After robo-debt smackdown, Robert claims Canberra's digital transformation pushes on

The Minister for Government Services said the Australian government is making progress in achieving its 2025 digital transformation goal.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert has announced the federal government has started to undertake work to build a single, whole-of-government technology architecture as part of its digital transformation strategy to make all its services digital by 2025.

In his address at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) event in Canberra on Friday afternoon, Robert detailed how the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has created a taskforce with the largest "technology shops" in government -- Defence, Home Affairs, ATO, and Government Services -- to explore what the technology architecture could potentially look like.

"It will start by identifying critical technology capabilities that support broad business outcomes and progressively develop a more nuanced view of strategic capabilities across government," he explained.

"This will help us understand both the common functions we need to perform across the whole of government as well as discrete capabilities specific to the business needs of individual agencies."

Robert said the taskforce will then able to identify what platforms the government should invest in.

"For example, if we are already investing taxpayers' money in developing a digital identity system, or a payments utility, or a voice biometrics capability, we should investigate whether such platforms can be scaled up, rather than simply start doing the same thing again and again, at great effort, time and expense," he said.

The DTA is also working with federal, state, and territory governments to develop a standard government API framework. Robert claimed it will enable the government to deliver a customer experience to citizens "like that of shopping or banking online", as well as connect services and securely share data.

Robert added the DTA is working with agencies such as Finance and Defence to revise the way technology projects are funded.

"Current processes of funding technology have more in common with funding long-term infrastructure projects rather than innovative digital ones: capex versus opex … we must enable agencies to try things, learn, and scale up, or share their learnings before significant amounts of money and reputation capital are sunk into projects that may not deliver what they set out to do," he said.

Robert's address comes just two days after the federal government conceded that parts of robo-debt are unlawful in a test case brought by Victoria Legal Aid and Deanna Amato in Federal Court. 

According to Victoria Legal aid, the government had sent a letter to the Court stating its averaging process, 10% penalty fee, and seizing of tax returns were unlawful. 

As late as November 14, Robert was defending the use of averaging, saying that it's "entirely appropriate".

"Using averaging as the basis to say to a citizen, 'There may be a debt, can you please engage with us?' is entirely appropriate," Robert told the National Press Club.

"And that process of using averaging -- using ATO tax receipts or end of the year assessments -- to say to Australians, 'There may be a problem, please engage with us' is absolutely appropriate and we have responsibility to do that."   

Read also: Services Australia has six weeks to work out what exactly it's meant to do

During his address on Friday, Robert also declared the Department of Government Services is currently undertaking seven streams of work to stand up Service Australia, an organisation aimed to make citizen service delivery easy and modelled after the New South Wales government's one-stop shop for government services, Service NSW.

Specifically, these include retrofitting shopfronts, so they are "friendly" and "welcoming"; alleviating the demand on call centres for simple requests, such as, checking on the status of applications; designing a customer-centre suite of digital services, such as reminders, notifications, claim tracking, and digital identity; removing red tape around back-end processes; and working with the ACT, NSW, and Queensland governments to integrate services around the birth of a baby.

One of the other projects includes working with Infosys to deliver a Pegasystems-powered business rule engine to replace its existing system that Robert claimed, "has more lines of code than the Air Force's frontline fighter aircraft the F-35A".

Robert said these projects are being progressively carried out in 90-day sprints that involves him to check-in with teams on a fortnightly basis.  

"This drives transparency, accountability and clarity across all streams of work, which is critical if we are to succeed in our mission to build a service model that brings together all the information, support and services that might be required across different agencies and tiers of government to deliver customer-centric services," he said.

See also: Australian government to bring all services online by 2025

Robert also confirmed the federal government has so far ticked off 73 initiatives within its the roadmap to-do list.

The roadmap accompanied the release of the government's digital transformation strategy last year. It featured more than 100 milestones, colour-coded against the three priorities, and organised into years from 2018 through 2020.

In addition, Robert said the government plans to introduce the Data Availability and Transparency Act (DATA) by 30 June 2020 as part of its commitment to establish stronger safeguards around sharing of data across government.

The government initially announced its intentions to introduce DATA in May last year as part of its response to the Productivity Commission Data Availability and Use report.

At the time, the Australian government said it would commit AU$65 million to "reform" the Australian data system and said the DATA would be used to stand up the Accredited Data Authorities and legislate framework for sharing the datasets.

"The legislative package will set clear rules and expectations for data sharing and release, including making clear when data can be shared, and embedding strong safeguards for sensitive data and effective risk management practices," the government wrote in its response.

Further, Robert said since the release myGovID in October, over 120,000 identities have been created and there have been almost 200,000 downloads as of this week, up from 7,000 identities and 11,785 downloads recorded just under a month ago.

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