Selected public sector ICT initiatives

Budget Review 2018–19 Index

Philip Hamilton

In the 2018–19 Budget there are new public sector information and communication technology (ICT) related Budget measures in most portfolios.[1] The following selected ICT initiatives can be broadly categorised as: cyber security; whole of government and cross-portfolio; or program-specific.[2]

Cyber security

Following a reported cyber attack on the Bureau of Meteorology in December 2015, the 2017–18 Budget included an appropriation for a project to ‘improve the security and resilience of the Bureau of Meteorology’s ... ICT systems and business processes’.[3] The exact amount was not published due to commercial-in-confidence sensitivities. In the 2018–19 Budget, further non-specified funding is appropriated ‘to continue to improve the Bureau of Meteorology’s ... ICT systems and observations network infrastructure’.

The Department of Parliamentary Services has been allocated ‘$9.0 million over four years from 2018–19 (including $0.3 million in capital funding in 2018–19)’ to establish a cyber security operations centre for the parliamentary computing network.

A separate Budget Review brief on cyber policy covers other cyber-related matters, including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) assuming formal responsibility for a wider range of cyber security functions[4] and being established as a statutory agency on 1 July 2018.[5]

Whole of government and cross-portfolio

To accelerate the development of GovPass, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has been allocated $92.4 million in 2018–19 to ‘work with relevant agencies to ... test the delivery of GovPass across a range of services’. Of this funding, ‘the Australian Taxation Office [ATO] will absorb $25.9 million and the Department of Human Services will absorb $5.6 million’. GovPass is described as:

a key component in the further digital transformation of Government and supports the Government’s commitment to better and more accessible digital services.

Individuals will be able to prove their identity to a government agency or accredited non-government organisation, and then re-use this proven identity when accessing other government services.

In addition, with $0.7 million from within its existing resources, in 2018–19 the DTA will ‘investigate areas where blockchain technology could offer the most value for Government services’.[6] The DTA will:

Conduct research to understand the current maturity of blockchain, the readiness for government to adopt the technology and identify problems that blockchain might be able to solve.

Develop a possible solution for one of the problems identified in the research, and understand the potential of using blockchain to support government services.[7]

With funding of $19.3 million in 2018–19, the ATO, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will develop a business case for modernising the Government’s business registers. The business case will ‘provide options for improving how businesses interact with government, and will be considered in the 2019–20 Budget’.

The Department of Finance will be provided with $11.3 million over two years from 2018–19 to strengthen the Department’s ‘capacity to respond to critical priorities and drive productivity improvements across the Australian Public Service’. The project includes ‘modernising Commonwealth cash management by utilising the New Payments Platform for fast payments which is being rolled out across the banking system in Australia’.

The Budget papers note that ‘the Government will provide $0.3 million to the four largest parliamentary parties to improve the security of voter information held by those parties’ in the current financial year (2017–18), and that ‘funding for this measure has already been provided for by the Government’.

As outlined in a separate Budget Review brief, the 2018–19 Budget provides a total of $65.1 million in funding over 2018–22 for the development of significant new data sharing and release arrangements.[8]

Program-specific (various portfolios)

In the Human Services portfolio, the Government will provide ‘$316.2 million over four years from 2018–19 to progress Tranche Three of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program [that] will progressively replace Centrelink’s ageing technology platform’. Efficiencies of $35.4 million are also expected to be realised over five years from 2017–18. In the Health portfolio, $106.8 million will be provided over four years from 2018–19 to ‘modernise the health and aged care payments systems’. Visible improvements here are expected to include ‘increased functionality and usability of the Medicare Online Application and Medicare App’.[9]

Over four years from 2018–19, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will receive an additional $111.9 million to ‘continue to transform and improve veterans’ services’ and the Department of Education and Training will receive $36.2 million (including $7.6 million in capital funding in 2018–19) to ‘fund the implementation of a new IT system to support the compliance and regulatory arrangements for the VET Student Loans program’.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is allocated $10.1 million over three years from 2018–19 to ‘support [the APVMA’s] ICT systems and digitise its most important and frequently used paper files’. The funding is expected to ‘assist the APVMA to become a more efficient and effective regulator as it relocates to Armidale as part of the Government’s Decentralisation Agenda’.[10]

The Department of Home Affairs will be provided with $130.0 million in 2017–18 (including $94.0 million in capital funding) to improve the Department’s ICT capability, including to ‘upgrade the Department’s analytics and threat management capabilities.[11]

Monitoring ICT-related projects

ICT-related measures in the 2018–19 Budget add to those announced in 2016, 2017 (including the $500 million Public Service Modernisation Fund), and older, ongoing projects.[12]

Despite the increasing number of ICT-related projects and contracts, there is still no consolidated source where Parliament and citizens can track the progress of ICT projects.[13]

In May 2017, the Government’s ICT Procurement Taskforce recommended ‘a public dashboard of significant ICT projects and spending that will allow the government and public to see the status and outcomes of its ICT investment decisions’.[14] The Government did not accept the recommendation for a public-facing dashboard.[15] In 2013 the Coalition had committed to emulating the example of the USA’s www.itdashboard.gov.[16] New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria already have dashboards.[17]

The DTA monitors all digital and ICT initiatives with a budget of more than $10 million and not classified as Secret or Top Secret. The DTA’s first and only disclosure to date was six months ago at a Senate Estimates hearing.[18] The DTA tabled a list of 17 projects, but the tabled document is not found by search engines and is not available at any other location on the internet.[19] The relevant DTA webpage, last updated in November 2017, does not list the 72 projects in scope for monitoring.[20]

Without a public, comprehensive source of updated information about specific projects, accountability for progress and spending is largely dependent on information gleaned from irregular and narrowly targeted sources such as Australian National Audit Office performance audits and Senate Estimates hearings.[21]

 


[1].          The budget figures in this brief have been taken from the following documents unless otherwise sourced: Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2018–19, pp. 69, 89, 100, 110, 111, 135, 162, 166, 167, 182, 186, 190, 201, 203; and Australian Government, Agency resourcing: budget paper no. 4: 2018–19, pp. 6-7.

[2].          For additional discussion of information and communications technology (ICT) initiatives in the Budget, see: S Easton, ‘Federal Budget 2018: digital government’, The Mandarin, 8 May 2018; and J Hendry, ‘Govt earmarks $2.4bn for tech infrastructure’, itnews, 9 May 2018.

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

[4].          Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, PM&C, Canberra, June 2017, pp. 64–66; H Portillo-Castro, ‘Cyber policy’, Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.

[5].          For more on the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the Defence portfolio, see: D Watt, ‘Defence overview’, Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018; and C Barker, Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Bill 2018, Bills digest, 94, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.

[6].          ‘Blockchains are a digital technology that combine cryptographic, data management, networking, and incentive mechanisms to support the checking, execution, and recording of transactions between parties.’ M Staples et al, Risks and opportunities for systems using blockchain and smart contracts, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Sydney, 2017, p. 2. Blockchain has been characterised as a ‘disruptive technology’ that presents a challenge to existing legal regimes. See: K Cheung, ‘Blockchain: enforcement and regulations’, Internet law bulletin, 20(10), April 2018, p. 181.

[7].          Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), ‘Budget 2018‒19 for the DTA’, DTA website, 9 May 2018. In November 2017, the Government awarded a grant of $2.5 million to the City of Fremantle in which ‘blockchain technology (distributed ledger) will be used to establish an integrated power, water and mobility system comprising of renewable energy generation, battery storage, recycled and rainwater storage and distribution and an electric vehicle shared ownership trial’. Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (DIRDC), ‘Smart Cities and Suburbs Program’, DIRDC website.

[8].          N Horne and P Hamilton, ‘Data sharing and release’, Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.

[9].          Australian Government, Agency resourcing: budget paper no. 4: 2018–19, pp. 6-7.

[10].       For other decentralisation initiatives in the Budget, see: P Hamilton, ‘Public sector efficiencies, staffing, and administrative arrangements’, Budget review 2018–19, Research paper series, 2017–18, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2018.

[11].       For more on the Department of Home Affairs, see Hamilton, ‘Public sector efficiencies, staffing, and administrative arrangements’, op. cit.

[12].       P Hamilton, ‘Selected Government ICT projects’, Budget review 2016–17, Research paper series, 2015–16, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2016; P Hamilton, ‘Public sector ICT’, Budget review 2017–18, Research paper series, 2016–17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2017; and P Hamilton and S Speldewinde, The Public Service Modernisation Fund: a quick guide, Research paper series, 2017-18, updated 14 November 2017.

[13].       P Hamilton, ‘Which governments have an online dashboard so the public can monitor ICT spending and projects?’, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 30 November 2017.

[14].       ICT Procurement Taskforce, Report of the ICT Procurement Taskforce, DTA, 2017, p. 7.

[15].       A Taylor (Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation), Government response to report of the ICT Procurement Government response, Ministerial statement, [September 2017].

[16].       A Robb (Shadow Minister for Finance, Deregulation and Debt Reduction) and M Turnbull (Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband), Policy for E-Government and the Digital Economy. Joint media release, 2 September 2013, pp. [2]; Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, ‘itdashboard.gov’.

[17].       New South Wales Government, ‘digital.nsw: Digital government at a glance’; Queensland Government, ‘ICT dashboard’; Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, ‘Victorian Government ICT dashboard’.

[18].       Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 15 November 2017, pp. 42–44.

[19].       Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, Supplementary Budget Estimates 2017–18, ‘DTA, Information in relation to current projects undertaken by the Digital Transformation Agency’, tabled document.

[20].       DTA, ‘Oversight delivers early insights’, DTA website, 10 November 2017.

[21].       For example: Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Cybersecurity follow-up audit, Audit report, 42, 2016–17, ANAO, Canberra, 2017; ANAO, Unscheduled taxation system outages, Audit report, 29, 2017–18, ANAO, Canberra, 2018.

 

All online articles accessed May 2018

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