In Other Public Sector News for September 7
The national jobs summit dominated the news cycle at the end of last week and into the weekend, drawing attention to both the country’s significant skill shortages and massive visa processing backlog, with Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil swatting away calls for funding in the upcoming Budget to overhaul the 11 year old visa system.
The government used the summit to announce 1,000 digital traineeships over four years to build capability in digital or technology related fields in the Australian Public Service (APS).
The week also coincided with the G20 Digital Minister Meeting in Bali, 1-2 September. With the Albanese Cabinet focused on the Jobs Summit, the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, a former telco lawyer and cyber security policy expert, was dispatched to Denpasar as Australia’s representative.
Thursday (1 September) marked the formal establishment of the new National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) inside Home Affairs.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) released its corporate plan. In addition to monitoring the rapid adoption of digital technology, advances in artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition technology, machine learning algorithms and biometrics, it identifies four broad areas for regulatory focus in 2022-23:
- online platforms, social media and high privacy impact technologies
- security of personal information
- ensuring the privacy and security protections in the Consumer Data Right are effectively implemented by participants
- the timely and proactive release of government-held information.
In a clear signal of the new government’s digital priorities, Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten issued a press release to confirm that the myGov website has had a facelift, noting the “website has changed colour from green to blue, as part of a broader upgrade.” A mobile app is on the way.
STATE BY STATE
It was a very quiet week around the states.
The NSW government announced a $40 million grant package pitched at ‘regional youth’, which includes funding available for projects to improve access to digital technology and digital skills.
WA announced the launch of the Minister's Innovation Challenge, a competition for Year 8 students “to develop innovative solutions to local problems.”
Artemis space launch delayed again
Japan Declares War... on floppy disks
Japan’s digital minister Taro Kono has ‘declared war’ (his words) on floppy disks. Apparently, a Japanese government committee discovered some 1900 government procedures still require using media, such as the 3½-inch diskette, when making applications or holding data. It’s not just Japan – in the United States, a 2016 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found US$61 billion was spent on maintaining ageing technologies every year, around three times the level of investment in modern IT systems (see pg 11). Mr Taro met with Australia’s Tim Watts at the G20 Digital Ministers meeting in Bali.
Satellite AI software boosts French revenue base
French tax collectors are reaping the rewards of new software developed by Google and Capgemini that uses AI and aerial imagery to identify swimming pools and other property value enhancements. A pilot program in nine regions identified more than 20,000 pools, leading to an extra 10 million Euros in revenue. The French tax office is now looking at using the system to spot undeclared home extensions and verandas. Earlier versions of the software had a high margin of error, mistaking solar panels for swimming pools, and struggling to discern trees and shadows.
Burmese Junta to build Social Media platform
The Burmese military regime has denounced Facebook and declared that it will build its own alternate social media platform. Facebook banned accounts connected to the country’s military in February 2021, soon after a coup toppled the elected government, and despite pressuring ISPs to block the platform, pro-democracy activists continue to use it to organise protests, document abuses, and galvanise public opposition. The social media giant was blamed for ‘facilitating genocide’ after it was used to spread hate speech against the country’s Rohingya minority in 2017. It is not clear what technical expertise the junta has in developing social media platforms, though it would likely quickly become a target for opposition pro-democracy hackers. Ethiopia also announced plans to develop its own social media platform last year, accusing Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts "disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia.” China has a suite of state-owned social media platforms. In 2018, then UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for ‘a public social media platform with real privacy and public control over the data that is making Facebook and others so rich.’