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Turnbull’s digital free-for-all: states can join myGov for nothing

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The federal government has laid the foundation for a single log-in to all government services — federal, state and local — Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull telling Parliament this week myGov would be made available to all government agencies at no cost.

Turnbull said the myGov portal already has over 6 million active users. The portal enables citizens to access services from a variety of federal agencies including Medicare, the Australian Tax Office and the departments of Human Services, Health and Veterans’ Affairs.

Turnbull said the CIO for Human Services, Gary Sterrenberg, had advised him it costs only $50,000 to bring on board a state government agency to the portal. The Victoria government had previously agreed to use the myGov portal. The Minister said:

“Now, we are going to make this platform available to all local and state government for no charge from the Commonwealth.

“This is going to revolutionise the way government services are delivered. It is going to make government more efficient. It is going to drive our national target of productivity, competitiveness and innovation that will deliver us the growth and ensure our children’s jobs in the years to come.”

Last month, Turnbull announced the establishment of a new Digital Transformation Office within the Department of Communications to drive the digitisation of government services and “better serve the needs of citizens and businesses”. He told Parliament:

“Its job, my goal, is to ensure that by 2017 all major transactions between citizens and government can be completed digitally online end to end. This is going to ensure that government services are vastly more compelling, vastly more attractive to citizens, and of course it will save them time and money.”

The establishment of a single digital identity for all government services raises important privacy and security issues, as well as possible resistance from citizens concerned about the prospect of “big brother” knowing about their lives. Officials are acutely aware of the issue and nervous the program of rolling out myGov does not raise the political problems which ultimately killed the “Australia Card”, the Hawke government initiative in the 1980s that sought to bring all services together.

The establishment of the DTO comes along with a series of initiatives to fast forward the Australian government’s embrace of digital technologies. Agencies are now required to use cloud-based applications and software as the default, unless there are good reasons for not doing so. An associated set of security guidelines have been issued to enable agencies to risk manage cloud and other software services.

Late last year Australian government CTO John Sheridan brokered a $24 million agreement to provide an open source content management and digital platform called govCMS to all government agencies. This uses a major international software system called Drupal specially tailored for government use.

Turnbull has said the DTO will champion a digital-by-default approach and will seek to create a common and simpler user experience .

In a set of FAQs explaining the operation and mandate of the DTO, Turnbull said the DTO will “co-ordinate and lead the government’s digital transformation agenda, so there should not be examples of agencies operating outside this framework”:

“The DTO has not been established to simply tell agencies what to do, but to work collaboratively with agencies and to provide them with deep expertise as agencies transition to digital to improve the user experience. The DTO will not say ‘no’ without providing an alternative or working with agencies to develop an alternative.

“As the agency responsible for delivering the government’s digital transformation agenda, the head of the DTO will be responsible for resolving all significant disputes between agencies relating to digital, including investment decisions in common platforms.”

More at The Mandarin: Transformation agency caution: ‘digital lipstick won’t work’

Author Bio

Tom Burton

Tom Burton is publisher of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has served in various public administration roles, specialising in the media and communications sector. He was a Walkley Award-winning journalist and executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He worked as Canberra bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review and as managing editor of smh.com.au. He most recently worked at the Australian Communications and Media Authority.