Public sector ICT

Budget Review 2017–18 Index

Philip Hamilton

Modernisation Fund  

In a novel development for the Efficiency Dividend, the 2016–17 Budget provided that a portion of the projected savings ($500 million) would be reinvested in reforms ‘such as automation of public services and business re-engineering’. In 2016–17 funding was included in the forward estimates but without details of specific initiatives.[1] The 2017–18 Budget provides those details in its outline of the Modernisation Fund, which supports four initiatives expected to ‘deliver quality government services at lower cost and use leading technology and collaborative approaches to address complex problems facing society’.[2] The first three of these comprise the ‘transformation and innovation stream’, a Budget measure that appropriates $350.0 million over three years from 2017–18, with a fourth separate ‘agency sustainability’ measure.

1. Better use of data within government

This initiative has funding of $161.5 million over three years. A new entity, the Data Integration Partnership of Australia, will advise on better integration of data across government and enhanced data analytics. This work is expected to facilitate ‘evidence-based policy, including people-centred policy design’, resulting in ‘better-targeted and more effective services in education, social services, health and aged care’ and ‘a more productive economy’.

Data61, a business unit of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, will deliver ‘a data integration platform that supports law enforcement and regulatory agencies’ and Geoscience Australia will produce satellite data of Australia to the benefit of industry, researchers and the Australian community.

2. Streamlining and improving user access to government services

This initiative has funding of $64.6 million over three years. To improve the user experience of online government services, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) will reduce the need for users to report similar information to multiple agencies through ‘Tell Us Once’ systems, and will allow users to choose how they receive notifications from government.

In relation to interactions between government agencies, a Federated Data Exchange platform developed by the DTA is expected to remove the necessity for bespoke point-to-point data exchanges between agencies. Other Whole-of-Government ICT projects include automation of records management, redevelopment of CabNet, improvement of Budget processes, and delivery of real-time briefing products to Ministers.[3]

3. Strengthening APS workforce capability, and more efficient corporate services

The $123.9 million over three years for this initiative will include support for public sector staff to further develop digital skills, and to enhance evidence-based policy through further uptake of Behavioural Economics. Funding for this initiative will also accelerate the consolidation of shared corporate services arrangements.

This will support an additional 60 agencies to consolidate their core transactional corporate services (financial and human resources) and associated back office information technology (IT) systems into one of six corporate service hubs. This will mean that, by 30 June 2021, around 97 per cent of the ASL in scope for the Shared and Common Services Program will be receiving services from one of the hubs.

This measure appears to build on work already commenced by the Department of Finance. In December 2015, Finance issued a discussion paper on shared services and, based on the views of respondents, a Findings paper in October 2016.[4] While short on actual detail, the Findings paper is useful in that it outlines possible approaches that could be adopted as a shared services model is progressed.

The government also expects the standardisation of business processes in the administration of business and community grants will achieve ongoing benefits and efficiencies, including for grant applicants through ‘reduced red tape for businesses and the community’. It is expected that, by 30 June 2019, ‘around 74 per cent of existing grant programs will be delivered via the Community and Business Grants Hubs on behalf of nine agencies’. These projects appear to be underway already.[5]

4. Agency sustainability

Listed separately from the ‘transformation and innovation stream’ is the Budget measure Public Service Modernisation Fund – agency sustainability, which allocates ‘$129.6 million over three years from 2017–18 in a number of agencies to support their transition to more modern and sustainable operating models.’[6] The appropriation will fund ‘the replacement of the Torres Strait Regional Authority land and sea management facility on Thursday Island’, and $48.5 million of the appropriation is allocated to various collecting institutions in the Arts portfolio (such as the National Library of Australia and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House) for purposes such as ICT systems, digitisation, and critical infrastructure and capital works.[7] The Australian War Memorial is funded to ‘conduct an organisational review and restructure’ and will ‘upgrade and restructure ... outdated and highly customised’ ICT systems.[8]

Other notable developments in ICT projects and data use

Over two years from 2017–18, the Health portfolio is appropriated $374.2 million, including $94.0 million in capital, to ‘continue the My Health Record system and expand [its] utilisation ... through the implementation of national opt-out arrangements’. Health has also been appropriated $67.3 million in 2017–18 for the ICT systems that deliver Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, aged care and related payments. This funding is for maintenance of current systems, and continuing ‘market engagement, procurement and design work ... to replace aging ICT systems’.

Particularly as reporting in Australia emphasised the effects on the UK health system, the ransomware incidents in many countries in mid-May 2017 highlighted potential areas of vulnerability in government agencies. Areas of risk include: the use of older, legacy software, particularly where security updates are not implemented correctly are or no longer supported; and the human factor in business processes, illustrated by the spread of the ransomware being due at least in part to network users opening email attachments containing malicious software code.[9]

Following a reported cyber attack on the Bureau of Meteorology in December 2015, the Budget includes an appropriation for a project to ‘improve the security and resilience of the Bureau of Meteorology’s ... ICT systems and business processes’. The exact amount is not published due to commercial-in-confidence sensitivities.[10]

The Budget papers mention that the DTA’s proposed Federated Data Exchange platform will comply with privacy and security requirements. It is relevant here that, separately from the Budget process, there are significant policy developments in relation to data collection, storage and use.

For example, in December 2016 the Government released a National Action Plan as part of Australia’s involvement in the Open Government Partnership.[11] The scope of the Plan includes data sharing and release, digital transformation of government services, and the discoverability and accessibility of government data.[12] In addition on 8 May 2017 the Government released the final report of the Productivity Commission (PC) inquiry into data availability and use. Among its recommendations for a new data regime, the PC has proposed amendment of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 to include the concept of ‘consumer data’.[13] In response to the PC’s report the Government has established a cross-portfolio taskforce.[14]

 


[1].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016–17, p. 71.

[2].          The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following document unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Agency measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, pp. 75, 76, 94, 110 and 116; Australian Government, Agency resourcing: budget paper no. 4: 2017–18, pp. 2 and 3.

[3].          The CabNet ICT system supports the government’s Cabinet processes. An invitation for Expressions of Interest for a CabNet redevelopment project closed on 17 June 2013. In January 2014, the Government advised that the process would not proceed beyond Expressions of Interest. E Abetz, ‘Answer to Question in writing: ‘CabNet Redevelopment Project’, [Questioner: P Wong], Question 102, Senate, Debates, 20 January 2014. ‘Improvement of Budget processes’ may refer to the long-running Central Budget Management System (CBMS) project; see N Towell, ‘Latest project to struggle’, Canberra Times, 17 February 2017, p. 4.

[4].          Department of Finance, Discussion paper: whole-of-Government - Shared and Common Services Programme, [The Department, 2015]; Department of Finance, Private sector discussion paper findings, [The Department, 2016].

[5].          www.grants.gov.au, branded as GrantConnect, has been operating since May 2017, and provides centralised publication of government grant and forecast opportunities. www.communitygrants.gov.au is described as a ‘hub’ and has been operational since 1 July 2016. www.business.gov.au/assistance is not branded as a ‘hub’.

[6].          Australian Government, Agency measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, p. 76. There is an apparent discrepancy, in that the figure is reported as $150 million elsewhere in the Budget papers; Australian Government, Agency resourcing: budget paper No. 4: 2017–18, p. 2.

[7].          See R Jolly, ‘Arts and culture’, Budget review 2017–18, Research paper series, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017, and Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.3: Communications and the Arts Portfolio.

[8].          Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.4B: Defence Portfolio (Department of Veterans’ Affairs), p. 94.

[9].          ‘Ransomware cyberattack: UK's health system recovered from hacking, interior minister says’, ABC News website, 13 May 2017.

[10].       C Uhlmann, ‘China blamed for ‘massive’ cyber attack on Bureau of Meteorology computer’, ABC News website, 2 December 2015; Australian Government, Agency measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, p. 94.

[11].       M Cormann (Minister for Finance), ‘Release of the first Open Government National Action Plan’, media release’, 7 December 2016.

[12].       Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Australia's first Open Government National Action Plan 2016–18, PM&C, December 2016.

[13].       Productivity Commission, Data availability and use, The Commission, 2017, pp. 38–40.

[14].       Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), ‘Productivity Commission report promotes benefits of improved data availability’, PM&C, 9 May 2017.

 

All online articles accessed May 2017. 

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