The Department of Finance has assumed control of the federal government $600 million-plus digital identity program, taking policy duties from the Digital Transformation Agency in the latest carve up of its responsibilities.
As work on legislation for an economy-wide expansion of the scheme continues, the government’s digital advisor last week relinquished control of the program it was tasked with by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2015.
“From 6 July 2023, the digital identity program is managed by [the] Department of Finance,” a brief undated message on the DTA’s website reads.
In May, the government set aside a further $26.9 million for the Finance department and the DTA to maintain the current Digital ID system and design “policy and legislative foundations”, with all but the $4.5 million flowing to the Finance department.
But at that time, there was no indication that the DTA would cede digital identity policy responsibilities, despite handing delivery responsibilities to myGovID operators, the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia, two years ago.
A spokesperson for Finance minister Katy Gallagher said the government “took a decision to move the function to the department to support the legislative and regulatory foundations for a phased roll out across the economy”, adding that the function transferred on 1 July 2023.
The further reduction in the DTA’s remit comes just weeks after the Department of Home Affairs took over the troubled Hosting Certification Framework, the now-decommissioned Cyber Hubs project and the Hardening Government IT initiative.
The DTA has been through a significant restructure over the past two years that has also seen other technology and service delivery responsibilities erased. It now almost exclusively provides advice to support the government’s digital agenda.
In light of recent changes to its remit, the agency’s departmental appropriation will fall from $71.7 million in 2022-23 to $62 million this financial year, representing the third consecutive cut since the 2021-22 Budget.
Digital identity was one of the first projects the DTA’s predecessor, the Digital Transformation Office, was tasked with solving when it was established by Mr Turnbull in 2015 to “ensure people no longer have to complete separate log on processes for each government service”.
But more than seven years since the Digital ID system first received funding in the 2015-16 federal Budget, the project has stalled for the last 18 months while the Albanese government redrafts legislation that it plans to consult on later this year.
The legislation will expand 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.
Prior to the change of government, the DTA had consulted extensively on draft legislation, releasing the first discussion paper as far back as November 2020. However, the former government ultimately never brought on the legislation for debate before the 2022 election.
Last month, federal and state ministers signed off on a new National Strategy for Identity Resilience that will see biometrically anchored digital identity credentials that work across state boundaries become the norm in Australia.
The government is also currently consulting on associated reforms to statutory declarations and deeds that will allow Australians to use a digital identity to witness documents online, without needing to visit a Justice of the Peace.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.