James Riley
August 30, 2018

Digital to remain within PM&C

Special Reports

Digital to remain within PM&C

Scott Morrison: Still holding the reigns of digital transformation?

The Digital Transformation Agency remains an executive agency in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio with no change to ministerial responsibility.

This is despite the Minister for Digital Transformation having moved to the Social Services portfolio – and no longer being in Cabinet.

It’s an unusual scenario, but is not without precedent. Remaining in PM&C portfolio means the Prime Minister remains the responsible minister, nominally if not in practice.

There is a small amount of complexity here. If process is not your thing, I suggest you go and get a cup of tea.

In the final Turnbull Ministry, Michael Keenan was Minister for Human Services and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Transformation.

He was in Cabinet, and chaired the Cabinet’s Digital Transformation and Public Sector Modernisation Committee.

In the Ministry announced on Sunday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Michael Keenan is both Minister for Human Services and Minister for Digital Transformation, albeit now within the Social Services portfolio.

Mr Keenan is no longer in Cabinet. And he is no longer the chair of the Cabinet committee dealing with digital transformation issues (at least this would be a fair guess, as the committee memberships have not yet been published.) This would seem self-evident.

He may yet be involved as an ex officio member of the Cabinet committee dealing with digital transformation. This would not be entirely weird. Angus Taylor is understood to have been an ex officio member of the digital transformation committee when he was Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation under Malcolm Turnbull (at a time when Mr Turnbull was not only the Prime Minister, but chaired the Cabinet committee on transformation.)

If you’ve finished that cup of tea and you’re still reading, it’s best you get another one. Go on. You know want one.

If you were to read the tea leaves here, you would say it’s a good thing the DTA remains in the Prime Minister’s portfolio because it gives the agency more clout to get difficult things across the whole of government. Because being in the PM’s portfolio brings with it the nominal weight of the PM.

And then you’d say ‘hey wait, that’s really funny, because the rationale for making the Human Services minister – Michael Keenan – the Minister Assisting the PM on Digital Transformation was because it would give the DTA more clout. Because it did not have enough clout being in PM&C, itself a small department.

By being attached to a giant IT beast and delivery agency like Human Services we were told last time around, the DTA would carry more weight and influence.

The trick here is to not read the tea leaves, and to simply put it down to a minimalist intervention by the Prime Minister and Cabinet to implement the changes wrought in the Morrison Ministry.

The Administrative Arrangements Order signed by the Governor General on Tuesday is highly efficient. A word changed here and there, and machinery of government changes have been avoided.

Going back to the tea leaves, it’s a good thing the Prime Minister’s department will still have it policy influences – and still hosts some of the most interesting parts of delivery policy, particularly around data and behavioural economics.

It also suggest the Scott Morrison maintains an interest. As Treasurer he was a member of the Cabinet committee on digital transformation. And it suggests on continued policy interest and input from the PMO. There’s the clout.

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