Federal Budget 2018: digital government

By Stephen Easton

May 8, 2018

A worker handles copies of the 2018-19 Budget papers at Canprint in Canberra, Sunday, May 6, 2018. Australia’s Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver his third Budget on Tuesday, May 8. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

The federal government plans to spend about $600 million on a suite of diverse initiatives labelled as “delivering Australia’s digital future” in this year’s budget, including $92.4 million this financial year on “accelerated implementation” of its GovPass digital identity solution.

“The DTA will work with relevant agencies to leverage existing capabilities, and those in development, to test the delivery of GovPass across a range of services,” according to the budget papers.

“This will include a pilot for users to create a digital identity and complete a Tax File Number application online from end to end. The Australian Taxation Office will absorb $25.9 million and the Department of Human Services will absorb $5.6 million.”

The Digital Transformation Agency is also expected to “investigate areas where blockchain technology could offer the most value for Government services” this year, using a modest $700,000 from its existing budget.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has not confirmed exactly when GovPass is likely to be up and running but there’s a good chance it will be some time this financial year; there is no further “implementation” funding planned beyond this financial year.

One of the big-ticket digital budget items include $316.2m over four years released for the third stage of the DHS Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation project. Payments for jobseekers, older Australians, carers and people with disabilities are up next for “more efficient and automated claim, assessment and payment processes” and virtual assistants. The budget paper adds: “Provision for this funding has already been included in the forward estimates, with further efficiencies of $35.4 million to be realised over five years from 2017-18.”

Earlier examples of the WPIT project’s aims include improvements to the application processes for Youth Allowance and Austudy, which are described in Cormann’s agency resourcing paper: “The previous application process involving 117 questions is now an online process of just 37 questions. The median number of days to process a claim has reduced by around 70 per cent for Austudy and around 50 per cent for Youth Allowance.”

A package of reforms with similar aims for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs gets $111.9m for its continuation over the next four years. The aim is for the department “to better know, engage with and support veterans and their families, delivering the services they need, where and when they need them” according to the Finance Minister.

“In its first year, Veteran Centric Reform has created a prototype ‘digital front door’ and veterans are already seeing they can access services much more quickly; instead of waiting 100 days, claims are being processed, on average, in 33 days,” he adds. “Information is being offered to veterans at locations where they naturally go, ranging from Australia Post to the Australian War Memorial. Veteran services are also being offered in rural and regional areas via mobile buses, and veterans who would have missed out on help are now getting opportunities to connect.”

As recently announced, there’s a total of $65.1m over four years to fund the new data sharing and release arrangements, including the establishment of a National Data Commissioner and efforts to create a new consumer right to access personal records from private sector companies. The creation of the national data right alone is expected to cost $44.6m over four years, including $1.4 million in capital funding in 2018-19. This breaks down into:

  • $20.2m for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to assist in determining the costs and benefits of designating sectors that will be subject to the CDR, and to develop and implement rules to govern the data right and the content of data standards.
  • $12.9m for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to assess the privacy impact of designating sectors subject to the CDR, and to ensure consistency of rule-making with the Privacy Act 1988.
  • $11.5m to support the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in its role as the data standards setter.

According to the budget papers, ten agencies will also spend about $20.5m from their existing allocations for implementation of the new data governance arrangements over the forward estimates, and Cormann also provided an update on the Data Integration Partnership for Australia.

“The DIPA is already bringing together high-value data assets from across the public sector, including those developed by Health, Education and Social Services, to support analysis of a range of difficult policy problems,” he wrote in his public service resourcing paper. “Four Analytical Units within the APS are now established and undertaking projects to make best use of such data.”

Another smaller item in the digital budget is a project to upgrade business registers, which is also linked to a suite of measures responding to the work of Treasury’s Black Economy Taskforce.

New funding of $19.3m in 2018-19 is going mostly to the Australian Taxation Office with the balance shared between the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Not all new aspects of Australia’s immediate “digital future” that are funded in this year’s budget are labelled as such, however.

One that seems likely to ring the privacy alarm bells is a new “national digital baby book” costing $5m over two years. One glossy budget brochure explains this will “ensure all newborn Australians have access to a lifelong electronic health record” instead of the old hardcopy versions, while the budget entry for the Healthy Active Beginnings program, to which it belongs, states the digital baby book will “enable Australians to use technology to support the vital first 2,000 days of a child’s life”.

Another $106.8m over four years from 2018-19 is earmarked to modernise the health and aged care payments systems.

“Providers and consumers will benefit from enhancements such as increased functionality and usability of the Medicare Online Application and Medicare App,” explains Cormann. “Aged care registration processes for medical interns and registrars will be digitised and improved.”

There’s also $10.5m this financial year for Home Affairs to “transform and modernise” international trade processing arrangements. “This will be underpinned by the completion of an initial business case to provide a ‘single window’ for international trade documentation, creating a system that is seamless, digital, automated and user-friendly,” the budget states.

A trial of “digital delivery of employment services for up to 10,000 job-ready participants” that begins this July also appears in tonight’s budget documents, although it was announced on January 22 and was funded $12.2m over three years in the last budget. “Under the trial, job-ready eligible participants will engage online through www.jobactive.gov.au for up to six months. Participants who remain unemployed after this period will be referred to employment service providers for further support.”

Finally, Treasurer Scott Morrison has announced over $2.4 billion of investment in high-tech publicly owned “technology infrastructure” as part of the science spend. “This includes supercomputers, world class satellite imagery, more accurate GPS across Australia, upgrading the Bureau of Meteorology’s technology platform, a national space agency and leading research in artificial intelligence,” he said in his budget speech.

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The essential resource for effective
public sector professionals