Budget 2020: Public Service transformation hyped as key to economic recovery

A further batch of government tech transformation initiatives funded up until mid-2024.

In handing down its 2020-21 Budget on Tuesday night, the federal government walked through the steps it has taken to set the Australian Public Service (APS) up for success in allowing it to move forward with helping the nation's economic recovery.

It pointed to its Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program that it has touted would provide "new and improved channels for accessing the welfare system, ensuring quicker approvals, faster payments, and the flexibility to implement new payments faster than ever"; as well as its digital identity system that is being used by more than 1.6 million Australians and 1.1 million businesses to access over 70 government online services.

"The need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that the government and APS serve the needs of the public. The APS has built on the government's investment in more accessible, smarter and seamless digital services. Leading global expertise in ICT has been engaged to ensure that we build the most advanced technologies," the Budget papers say.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Australia's acceptance and use of digital capabilities and the government will cement this change in the way Australian businesses work by making further investments in digital capability."

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The Budget contained a lot of pre-announced measures, including a near-AU$800 million Digital Business Plan to further drive progress towards Australia becoming a leading digital economy by 2030 that includes funding for the APS, which builds on its long-promised plan to be a leading digital government.

But elsewhere in the documents released on Tuesday, aimed at arming the APS with better tools, is the AU$35.6 million earmarked over the next year for the Government Enterprise Resource Planning (GovERP) system.

"GovERP is a common whole-of-government ERP system that will contribute to a flexible APS operating model, in which it is easier to migrate agencies between portfolios," the papers state. "ERP systems allow updates to information in one database to be reflected in other relevant databases."

Meanwhile, WPIT will be handed another AU$539.6 million over four years from 2020-21 -- including AU$166.9 million in capital funding over two years from 2020-21 -- to progress work on "tranche four".

Tranche four, the Budget papers explained, will "improve the delivery of payments, including to older Australians and families by implementing automated claim, assessment, and payment processes". AU$3 million of this funding has already been provided for.  

Canberra is also investing just shy of $296 million to deliver a new Digital Employment Services platform that will assist job seekers with managing their own way into employment and training. This is accompanied by AU$183 million to provide "responsive and individualised support" to online job seekers, including through a Digital Services Contact Centre.

The government has also introduced new rules to require reporting on the total spend on contracts and consultancies from the 2020-21 year onwards. The rules will also make it mandatory for government to disclose the amount spent on the largest such contracts, to "ensure consistency across all agencies".

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The government said that in recognition of the need to "continue to get this balance right", the Department of Finance will establish a whole of Australian government procurement panel for consultancy services.

The panel will be mandatory for non-corporate Commonwealth agencies and is touted as consolidating a range of existing agency arrangements to provide a "consistent framework, and reduce administration and tendering efforts for industry".

Aside from the funding for the biometric integration with the government's digital identity play, the government said it will provide AU$22.5 million over two years from 2020-21 to sustain the current myGov system and the enhanced myGov Beta.

MyGov is the government's online service portal that has been touted as a secure way to access services online with one login and one password.

This funding, the government said, will allow myGov to continue to support over 18 million accounts and connect the public to the services of 13 government agencies.

The cost of this measure will be met from within the existing resources of Services Australia.   

Elsewhere, the government will provide AU$105 million over four years from 2020-21 to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac) to "strengthen its capacity to combat serious financial crime and to protect Australia's financial system from criminal activities".

This funding would also support the development of a new financial data reporting system to assist industry in meeting its reporting obligations under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006.

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The Budget also provides for funding to the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Digital Health Agency, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority to "secure government data".

The funding allocated is listed as not for publication, but it does say that Home Affairs will be charged with storing the data.

The government will provide AU$39.2 million over four years to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to support the government's policy priorities, including its COVID-19 response and establishing IT systems for the Office of the National Data Commissioner to regulate public sector data sharing and release.

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With the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) upgrading its tech kit, AU$96.7 million over three years, including AU$34.4 million in operating funding, will be used by the AEC to commence its modernisation project, which was actually announced back in 2018.

"This funding will support contract centre modernisation and new systems for control of the AEC's election personnel and logistics," the Budget papers read.

Additional funding of AU$18 million over four years has also been handed to the Office of the Official Secretary of the Governor-General to support ongoing community engagement, including for its function to administer the Australian Honours and Awards System, and necessary IT upgrades.

AU$86.3 million is to be used over four years to implement a new IT platform to support "more effective and efficient foreign investment application processing and compliance activities" across government.

Also to be spent is AU$328.4 million for a package of measures to "improve the ease of doing business for agricultural exporters", including AU$222.2 million over four years, and AU$22.3 million ongoing, for the first phase of modernising the IT systems and business processes that support the regulatory services.

Included as part of its road safety measures, AU$5.5 million over four years from 2020-21 will be used to establish a National Road Safety Data Hub for analysis and evaluation capability to support the next National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030.