Government senators' dissenting report
Government senators are supportive of the considered approach being
undertaken by the government with respect to the digital transformation of
government service delivery. There are few aspects of our lives that are not
touched by technological changes and government service delivery is no
exception. The Government has a central role in ensuring that it is easy for
citizens to access government services efficiently and to the same or better
standard than is currently the case.
Government senators also accept that digital transformation is a highly
disruptive process. It is to be expected that a paradigm shift in the way in
which people have traditionally communicated and conducted their business with
government will not be without its challenges.
The evidence before the committee has been helpful in articulating the
complexity of managing the transition to digital delivery of government services.
The evidence has shown that there is not a simple one size fits all solution.
There are legacy issues which require individually tailored approaches—for
example, the digital transformation journey for the Australian Taxation Office
cannot be the same as for the Department of Home Affairs.
Government senators disagree with the majority view that a centralised
mega-agency is the answer to the whole-of-government approach to digital
transformation of government services. Such an approach to digital transformation
is rooted in the old command-and-control view of the public sector that does
not acknowledge the need for active engagement, flexibility and collaboration. The
functions of government departments and agencies are diverse and distinct and
it is important that the relevant corporate and policy expertise and knowledge
are harnessed when transforming service delivery.
Where appropriate, Government senators support an approach where
departments and agencies have the ability to build digital platforms and
solutions to meet their particular portfolio programs. Such platforms and
solutions should be leveraged as appropriate across the government and more
importantly, should continue to place the users and their experience at the
The majority report has criticised a supposed lack of strategic focus at
the ministerial and senior executive level of the Australian Public Service
(APS) in relation to digital transformation. Not only does this reflect a
callous disregard for the hard work and dedication of senior public officials,
but also a disregard for the facts. Government senators note that Cabinet has
strategic oversight of digital transformation through the Digital
Transformation and Public Sector Modernisation Committee (DTPSMC). One of the
committee's objectives is to modernise the APS so that it is best structured to
meet the challenges that the digital delivery of government services so clearly
pose. Decisions of the committee are Cabinet decisions.
The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) provides whole-of-government
guidance through a range of measures with the DTA being tasked to develop a
Digital Transformation Strategy for the Commonwealth. The strategy will be
accompanied by a clear roadmap with key performance indicators which will set
out important milestones to be achieved over the next two years. The DTA also sponsors the Digital Service Standard setting out criteria
applicable to all government departments and agencies ensuring digital teams
build government services that are simple, clear and fast.
In addition, the Government's whole-of-government cyber security
response is the responsibility of the Australian Cyber Security Centre within
the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). The ASD provides material, advice and other assistance to Commonwealth and
state authorities on matters relating to the security and integrity of
information managed digitally. Under the Attorney-General's Protective Security Policy Framework, ASD sponsors
the Information Security Manual (ISM), and/however/outlining that responsibility
rests with government departments and agencies to apply a risk-based approach
to protecting their information and systems.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) provides a
whole-of-government perspective on information policy matters. The Information
Commissioner reports to the Attorney-General on matters relating to Australian
Government information management policy and practice, including FOI and privacy.
Government senators believe that strategic leadership is being provided
not only by the Cabinet, but also by senior public servants. The government has
a coherent strategy to implement the digital transformation of government.
The Australian Public Service
Government senators note the evidence before the committee concerning a
general marketplace shortage of ICT professional staff, mirrored by a skills
shortage in the APS. Dr Nick Tate from the Australian Computer Society referred
to statistics on the overall ICT economy which identify that there is a
substantial skills shortage for a range of ICT professionals. He stated that 81
000 new ICT professionals will be needed by 2022. This figure is significant. The evidence of Mr Shetler is also pertinent. He
observed that the digital talent pool in Australia to be broadly based, but
shallow, particularly for certain kinds of fields like product management for
designing a service in a new way. These shortfalls present challenges for the both the private and public
Government senators do not agree with the majority report's conclusion
that the cause of the ICT skills shortage in the APS is the outsourcing of ICT products
and services to external vendors. Government senators are of the view that the
ICT capability issues within the APS is a consequence of a wider marketplace shortage
of ICT professionals that makes it more challenging for APS to secure and
retain a range of highly sought after capabilities and skills. Notwithstanding
this, government senators agree that there is merit in the majority's
recommendation that the APS introduce a specialist APS ICT career stream to
address a market failure.
Government senators disagree with the contention of the majority report
that unsuccessful projects indicate a broader systemic issue. Mr Ian Brightwell contended that the APS does not manage expectations by addressing the
inevitability that there will be failures as part of the process of innovation
and added that there needs to be a consensus as to what constitutes
"acceptable failure". The government senators consider that the
majority report is a clear manifestation of this point and behaviour.
While any failure is regrettable and should be addressed as soon as
possible, it must be highlighted that over the period of this government, there
have been hundreds, if not thousands of digital projects, both large and small,
funded by the government that have been delivered successfully. For example:
- SmartGates (Department of Home Affairs) cleared 24.2 million
people in 2016–17, up from 6.8 million in 2014–15. Installation of new
SmartGates technology will allow 90 per cent of travellers to self-process at
the border, cutting processing time to as little as 15 seconds;
- A virtual assistant named Alex is providing better self-service
capability at the Australian Taxation Office and IP Australia. As of 1 March
2018, Alex had more than 2.5 million conversations with ATO clients, resolving
88 per cent of issues on first contact;
- The myTax service allows people to quickly and easily lodge tax
returns online with information pre-filled from employers, banks and government
agencies. Ninety-eight per cent of all individual incomes tax returns are now
lodged electronically and 95 per cent of individual returns are assessed and
processed without human intervention;
- IP Australia has increased digital self-service adoption from 12
per cent to more than 99 per cent for more than 850 000 customer service
requests, reducing calls by 15 per cent.
Within this context of successful delivery, the very few examples
handpicked by the committee represent very much isolated unfortunate exceptions
against a background of high performance in the delivery of digital solutions.
Government senators consider that there is merit for a proposed
separation of the roles of Chief Information Office (CIO) and Chief Information
Security Officer (CISO) and the need for the CIO to be a member of a government
department's executive decision-making body. Mr Ian Brightwell identified that
the executive's decision-making process is vulnerable to poor judgement where
the distinctly different functions of the CIO and CISO are combined.
However, government senators consider these issues should be considered
as part of the Thodey Review, which the government announced on
4 May 2018. The Thodey Review, which is to report in 2019, is tasked
with examining the capability, culture and operating model of the APS to ensure
it is fit for purpose. The findings of this review will be important as the APS drives policy and service
implementation and uses technology and data to deliver programs and services for
the Australian community.
The government's Digital Transformation Strategy—to be developed by the
DTA—will operate in parallel to the Thodey Review by addressing the
government's resourcing, infrastructure and business models to allow the
government to engage with new technologies, and to challenge the current
approach to service delivery within the APS.
Government senators are of the view that the systemic issues of a
general marketplace shortage of ICT skills and the executive role of a CIO
should also be considered in the wider context of the government's
revitalisation of the APS, which has not been reviewed since the Royal
Commission on Australian Government Administration which reported in 1976 (the
H.C. Coombs report).
Common platforms and procurement
Government senators agree with the majority report in respect to the
need for the development of common digital platforms for the delivery of
government services for standardised information and standard circumstances.
Government senators also concur with the majority report's view that government
procurement policies and practices should be open to small and medium business
Government senators disagree with the contention of the majority report
that outsourcing of ICT goods and services has eroded the competence or
capability of the APS to undertake government procurement. Mr Martin
Stewart-Weeks made the point that the procurement process itself is 'about as
undigital as you could possibly hope for'. Mr Shetler observed that the business case funding approach to procurement
'does not do "agile" very well'. SCOA Australia observed that outsourcing had been undertaken to dramatically
improve the technical ICT skills available to government departments, despite
the later poaching of APS ICT staff by vendors. The evidence poses a more subtle set of circumstances than outsourcing of ICT
goods and services being the cause of the APS' loss of capability. The evidence
is equally open to the view that the APS has not been responsive or proactive
in responding to a rapidly changing technological environment, and hence the
need to modernise the APS.
In fact, the government has been proactive in regards to procurement and
already addressed the concerns of the majority through the implementation of a
number of initiatives aimed to address a range of procurement issues:
- A Digital Sourcing Framework to provide a set of principles to
achieve a fair, effective and efficient ICT procurement process, including the
use of open standards and cloud first approaches, as well as preventing
- Consultation has commenced on a new Portfolio Panel Policy with
the aim of removing some of the burdens on industry sellers to government. It
will focus on reducing the current number of panels and simplifying the process
to join a panel thereby encouraging more opportunities for collaboration and
co-design with buyers and sellers;
- The government has in place a Capped Term and Value Policy which
limits major ICT expenditure to not exceed $100 million per contract or a
three-year initial term. The policy addresses the fact that ten ICT vendors
accounted for 43 per cent of the dollar value of the government ICT
expenditure. The capping on value allows SMEs to engage more directly as the
prime contractor the government ICT purchase contracts rather than as
- A Fair Criteria Policy will provide guidance across the
end-to-end procurement process that buyers and sellers must undertake. The
policy will include considerations such as insurance, liability, security and
financial criteria. The aim of the policy is to even the playing field for
sellers of all sizes, and encourage competition.
- The Digital Marketplace that connects small business with
government buyers has transacted over $151m of business, with over 70% going to
SMEs. The Digital Marketplace will continue to be updated and a new Training
Marketplace capability will be added to give government buyers more focus and
flexibility to source the training and development expertise they need from the
The Digital Transformation Agency
The majority report has incorrectly concluded that the DTA has no
purpose or responsibility under its current remit. Nothing could be further
from the truth. Government senators consider the position taken by the majority
to be outmoded and reminiscent of a time when power was centralised in the
central agencies—as Mr Paul Waller observed, institutionally there is much
vested in the status quo. The government's decision to establish the DTA reflects the need to shift
thinking to a new paradigm.
Government senators consider the DTA to be achieving exactly that which it
was intended to achieve at every stage of its mandate. The DTA is the
government's lead agency for the digital transformation of government administration.
It has a whole-of-government focus for the development of strategy, policies
and guidelines to assist departments and agencies to undertake digital
Responsibility and accountability for delivering the digital
transformation agenda is properly the role of all departments and agencies
across the government. Their role is an integral part of the legislative
framework accountability of the APS, including the Public Governance and
Accountability Act 2013 and the portfolio legislation administered by a
department of agency for the delivery of solutions and services to citizens and
As part of its role, the DTA deliberately presents a different business
model to the traditional APS hierarchical and bureaucratised approach. The DTA
takes a collaborative and persuasive approach to change and innovation. This
model is designed to attract a new generation and new approach to the business
of government, aligned with Australia's future in a digital world.
In that sense, government senators believe that the DTA is taking a new
approach that requires new thinking and organisational flexibility to find the
best way for government to make the transformation to a digital future.
Senator James Paterson Senator
Deputy Chair Senator
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