Digital ministers agree to ‘explore’ national ID system


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Australia’s digital and data ministers have agreed to “actively explore” a national digital identity system, stepping up the language of previous commitments ahead of Tuesday’s budget.

The federal government has poured $450 million into its digital identity system but has missed its own deadlines for introducing legislation to expand it to states, territories and the private sector.

The system was discussed on Friday by ministers from the Commonwealth and six of the states and territories, who also agreed to improve national data collection, reporting and sharing.

Digital identity gets another workout in meeting of ministers

In previous Data and Digital Ministers Meetings a national digital identity has been discussed, with a focus on using it for federated services and cross border credentials among other economic opportunities.

According to a communiqué released after the latest “extraordinary” meeting on Friday, the ministers are now “actively exploring” the national system.

“Ministers agreed to actively explore adopting a national digital identity ecosystem. All governments are working closely to turn this commitment into tangible benefits for all Australians,” the communiqué, circulated by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said.

“This whole-of-economy solution would deliver significant economic benefits for Australia and support Australia’s vision to be a leading digital economy and society by 2030.

“Ministers also noted the critical importance of interoperability and mutual recognition of digital credentials.”

The language coming out of Friday’s meeting is slightly stronger than previous summits, where ministers had agreed to “discuss opportunities” and “work towards” a national digital identity system.

A national system would be based on the federal government’s whole-of-government digital identity program, which is aiming to provide identity verification across a range of government services and private sector offerings.

It has cost more than $450 million over six years so far but hasn’t been rolled out widely because of missing Commonwealth legislation.

The legislation is believed to be at a draft stage after consultations over several years but has not been introduced to Parliament, despite government committing to do this.

The digital identity legislation expands the scheme to the private sector and state and territory governments, as well as legislating privacy and consumer protections and establishing permanent governance arrangements and a regulatory regime.

At Friday’s meeting of digital ministers, a review of the first National Data Sharing Work Program that commenced in August 2021 was also discussed.

“The Work Program focussed on action taken to address national priority data sharing challenges (including for natural hazards and emergency management; waste management; and road safety) and reform of the Commonwealth, state and territory data sharing system,” the communiqué said.

“Ministers agreed a number of actions to improve design and delivery of the next National Data Sharing Work Program.”

Ministers also responded to a request for advice from the National Emergency Management Ministers on “developing consistent data collection and reporting of rebuild of houses following a natural disaster”.

The following ministers attended the latest meeting on Friday via video conference:

  • Stuart Robert MP (Commonwealth)
  • Victor Dominello MP (New South Wales)
  • Danny Pearson MP (Victoria)
  • Leeanne Enoch MP (Queensland)
  • Stephen Dawson MLC (Western Australia)
  • Mr Chris Steel MLA (Australian Capital Territory)
  • Paul Kirby MLA (Northern Territory)

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

2 Comments
  1. Isabelle Moeller 8 months ago
    Reply

    We are seeing a similar challenge for the biometrics community. Different uses of terms such a verification, authentication and identification. This is why the Biometrics Institute launched its call for a common approach to biometrics and is engaging with its members, many from government, to clarify this. I agree, if we cannot explain what we do, how do we expect the public to trust us. See https://www.biometricsinstitute.org/press-release-biometrics-institute-calls-for-a-common-approach-to-biometrics/

  2. Stephen Wilson 8 months ago
    Reply

    What is it exactly that they’re talking about? A lot of different phrases are used for things that may or may not be the same thing. A national digital Identity, a national ID system, a national digital Identity system, a national digital Identity ecosystem, or a whole-of-government digital identity program? Words matter because unless and until policy wonks get clear about this, it will continue to confuse and scare people. We years and year we have been sadly unable to hold a proper discussion about nation-scale authentication without getting it all confused with an new Australia Card.

    What could these various phrases mean? An *ecosystem* might theoretically be cultivated in which market forces lead to commercial digital authentication services — except that the biggest Common Law system countries all tried this for decades and nothing happened. A “whole-of-government digital identity” probably means MyGov and the like (more accurately called e-government Single Sign On) which are relatively harmless when self-contained, but very very hard to federate into the private sector. A “digital identity system” might be a regulated framework in which authentication services are provided for a range of applications, but that doesn’t have to be called “identity”. The better modern term is “credentials”.

    And “national ID system” is what they have in many other countries but that’s been roundly rejected in Australia and the U.K., and AFAICT has not been attempted in the U.S. for many generations.

    If only the federal government could focus on a simpler, less contentious, more easily understood concept. It would be hugely valuable if as had cryptographically verifiable mobile digital versions of the many identifiers and credentials we are familiar with as plastic cards.

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