Welfare payments in Australia could be delivered over blockchain

The Digital Transformation Agency has revealed plans to prototype a welfare payment delivery system using blockchain technology.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has revealed its intention to probe the use of blockchain for Centrelink welfare payment delivery.

Acting CEO Randall Brugeaud told the CeBIT Australia conference in Sydney on Wednesday that a prototype could be in the market come mid-2019.

"Our plan is to look for use cases across the Commonwealth with an initial focus on the welfare payment delivery system, then working with our digital service standard, we'll conduct user research with a view to having a prototype by the end of next financial year," he explained.

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The DTA was given AU$700,000 to explore distributed ledger technology as part of the 2018-19 Budget last week, and according to Brugeaud, it gives the innovation agency an opportunity to explore innovative ways to securely and efficiently deliver government services using blockchain.

Pointing to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) replacement Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS) project, Brugeaud said the DTA is looking to existing instances across both government and the private sector to determine the best way forward for blockchain-based Commonwealth service delivery.

"The potential of blockchain to securely record transactions will be investigated, drawing on the experience of other public and private sector organisations," he said.

"We'll also build on work done across government already, such as the CSIRO's work on distributed ledgers."

The DTA is also looking into artificial intelligence and machine learning, with Brugeaud noting in particular the agency is looking at how such technologies can drive better government service delivery.

"We're looking at how these technologies might offer automated service channels that are closer to the human experience; this might include intelligent chatbots, or voice-enabled channels which are proving to be effective in other sectors," he continued.

"We think these have the potential to deliver significant benefits for government service delivery."

Brugeaud, who has been with the DTA for seven weeks while its CEO is overseas on leave, is the Australian Bureau of Statistics' deputy Australian statistician.

He said the DTA is looking at making its services more "consumable" by other government departments, and also private entities. Additionally, he said the DTA is looking to governments around the world for ideas.

Govpass to be piloted in October 2018

As first reported by Computerworld, the DTA has also pencilled in October for the delivery of the first Govpass pilot.

"Our international experience demonstrates the importance of digital identity ... digital identity opens doors for more digital transformation and joined-up services. It's a critical first step making it easier for end users to deal with government," Brugeaud told CeBIT on Wednesday.

Currently, there are more than 30 different log on views across the Australian government to provide access to digital services; under the new digital identity solution, users will only need to establish their identity once and then use it multiple times across government services.

"By the end of next financial year, we will have rolled out pilots to almost half a million users of government services," Brugeaud said.

One of the first pilots relates to tax file numbers (TFN), which was revealed during Senate Estimates in March.

Users are able to complete their TFN application online, but this needs to be printed and taken along with identity documents to an Australia Post Office to be finalised. There are 750,000 applications for TFNs each year.

"With a digital identity, the current month-long process will be shrunk to minutes, without leaving a computer," Brugeaud continued. "The pilot will be available in October 2018.

"After this, we will be gradually bringing other services online, including grants management, business registration, student services, and some Centrelink services."

The DTA anticipates that around 2.8 million transactions will be moved online as a result of this.

This work will also be underpinned by a new digital identity platform that will comprise two main components: The identity provider and the exchange.

"Together they will deliver seamless experience and protect users' identities," the acting CEO continued. "To provide users with control and choice, we are delivering a federated model, governed by the trusted digital identity framework (TDIF) ... allowing users to choose from a range of accredited identity providers."

Initially, there will be one Commonwealth identity provider, with Brugeaud saying the DTA will be encouraging providers such as Australia Post and others across the private sector and state and territory governments to be accredited.

The Department of Human Services will operate the exchange between services and the identity provider.

"The exchange will be critical in protecting the privacy ... services providers will not see any of the users identity information and in reverse, identity providers will not know what services each user is accessing," Brugeaud said.

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