What can Australia’s first digitally literate PM accomplish?

By Craig Thomler

Tuesday September 15, 2015

Rudd & Gillard could work the Twitters.

Abbott understood the need to engage digitally, if not the tech, the value or the full impact (and mistakenly thought one of his ministers had invented the internet).

Even Howard got on board the digital express with a few YouTube videos.

However Australia has never before in its history had a digitally literate PM of the likes of Malcolm Turnbull.

This could mean nothing, or it could mean enormous change if the Australian government is told to lift its game on digital engagement and treat technology as an integral part of designing and implementing government business rather than as a service to be called on when needed.

Turnbull has already laid down a positioning statement in this area, stating in his inaugural media announcement as PM that: “We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield.”

We’ll see quite quickly which is true by Turnbull’s approach to several of the key planks of openness and digital transformation.

Signs of change

Key steps would include endorsing and progressing Australia’s membership of the Open Government Partnership, something agreed to by the Gillard government but was placed on the perpetual back burner by Abbott as he focused on closing, rather than opening up, government.

I’d also expect to see a rethink of the government’s position on the Office of the Information Commissioner — an agency the Abbott government failed to legislate to remove but has been killing by degrees by cutting funding and refusing to replace Commissioners.

“There’s also many things that could be done at a micro-level within agencies to shift the reliance on corporate IT suppliers, 1990s systems and large, virtually undeliverable technology projects …”

Another sign of change would be an elevation of the role of the Digital Transformation Office, making more of its approaches mandatory and providing more teeth to the agency when dealing with big and slow moving departments more interested in the status quo. This could include shifting the DTO back to the Prime Minister’s department, but with a direct reporting line to Turnbull that minimizes the obfuscation prevalent within that department at senior levels.

Other areas that could use attention include the open data space, which is run on a shoestring by Finance and could greatly magnify its impact with additional resourcing and mandates, and, of course, the NBN — Turnbull’s former responsibility a Communications Minister.

A shift back to a FTTH approach, delivered more cost-effectively than the previous Labor model, would provide Australia with the infrastructure it needs for the 21st century and cement Turnbull as a visionary with Australia’s long-term future at heart.

There’s also many things that could be done at a micro-level within agencies to shift the reliance on corporate IT suppliers, 1990s systems and large, virtually undeliverable technology projects — many of which could be led by a revitalised AGIMO in association with the DTO.

Of course Turnbull may have other fish to fry, he has quite a lot to do to get the Liberals back to an electoral-ready position within 12 months, and if not re-elected much of the program above could find itself on the scrap heap of a new government that wants to do things differently.

However, I am hopeful that we’ll see some true digital leadership from Turnbull whilst he is Prime Minister and potentially some real shifts in how government is delivered in Australia, to the benefit of all Australians now and in the future.

This article was first published on Craig Thomler’s egov blog.

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Tom Gash
Tom Gash
5 years ago

A real opportunity here.
If the Digital Transition Office does get a revamp/ push, well worth looking at the recent UK experience – the UK Government Digital Service had some great successes but its role has recently been reviewed, largely in recognition of the fact that ultimately digital capability needs to sit in all departments not just at the centre.

Mikael Andersson
Mikael Andersson
5 years ago

Hi Tom, we definitely must admit that the UK GDS failed, in front of our eyes. It was de-funded and the entire aristocracy left, with the CEO Mike Bracken plus Tom Loosemore leaving last Friday (and everyone feigning shock). The GDS has been hemorrhaging staff back to Australia, where they are ex-pats who can return home, or where we can bend (break) the rules by getting them into this country as having special knowledge. The special knowledge is How the GDS Failed. It is no example to follow. It’s an example to avoid. Clearly it had the wrong focus altogether, specifically the point you make so accurately that “the fact that ultimately digital capability needs to sit in all departments not just at the centre.”

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