‘Visionary’ digital transformation leader Paul Shetler dies

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday February 3, 2020

Malcolm Turnull (l) and Paul Shelter (r)

The Commonwealth government’s inaugural head of the Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, has died.

The news of his passing has been met with an outpouring of grief from colleagues, friends and admirers.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull — who hired Shetler in 2015 when he was communications minister —  described the death as a “great loss”.

“He was as innovative as he was iconoclastic. A visionary in every sense,” he wrote on Twitter.

Australian eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant also mourned his death online.

“We will miss his sharp wit, incisive ideas and his passion to push the public sector to adopt technology ways that best serve and support our citizens,” she wrote.

Former DTO colleague Catherine Thompson said Shetler was honest and spoke from conviction, regardless of personal cost.

“Paul’s instinctive genius was to sense the looming issues for citizens and government in the digital world, and to explain their implications simply and incisively,” she told InnovationAus. “His passion was to make people’s lives better through great government services. This is why, in the difficult post-DTA period, he did not take the easy road back to the private sector or leave Australia.

“Paul was a consummate digital native, effortlessly spontaneous on social media, never offline, always curiously exploratory. His vision was unwavering and his attention unrelenting. My Health Record, encryption laws, digital identity, none of these escaped skewering and the national dialogue advanced and in some cases persisted because of him.”

NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said Shetler possessed a “clarity of vision that is rare but needed in an increasingly cluttered world”.

Shetler left the Australian Public Service in 2016, after the DTO became the Digital Transformation Agency, and appointed a new CEO. Having held similar roles in the UK, Shetler had been openly critical of many of the Australian government’s websites during his time at the DTO, particularly the myGov service delivery portal. He was known as a frank and fearless disruptor by many.

He passed away on Friday after suffering a heart attack, aged 59. He was surrounded by loved ones.

Read more: Paul Shetler: my 16 months of digital transformation in Australia

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