A department secretary has contradicted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that the recent major shake-up of the public service was in-line with the Thodey review, as the government prepares a major cash-splash to fund its digital transformation agenda.
Mr Morrison is expected to this week reveal the government’s response to the David Thodey-led Independent Review of the Australian Public Service. The response is expected to include a further consolidation of government agencies and boards, as well as an vastly increased budget for IT upgrades and the accelerated digital transformation agenda.
Last week Mr Morrison announced a huge restructuring of the APS, with the 18 departments to be cut down to 14 from February next year. The shake-up will also see the Department of Communications rolled in with Infrastructure, while Industry and Science has been rolled in with Energy and Resources. Services Australia is to as an executive agency within Social Services
Five department secretaries lost their jobs as a result of the restructure.
At the time, Mr Morrison said the changes are “consistent entirely with the thrust of the Thodey review”.
But a department secretary has told The Guardian that this restructuring was not mentioned in the review or in any of the multiple rounds of consultations since. Instead, many of the submissions focused on the need to relax staffing caps and current rules requiring demand offsets before new spending is approved.
The government will announce “further changes” this week after receiving some “final advice” on its response to the Thodey review.
This is believed to include major new spending on IT systems and digital transformation in the APS, with Mr Morrison reframing the APS’ role not as advice-givers to government, but on service delivery.
The tech spending is expected to be in the hundreds of millions, and would fund Services Australia’s mission of delivering simple and reliable services to Australia and reducing “bureaucratic congestion”.
The focus of this spending is on “people and technology” and building the capability of the APS to improve service delivery and better share information and data.
Numerous submissions to the Thodey review said increased spending was desperately needed for departments to support the IT systems they need.
The Department of Agriculture and Water, which is merging with the Department of Environment, said in a submission that it “lags in digital transformation and the technical capabilities needed to keep pace with developments in agricultural industries”.
“It is not seen to be possible to fund the necessary level of investment within the current budget rules and processes, and the current arrangements require that we keep old systems operating or apply Band-Aid solutions beyond their natural lives,” it said.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert recently outlined a new model for government digital transformation based around Services Australia, but did not detail how this will be funded.
The new agency will “fundamentally reimagine” how government services are delivered, he said, with a move towards a “much simpler, faster and agile way of releasing funding for digital projects”.
There are seven current streams of work surrounding Services Australia, including the revamp of government shopfronts, designing customer-centric suites of digital services and transforming the department’s back-end systems.
The funding for these projects and wider government IT programs is likely to be revealed by the end of this week, along with further changes to the APS and government departments.
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