Oz public denied formal feedback for Digital White Paper

Although the government has broadened the scope of its blueprint for the digital economy, the public will be limited in providing input, as there will be no further rounds of formal consultation.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

The Australian government has decided to expand the scope of its long-delayed Cyber White Paper, but the new Digital White Paper, as it's now called, will not formally seek the feedback of the public.

At the Digital Economy Forum held earlier this month, Prime Minister Julia Gillard made the announcement that the Cyber White Paper would be broadened to become known as a Digital White Paper, due to the need to cover more issues than simply cybersecurity.

"I think we should be broadening that out, so it is more a digital whitepaper, and helps us capture some of the more profound and longer-term issues that have been brought to the table," she said at the close of the forum.

A spokesperson for the prime minister told ZDNet that the increased scope of the whitepaper would include ICT skills development, teleworking, cloud strategy, and how best to support the funding needs of new digital businesses, especially tax arrangements for startups.

However, the public, including startups that will be significantly affected by the changes, will not be able to make submissions on these aspects of the paper, as the government will not be proceeding with any more rounds of formal public consultation.

"The whitepaper is well developed, with extensive consultation from industry, and will further include matters raised at the Digital Forum," said the spokesperson, even though attendees at the Digital Forum would not have known that their discussions during the three-and-a-half-hour consultation would be to improve the paper.

"There will not be any further formal consultations; however, of course Minister Conroy will continue to engage with interested parties," the spokesperson said.

This is despite reassurances by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's (DPMC) Cyber Policy coordinator Allan McKinnon, who told Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in supplementary budget estimates last week that "the slightly expanded scope will imply further consultations."

The original Cyber White Paper itself was met with a degree of confusion. It was initially viewed by the public and members of government as a cybersecurity white paper.

At its inception, then Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland and other ministers pushed the security aspects of the paper, calling it a "comprehensive blueprint" to help raise Australians' confidence when online, and said that "these issues are so significant that there is a need for a cybersecurity whitepaper."

Other statements by Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy indicated that the paper would look at consumer protection, cybersafety, cybercrime, cybersecurity, and cyberdefence, and will build on the government's existing 2009 CyberSecurity Safety Strategy.

However, when the discussion paper was released, it included not only issues of cybersecurity, but also issues around digital citizenship and encouraging online investment in the digital economy.

Few noticed or placed significant importance on the inclusion of the non-security issues, but those who did, such as former Australian Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton, lambasted the government over how little focus they had been given, and stated that the paper's real purpose wasn't just security, but also to provide better direction to all government agencies and departments.

The original deadline for the Cyber White Paper was for the first half of 2012. However, this fell behind. When asked in mid August when the paper would be released, DPMC told ZDNet that it would be expected in the coming months. Now, two months later and with the additional proviso that the paper has increased in scope, DPMC has again told ZDNet that the new paper will be released in the coming months.

McKinnon had informed Ludlam that the department was looking at releasing it in 2013, and, at the time, this took into consideration that there would be further consultations.

In the meantime, the government has torn down the official website of the Cyber White Paper, which was previously located at http://cyberwhitepaper.dpmc.gov.au, including the discussion paper and all 126 submissions received in response to it.

It has also renamed its @CyberWhitePaper twitter account to @Digital_WP, leaving the name open to an impostor who has taken up the old account to mock DPMC's paper.

The fraudulent account's bio now reads: "The Cyber White Paper will describe how paper that is white works in cyberspace!" It also includes tweets such as "At the CyberWhitePaper we strive to bring you the latest information about the People Incharges screwups on the Internets."

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