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Public Sector Innovation Awards go to ABS, AUSTRAC, DFAT, Home Affairs

An international coding competition organised by AUSTRAC, efficient implementation of the marriage law postal survey and a visualisation of the healthcare situation across the Pacific have come up trumps in the Public Sector Innovation Awards.

The Department of Home Affairs also received the Judges’ Award for replacing outgoing passenger cards with a system to capture data about arrivals in other ways.

The awards, presented at Questacon this evening, are open to federal and ACT government agencies and run by the Institute of Public Administration Australia, ACT Division, in partnership with the Public Sector Innovation Network. Entries are shortlisted by a group of peer-assessors and finalists are judged by an independent panel.

The DFAT team. L-R: Sarah Pearson, Michael Nunan and Toni Williams, with Senator Zed Seselja second from left.

Tupaia, a data visualisation tool for healthcare resources in Pacific nations funded with $2 million from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, took out the Digital and Data category. The project is a multi-country effort that was developed by the department’s InnovationXChange team and two partner companies that provided software and expertise in medical supply chains.

Screen capture from Tupaia.

Essentially, the idea is to provide a lot more visibility over health systems in the Pacific Islands. The judges commented that from Australia’s perspective, it demonstrated a valuable new approach to foreign aid:

“Tupaia is a game-changer for Australian Aid. Through the creative use of digital technology and human-centred design, Tupaia has dramatically enhanced the efficacy of the Aid program and improved medical and health care facilities to developing nations across the Pacific region.

“The judges were particularly impressed with what Tupaia means for the delivery of aid in the future, including the potential impact on the broader aid program.”

Efficient implementation of the postal survey that preceded same-sex marriage legislation earned the top honour in the Citizen-Centred Innovation category for the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS team. L-R:  Laura Neill, Samantha Palmer, Michelle Howe, Michelle Hamlin, Andrew Sillis, David Kalisch and Duncan Young, to the right of Senator Zed Seselja.

“The delivery of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was an innovative and effective example of user-centred design,” according to a summary of the judgement:

“It enabled the ABS to complete the survey in only 99 days and to reach Australians across the country, including in rural and remote areas. The judges were particularly impressed with the innovative approaches taken across the entire survey process, including the approaches to ensure such a high survey engagement rate.”

AUSTRAC came out on top in “Culture and Capability” for running the first ASEAN-Australia Codeathon in March this year. The coding competition for “developers, financial institutions, designers, analysts, subject-matter experts, engineers and other skilled individuals from FIUs and FinTech and RegTech communities” focused mainly on tracing terrorism financing, according to its website.

According to the judging panel:

“AUSTRAC’s ASEAN-Australia Codeathon was Australia’s first ever intelligence codeathon. It is an innovative and impressive example of regional partners, government, industry and academia collaborating to solve some of our most complex law enforcement and intelligence problems.

“The judges were particularly impressed with the manner in which AUSTRAC delivered the event as part of the ASEAN gathering, given the sensitivities involved in national security matters.”

AUSTRAC is continuing to develop some of the ideas from the Codeathon through its own Innovation Hub unit, including “potential blockchain prototype solutions and mentoring of selected participants” according to a statement celebrating the award. CEO Nicole Rose said it was important for the agency to keep up with innovation in the black market.

“The Codeathon is just one of many initiatives where we have used innovative techniques to tackle financial crime in Australia,” Rose said.

“Our world class teams of analysts and data scientists do an incredible job, but we must constantly evolve and work with others outside to stay ahead of the criminals. That is why we have embedded a culture of innovation and collaboration at AUSTRAC.”

The AUSTRAC team. L-R: Raj Walton, Brian Giffney, Leanne Fry and Grace Mason.

The Judges’ Award is meant for a project that stood out as being a bit unusual or experimental and, according to the panel, Home Affairs has given “the travelling public” back over 1 million hours — an estimated amount of time they would have spent filling out outgoing passenger cards — while continuing “capture of critical data through other means”.

“The judges were impressed by the amount of information collected, and that the information’s accuracy increased after the card was phased out. The judges also noted this innovative approach would encourage and give permission for further innovation in the department.”

Home Affairs executive John Gibbon and Senator Zed Sesejla.

The awards were presented by Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja, the Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, who is pictured above cutting the cake with DIIS secretary Heather Smith (foreground) and Elizabeth Kelly, deputy secretary for governance.

Kelly chaired the judging panel and was joined by Microsoft Australia’s federal director Hala Batainah, EY partner and former APS secretary Andrew Metcalfe, Tax Office chief service delivery officer Melinda Smith, and the director of the University of Canberra Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, Prof Mark Evans.

“The theme of Innovation Month this year has been ‘working together’ — something we must do to drive innovation and to build a culture of experimentation across government,” Smith said in her speech. “And working across government with other sectors and citizens gives us diverse views which is a key ingredient to how we do innovation.

“Collaboration should be the rule within government, not the exception, and we shouldn’t be trying to solve policy challenges … by ourselves.”

As a senator for the ACT, where the public sector is a large part of the local economy, Seselja said he had “a particular desire” to see government institutions continue to “thrive” in contrast to some other politicians.

“And we do have a tradition, perhaps, of bashing Canberra and bashing public servants in this nation — maybe even more so on my side of politics than the other, it’s fair to say, although I do recall the former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, talking about ‘a meat-axe’ to the bureaucracy — but we do see that attitude,” he said.

“And I often have that conversation with my colleagues because they would say, ‘Well, you know, we’re into growing the private sector,’ … and I make the point to them that a thriving public sector — and I think if you compare our public sector to most parts of the world, we are very, very well served — but a thriving public sector is actually central to economic growth.

“It’s actually central to a thriving private sector, because you have to have confidence in our institutions. You have to have confidence that they are going to be well governed, that they are going to be professional and that they are going to be innovative.”

 

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.