the release of a raft of fresh strategies, policies, legislation, audits, and reports - and we witnessed the first (known) use of ChatGPT in an Australian parliament.
MPs returned to Canberra for the first of five sitting weeks between now and 30 March. The Lower House is slated to begin by debating legislation to establish a national reconstruction fund; and we expect to get more information on several policy proposals in senate estimates next week.
On the back of the myGov User Audit report released last week, and a commitment in the Digital and Data Ministers Meeting (DDMM) back in November, we are also expecting the parliament to (at least try and make) some progress on the Trusted Digital Identity Framework this year, but it is not clear when.
There will be opportunities for data specialists emerging from the first national Road Safety Action Plan (2023-25) to support the National Road Safety Strategy, released this week. The trucking and transport sector has been complaining about the ‘salad’ of state-based crash data for years, and the DDMM committed to making improvements in August 2021, before running into obstacles a few months later.
The government has confirmed an independent review of disaster management funding to be led by Andrew Colvin, a former AFP Commissioner, with a final report due in April 2024. We expect that it will once again urge more funding for devices and data to predict bushfires and natural disasters.
A Medicare taskforce report has called for the primary care system to be modernised through data reform data and digital reform. The short (12 page) report includes specific recommendations to significantly increase the health information available to individuals and health care professionals in the My Health Record platform, and for further investment in data to support health system planning.
A review of the Privacy Act commissioned under the Coalition Government was handed to Attorney General Mark Dreyfus in December, and we expect departmental consultations on overhauling legislation to begin in the coming months.
Also, Australia’s first national quantum strategy is with Minister Ed Husic for consideration and is expected to be published in early 2023.
Tony Cook will replace Dr Michele Bruniges as the Secretary of Education upon her retirement in April. Cook is currently Deputy Secretary at the department, which was allocated $3.6 million in the October Budget to develop a business case to replace its aging payment systems.
In case you missed it, last week Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong visited the UK and France to discuss the “increasingly challenging strategic environment” facing both Europe and the Pacific. Wong also visited Brussels, and Marles the USA.
Those awaiting the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) to drop should note that panellist and former minister Stephen Smith has officially started in his role as the Australian High Commissioner in London, suggesting the review is largely complete, and under consideration by the government prior to its public release.
The European Commission has set a deadline of the middle of 2023 to reach an EU-Australia trade deal, on the eve of the 14th round of negotiations. Negotiations launched in July 2018.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is once again soliciting consultations for its ongoing inquiry into Digital Platforms, which has been on and on since 2020, and will continue for another two years. The window for contributions is open until 15 February.
Treasury’s crypto policy unit has released its 'token mapping' consultation paper, which will have implications for both digital identity and data storage regulation. Submissions close 3 March.
In more bad news for (almost) everyone and tech companies in particular, the Reserve Bank has lifted the cash rate by 0.25 basis points to 3.35%, as predicted, lowering the present value of future company earnings. Economists expect the rate to peak at 3.6% in May.
To wrap up our federal coverage: on the back of the stratospheric rise of ChatGPT since it was released in November (100 million users in two months), on the first day of parliament two backbenchers have delivered speeches partially written by the chatbot. Labor MP Julian Hill used his slot to call for a white paper or inquiry to consider the “risks and benefits” of AI, warning it could result in ‘student cheating, job losses, discrimination, disinformation and uncontrollable military applications.’ Opposition member Aaron Violi invited the program to affirm that the former government had “made significant contributions to the growth and development of the digital economy.” You can read them here (Hill) and here (Violi). We note British MP Luke Evans also delivered a speech generated by ChatGPT to the House of Commons in December.
State by State
It has not been an especially busy summer for ICT news around the states.
The Andrews Government in Victoria announced a Machinery of Government (MOG) change to establish the Department of Government Services (DGS) on 1 January.
The NSW Auditor-General released a series of EOY audits prior to Christmas and is scheduled to publish a new report on Cyber Security NSW governance roles and responsibilities on Wednesday.
The WA Government published it response to the 93 recommendations made by an independent panel first State Infrastructure Strategy (SIS), including a commitment to develop a “digital-first smart infrastructure policy.”
You can stay across when the state parliaments sit on our website, here. This week sees the return of legislators in the ACT, SA, and VIC; with WA and NT due back next week. QLD and TAS will return later in February. NSW won’t return until well after the 25 March election.
The New Zealand government’s digital leadership arrangements have been overhauled in recent weeks, with Ginny Andersen replacing Dr David Clark as digital minister, the government Digital Council being disbanded, and plans announced to establish a new data ethics centre. The country’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins made his first official visit to Australia on Tuesday.
The UK internal Government Consulting Hub (GCH) was quietly closed on January 31. The service was only launched in May 2021, ostensibly ‘to boost internal expertise,’ but British press reports claim insiders conceded it was not working as “departments preferred to use external consultants.” We are still awaiting details on the Albanese Government’s plans to roll out an internal consulting service here based on the GCH.
Also in the UK, schools have been given permission to use Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) on pupils queueing for lunch in school canteens, with some caveats. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has set out terms for use of the tech, after an it emerged that it was being used to verify the identity of students in order to deduct money from an online account and facilitate cashless catering.