Australia has placed fifth out of 38 countries in a global ranking of digital governments, placing above Estonia and snapping at the heels of other advanced economies like Norway and the United Kingdom.
It is the first time Australia has ranked on the list produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), having been the only member country not to submit data for the first report in 2019.
The 2023 OECD Digital Government Index, released on Tuesday, places South Korea first for the second time, extending its lead over Denmark and the United Kingdom, which have again ranked in the top five.
Japan and Columbia, which placed in the top five in 2019, have fallen to 31st and 7th, and have been replaced by Norway and Australia. Other countries to fall down the list include Canada, Spain and Israel.
Estonia – often considered the posterchild for high-tech public services – and Ireland made significant gains, moving from 18th and 23rd in 2019 to 6th and 8th in 2023. France also moved up the list.
According to the Index, the top 10 countries demonstrated “a comprehensive approach to ensuring strong foundations for digital government” across six dimensions between the pandemic years of 2020- and 2022.
Australia won praise for its digital by design efforts, ranking ahead of all 38-member countries for the measure, but scored poorly for its openness. It was ahead of the OECD average for the remaining dimensions, including “data-driven public sector” and “government as a platform”.
It also received special mention for being one of only five countries with an integrated approach to investments, meaning it is able to “better understand and respond to the digital needs of the public sector, including timely management and mitigation of risks associated with legacy technologies”.
Finance minister Katy Gallagher, who has carriage of the federal government’s digital and data agenda, welcomed the results of the OECD survey, which gave Australia an overall score of 73.3 per cent.
“This is the first time Australia has participated in the OECD DGI and to debut in the top five, is an impressive achievement. We want to keep this momentum going,” she said.
Senator Gallagher said the government would continue to invest in critical digital infrastructure like myGov and digital identity. Both initiatives have received top-up funding in the last 12 months, including in last month’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
The 2023 OECD Digital Government Index result comes just weeks after the former Coalition government’s goal of Australia becoming one of the top three digital governments by 2025 was abandoned.
The new Data and Digital Government Strategy, released last month, contains no mention of the goal, which Senator Gallagher described as “just empty words, not backed up by any meaningful actions or investments to achieve it”.
While the OECD’s ranking are no longer form part of the government’s digital government goals, Senator Gallagher on Tuesday said that the “OECD’s rankings will continue to be important as we track our progress implementing the strategy”.
“The rapid development of data and digital technologies create a significant opportunity for the Australian Public Service, but this must be monitored and measured so we can be sure we’re achieving the ultimate goal of better outcomes for people,” she said.
Acting Digital Transformation Agency chief executive Wayne Poels said recent initiatives to explore generative artificial intelligence within the public service, as well as efforts to curb confusion with digital services would help Australia maintain and improve its ranking.
“By aligning to the [Data and Digital Government] Strategy, its missions, and outcomes, the Australian Public Service will be well placed to drive up its score even closer to 100 per cent,” he said in a statement.
“We will continue to work to improve Australia’s ranking come the next Digital Government Index which, ultimately, will underpin better outcomes for citizens and businesses.”
Updated at 3:20pm to include DTA comments
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