10 million myGov users? Nay, Australia exaggerates its digital take-up


Even myGov’s own executives admit, away from the minister’s earshot, that myGov registrations don’t represent how many Australians have made the switch to digital services.

But in an all-too-common example of measuring processes instead of outcomes, Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge proudly announced this week that “more than 10 million people have now registered with myGov”. Armed with a number and no context, Tudge concludes we must be doing pretty well:

“Very few other nations have had this level of digital take-up,” the minister said in his Department of Human Services fact-checked media release.

Only two years ago, the former minister was announcing the service had reached five million users. User-base doubled in just two years? If it were true, it would indeed be very impressive, given that 10 million is roughly two thirds of Australia’s adult population.


In fact, myGov has reached 10 million registrations — there’s reason to doubt even that — and registrations include not just emerging digital citizenry, but also lost account usernames, lost passwords, people with different email addresses for different parts of their lives, people who created an account for their grandfather who never logged in, and so on.

A spokesperson for DHS told the The Mandarin the department had no figures on duplicate accounts because they presume users will relink all their services that were linked to old accounts.

However, executives responsible for myGov have long known that total registrations were a poor measure. Helen Peel, now DHS’ national director for external projects, acknowledged the rubbery value of registration numbers when discussing the project at IPAA’s excellence awards. It’s not a bug, rather its a feature that myGov users can simply create a new account if they forget their password. The service wasn’t ready to start getting into the Australia Card-esque identity framework business back then.

Why measure digital take-up?

There are credible ways to measure digital take-up in Australia. It’s worthwhile doing because it’s the first step to understanding if government is offering a quality service. This is particularly true where users have a clear choice between online and offline:

  • The Census is one, having switched in 2016 to digital opt-out instead of opt-in. More than six million households stuck with the default option in the first two weeks. Paper forms are still available but need to be requested.
  • My Health Record is another, with four million in the e-health system as of this month. Again, making opt-out the default has driven extraordinary take-up of the My Health Record. Opt-out remains an option to address privacy concerns.
  • MyTax lodgings, a client service of myGov, would also be a much more meaningful figure to watch than myGov registrations.

The Digital Transformation Office is pushing Commonwealth agencies to go the next step by mandating four key metrics on its new dashboard.gov.au:

  1. User Satisfaction
  2. Cost Per Transaction
  3. Digital Take-up
  4. Completion Rate

There’s only one marquee metric on myGov’s dashboard, and its a poor and disingenuous approach.

Ignore the 9.3 million registrations currently listed, a DHS spokesperson told The Mandarin. Despite the constantly refreshing “last updated” claim, those are old figures, apparently.

Repairing myGov’s usability (and its reputation)

There’s a clear reason why myGov isn’t publishing user satisfaction rates yet. Even the minister acknowledged “early frustrations” with the service.

Users have also noticed the not-my-department relationship between myGov and its client services is anything but helpful. As the service prepares to roll out a series of user-focused improvements, users still struggle to communicate with myGov. One user wrote on the service’s YouTube channel:

“Big deal .. I can’t even change the notification email address – or I might have done but there appears no way to tell. Oh and where’s the MyGov site feedback/enquiry options. Not centrelink or any of the linked services – the myGov site itself !!”

There was no response from myGov until, two months later, The Mandarin asked the same question. Here’s their reply:

“You can update your email address from the ‘Settings’ page in your myGov account. When you have a myGov account you can have up to two email addresses. One is your security email and the other is for notifications. These can be the same or different and both can be can updated. You can find more info about these and how to update them on the ‘Need help’ page under ‘Update your email address’: https://my.gov.au/mygov/content/html/help.html

“You can leave feedback by calling our helpdesk on 132 307 (Option 1) or you can find out how to provide feedback online here: https://my.gov.au/mygov/content/html/contact.html#mygov

Recognising that email is critical to the user experience was a late lesson for myGov. It was only in June this year that users were allowed to login with their email address instead of the randomly generated ID in the not-so-memorable “XX######” format.

This improvement, along with adjusting the lock-out period and expanding the long-promised “Tell us once” feature, is how DHS hopes to turn its 10 million myGov registrations into actual happy users. “Tell us once” might actually be the one feature that saves myGov from being replaced:

“Last financial year over 1.2 million people updated their details via myGov which resulted in updates across their Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian Taxation Office online accounts.”

It’s a promising start, albeit long overdue. Under the leadership of Tam Shepherd, the general manager of future services design, and with significant input from the DTO, there are signs of a reversal of the downward trend that has seen myGov go from spark of innovation to bane of users who have no alternative choice of digital platform.

The new Digital Transformation Minister, Angus Taylor, was allowed a small quote in the Human Services media release, and it points to the real lesson:

“This has been a great collaborative effort between the DHS and DTO. We commend Minister Tudge and his Department for leading this critical whole-of-government work and being prepared to work so closely with the DTO to ensure that best practice is applied across the Commonwealth.”

Alan Tudge’s office did not return calls this week.

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