Centrelink fail won’t go away

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Digital Transformation Agency had been missing in action throughout the Centrelink debt recovery debacle calling into question its purpose in government, according to shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic.

From its original design as a central repository of expertise to actively assist in digital service delivery, Mr Husic said the DTA was now behaving more like a think tank than a delivery agency.

The fact that former Digital Transformation Office CEO and later Australian Government Chief Digital Officer Paul Shetler had left the agency indicated a lack of political support for its original central delivery agency structure.

The silence from Malcolm Turnbull – who had personally been involved in Mr Shetler’s recruitment from the UK’s Government Digital Service – was damning, as was the absence of the responsible minister Angus Taylor as the Centrelink problems have played out through the media, Mr Husic said.

“What’s the DTA supposed to be about if it’s not delivery? What’s the point of it?

“There are plenty of organisations that can act as a think-tanks. What the DTA should be providing is guidance and assistance in delivery,” Mr Husic said, “the delivery of government services on digital platforms.”

“They have vacated the field. That’s the sense people are getting on what the DTA’s mission is. We don’t need a think-tank, we need an action agency.”

There was too little public detail about the structure of the new DTA mission, and how it differed from the Digital Transformation Office it replaced, Mr Husic said.

“The essence of what they’re trying to do [in digital transformation] has been there since Malcolm Turnbull was Communications Minister. If they were having any success in influencing outcomes, surely they would have some sort of ability to address either the design or the response [to the Centrelink problems.]

“Now it’s clear that hasn’t got that influence. The fact that Paul Shetler left – that he felt he no longer had the ability to influence – isn’t just a reflection on Paul, it’s a reflection on Malcolm Turnbull,” Mr Husic said.

“Malcolm Turnbull personally recruited Paul Shetler. I would imagine – and I would be happy to stand corrected – that Malcolm Turnbull would have indicated that Paul Shetler had licence to make change,” he said.

“But as we’ve seen with Malcolm Turnbull, he’s all talk and no action. The reality hasn’t stacked up to the image – and I imagine that Paul Shetler has left disappointed … that the promises were not fulfilled.”

Despite all the controversy of Centrelink and the failures at the ATO through December, Mr Husic said the minister with potentially the most to say was nowhere to be seen.

“In all of this controversy, where are the comments from Angus Taylor about whether the Digital Transformation Agency can help get on top of these things and provide guidance to these departments and agencies that are in digital disarray.

“He’s nowhere to be seen. The digital footprint from Angus Taylor has been completely missing.”

“Meanwhile you’ve got [Human Services Minister] Alan Tudge going around hailing digital transformation in Human Services and how the department was delivering.

“But I’ve still got constituents sitting on the phone for three hours.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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