Canberra’s mandarins must be going into Christmas wondering what just happened; major departments have disappeared (merged) and secretaries sacked with more changes to come.
However, the signposts were there from the time then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in May 2018 that David Thodey would head a review into the Australian Public Sector with digital disruption as its central theme.
The Federal Public Service was given a clue as to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s interest in its structures, performance and digital capabilities when he took on personal responsibility for the APS.
The Prime Minister said in August in a speech to the Institute of Public Administration: “The APS … needs to evolve and adapt amidst constant change. Old ways of doing things need to be challenged and, if necessary, disrupted.”
“With our fellow Australians among the most enthusiastic early adopters of technology in the world, harnessing the power of digital technology is not an option for the Australian Government. It’s the future of it,” Mr Morrison said.
The clues kept coming when the Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert, gave a speech to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) on 29th November when he said he wanted to “create a government that’s easy to deal with, informed by the people it serves and fit for the digital age.
“The current siloed approach to technology architecture, investment and delivery across government departments makes it difficult to deliver interconnected services that span agency boundaries, address people’s complex circumstances and life events,” Mr Robert said.
It is understood that the PM wanted the Thodey Review to have strong clear recommendations on which his Government could act and he got his wish when it said:
“The review concludes that the APS is ill-prepared to grasp the opportunities of the future for several reasons. It lacks a clear unified purpose, and is too internally focused. There has been long-running underinvestment in the APS’s people, capital and digital capability, while siloed approaches, rigid hierarchies and bureaucratic rules create barriers to effective delivery.”
“Now the APS has to deliver. It needs to take full advantage of current and future technologies to deliver the enhanced services which the Government has committed to and Australians expect,” the Review said.
When announcing his Government’s response to the review this month the Prime Minister again called out the central role digital technologies must play in a modern public sector:
“The Australian government is not just guaranteeing but transforming the services Australians rely on – using digital technologies and data so Australians can access simple and reliable services, designed around their needs,” Mr Morrison said.
“The opportunities and challenges presented by technological, geopolitical and societal changes demand high quality, joined up policy advice to secure strong outcomes and enable Australians to plan for their future with confidence,” he said.
The AIIA welcomes the Review and the Government’s response recognising the central role of digital technologies in effective citizen service delivery and in a modern APS in which big data, data analytics, AI, machine learning, cyber security and the cloud are core requirements.
The AIIA supports the Government’s acceptance of the Report’s recommendation to strengthen the Digital Transformation Agency as a “chief digital adviser” on government digital investments and its role in enforcing agency digital policies including capability, procurement and funding.
The AIIA has a Memorandum of Understanding with the DTA and we look forward to continuing to work together to help realise the important reform agenda of the Government.
Simon Bush is General Manager, Policy and Advocacy, at the Australian Information Industry Association