Government needs to move online quicker: Commission of Audit

Government needs to move online quicker: Commission of Audit

Summary: The National Commission of Audit has recommended that the Australian government move to a "digital by default" strategy and embrace cloud computing, e-Government services, outsourcing, and shared services and procurement.


The Australian federal government needs a bold strategy and digital champion within Cabinet to make e-Government a success, the National Commission of Audit has recommended in its over 1200-page report released today.

The Commission said it is not enough that the government has undertaken to make any transaction that happens more than 50,000 times a year available online and to make all government correspondence available digitally by 2017, calling on the government to become "digital by default for all transactions", and to remove legislative barriers to going online, such as the requirement of the Australian Taxation Office to print and mail 10 million notices of assessment annually.

It is recommended that government agencies should be made to make services available through mobile apps, have clear and ambitious timelines, and simplify department processes.

"There is limited value in collecting electronic information from citizens to feed into manual processes in departments," the report said.

The example for this new approach is the Department of Human Services' myGov site, that allows citizens to use services from Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, the Department of Health, the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the National Disability Insurance Agency with a single login. The Commission recommended that myGov be the default manner for engaging with government and be moved from opt-in to opt-out for agencies, with the myGov login credentials being strengthened with the addition of biometric information.

To make the "digital by default" transition occur faster, the report says that expertise should be consolidated in a single team with a chief digital officer, instead of the current approach with "fragmented arrangements" for digital government services spread across a number of agencies.

"This would be a senior role filled by an accomplished private sector leader who has driven a major digital transition process," the Commission said. "This person should report directly to the Minister for Communications."

In concert with the lack of digital services, the report bemoaned the slowness of the government uptake of cloud services.

"A reliance on bespoke, legacy systems, concerns about the security and privacy of placing public data in the cloud, and general risk aversion all impede progress," it said.

The Commission called for the government to adopt a "cloud-first" strategy, which would lead to lower IT cost over the next three to five years, as well as the establishment of a whole-of-government cloud provider panel.

"The range of offerings in such a panel would allow agencies to procure public or private cloud computing services, with appropriate levels of security," the report said.

In August last year, the then-Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy, Kate Lundy, said that a considered approach to cloud was better than blindly pushing it onto agencies.

"Cloud has so much potential here, but what we've done is set an appropriate test to ensure people's security and privacy is protected and put a system in place for assessing that in government agencies and departments," she said.

"In a way, it is the best of both worlds: We've got a cloud policy of promoting it, but we're not doing it blindly or in an ill-informed way — we're doing it in a way where governments are accountable for that security and privacy of people's data."

The government's current National Strategy for Cloud Computing states that government agencies must consider using cloud services as part of any new procurement, and will choose cloud where it represents the best value for money and has an adequate management of risk.

Among the Commission of Audit's 64 recommendations are calls for the federal government to privitise government assets such as Australia Post, NBN Co, Snowy Hydro, Australian Hearing Services, Defence Housing, and the Australian Submarine Corporation.

Topics: Cloud, Government AU, Australia


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The recommendation misses the point

    Of course agencies want to save money, every agency wants to provide the best service in the most efficient way. Nobody wants to look like a Vogon (from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

    The real problem is agencies don't get rewarded for innovation or becoming more efficient (they get punished - eventually), and are punished harder again when things do not go as planned.

    The other problem is the work agencies do is specialised, and quite different to private enterprise. This means COTS options are often few and far between. So agencies are forced into choosing between maintaining a bespoke in-house developed tool, or customising a COTS solution.

    Sure some of this is culture, but there are real business drivers that created the culture. The reason private enterprise is more efficient than government is because private enterprise does not have the same high level of oversight & compliance obligations as government. Reducing the oversight on government is not a good idea. You only need to look at Queensland during the Joh years to understand the consequences.

    There are some real holes in this CoA big enough to drive a truck through. What makes a lot of the recommendations difficult is the fact they've not thought through the implications or logistics e.g. they want digital first and other things to happen whilst at the same time they've increased the efficiency dividend.
  • This is a whole of govt problem

    NZO893 I agree with your comments, there is no impetus for govt agencies to become efficient. For those of us who have worked extensively in govt IT implementations, what becomes apparent is that many of the heads of departments and their 2 ICs are simply empire builders. He who controls the largest budget notionally has more power. I've been involved in meetings where program managers blatantly tried to bloat projects in order to increase the budget, because being "responsible" (lose term in govt circles) for a larger project looks better on your resume. Departments routinely cover up budget blow outs and project failures, to the extent that some of the large consultancies that fail in their responsibility to deliver multimillion dollar govt IT projects, are rewarded by the departments with multimillion dollar contract extensions, purely to cover up the mess they are responsible for.

    One govt department embarked on a $10m IT project, estimated to take 18 months. 6 years later and $80m+ spent, the system has gaping security holes, portions have been redesigned 3 or 4 times due to the incompetence of the consultancies engaged to deliver the work. It's blatant incompetence and questionably corrupt behaviour. What is for sure is that when you look at your pay slip or your company tax bill, you can thank these guys for ridiculous amount the ATO pillages.

    Having worked overseas in a number of countries around Asia Pacific, I can tell you that Australia has become a second rate nation when one looks at our lack of innovation in e-Govt. Nations like Singapore are years ahead of Australia, even countries like Thailand, with a poor economy, weekly Coup d'état and much weaker educational system, has left Australia years behind.

    Why is this all happening? Quite simple really.

    1) The govt needs to stop listening to the large consultancies that advise them there is a shortage of skilled IT professional in Australia, because they are the same consultancies that abuse the 457 visa to bring in their own workers from low cost countries at low prices. There are many many highly skilled and motivated IT professionals in Australia that can't get a job and many more of us who have chosen to take our skills overseas rather than deal with the corruption in Australia.

    2) Put in place a commission of audit that sits permanently and is responsible for auditing all govt IT projects. Give the commission the the power to hold public servants accountable for delivering on the responsibilities of their role.

    3) Broaden the ICAC legislation to allow ICAC to investigate corruption in the broader sense of the term.

    4) Give ICAC more funds to allow the hiring of more staff. Presently they have only about half a dozen investigators. All they investigate are the high profile corruption and have no capacity to investigate endemic organisational corruption, the sort of corruption that is crippling our nation.

    The phrase "the clever country" has become a cliche`, we need to stop telling everyone how smart we are, that ship has sailed. It's time to actually be smarter, get rid of the corruption and spend less time telling every one how wonderful we are. If we are so wonderful there will be no need to tell anyone so.