COVIDSafe is costing up to $300,000 per month to continue running, with the federal government’s controversial contact tracing app not picking up any new close contacts anywhere in the country this year.
Appearing at a Senate Estimates hearing on Thursday night, Digital Transformation Agency chief executive Randall Brugeaud revealed that maintenance costs for COVIDSafe, which was launched with much fanfare nearly a year ago, are at $100,000 per month, with up to $200,000 also set aside for any changes needed.
“COVIDSafe has moved into what we call a business-as-usual state. We apply very small amounts of maintenance – it costs about $100,000 per month to run the infrastructure and we’ve made a provision for about $200,000 per month to allow us to make future changes,” Mr Brugeaud told the Senators.
“That isn’t money that must be spent but we’ve estimated about $200,000 a month for future feature changes that may be required by the Department of Health.”
This means COVIDSafe will cost at least $1.2 million per year to keep running, and up to $3.6 million annually.
Mr Brugeaud also confirmed that the app is yet to detect any unique new close contacts since the last figures were revealed in November last year. At the time, COVIDSafe had picked up 17 close contacts of COVID-19 cases in New South Wales that hadn’t already been identified by manual contact tracers.
That number is still the same now, with COVIDSafe not to identify any new close contacts anywhere in Australia outside of NSW. This is despite significant outbreaks in NSW and Victoria in the time since the last figures were revealed.
The DTA also said that COVIDSafe has cost $6.745 million as of the end of January this year. But the DTA has entered into contracts worth nearly $10 million for work on the app going into the end of 2021.
These include a $6 million deal with Canberra-based tech company Delv, $2 million with Shine Solutions, a $1 million contract with Boston Consulting Group which has come to an end, $700,000 to Amazon Web Services for hosting and $1 million for Cevo.
Labor Senator Nita Green said she was concerned about the effectiveness of the app and the ongoing costs around it.
“It’s an incredible amount of money that went into the development, and I think the public will really consider whether the amount of money that went into this was money well spent,” Senator Green said at the hearing.
“When it was rolled out we really were sold this app as if it was a bit of a magic bullet, the thing that was going to make sure we could reopen and avoid lockdowns and get to economic recovery quicker, but it hasn’t really done that.
“Was this the best way to go forward, was this the best way to spend money? I think I have some concerns, and the numbers are pretty outstanding.”
In response, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston defended COVIDSafe and the money spent on it.
“We saw very few cases in Australia in comparison to the rest of the world. The app was designed at a time when we thought there was going to be a lot more cases. Notwithstanding that it was something that was put in place at an unknown time, it has served a purpose,” Senator Ruston said.
“Whether it has served as much a purpose as it might otherwise but clearly the health officers in NSW and Victoria both indicated that they believe the app has provided a very positive opportunity, a benefit for their states. In hindsight it was a decision that was taken that has provided some value.”
At the Estimates hearing, Mr Brugeaud also revealed that myGov will soon be linked with the Immunisation Register to assist with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, but the government is yet to decide whether it will be developing a vaccination record. The DTA boss said that was a matter for Services Australia.
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