DTA’s Paul Shetler resigns

James Riley
Editorial Director

The man hand-picked by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to lead the digital transformation of the Australian Government, Paul Shetler, has resigned.

Mr Shetler, who was hired as the chief executive officer of the Turnbull-designed Digital Transformation Office in July last year, had been restructured out of the job when the DTO was rebirthed as the Digital Transformation Agency.

He was most recently the Australian Government’s Chief Digital Officer within the DTA.

Paul Shetler: Has made an enormous contribution to Australia through cultural change

Mr Shetler handed his resignation to the DTA’s interim CEO Nerida O’Loughlin on Tuesday evening, sources close to the agency said. It is not yet clear when he will work through a hand-over period.

Neither the DTA nor Mr Shetler have responded to queries from InnovationAus.com. It is not known whether Mr Shetler, a dual US-UK citizen, intends to stay in Australia or not.

The resignation is an important marker on the Australian Government’s digital journey. It signals the end of an insurgent strategy that sought to drive change within government through a small band of disruptive outliers.

These outliers have now been brought into the mainstream of the public service. The government has gone full-circle on strategy.

His departure also raises enormous questions about the structure of the DTA, which has yet to make public the machinery of government changes that are supposed to make it more effective than the office it replaced.

Mr Shetler’s resignation is emblematic of Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation and Cities Angus Taylor’s mantra of “less disruption, more change management”. Clearly this puts his philosophical stamp on the newly restructured transformation agenda.

The outliers have been brought to heel with the new mainstream ICT focus of Mr Taylor’s digital transformation agenda.

It leaves a massive hole in the government’s digital transformation agenda. Mr Shetler has been the public face of digital transformation in government and has achieved remarkable success in driving incredible cultural change across the Australian Public Service.

Mr Shetler has been a controversial figure in government circles since his arrival in Australia last July, having been recruited from the UK’s Government Digital Service. His outsider status and sometimes brash manner did not endear him to the public service mandarins.

But he found a small army of supporters among the ranks of the public service who were drawn to his vision, passion and sense of purpose. There were many in government who were simply drawn to a person driving necessary change.

The DTA’s interim CEO Ms O’Loughlin is now searching not only for a permanent chief for the role, but also for a powerful chief digital officer who can drive change.

Without such a person, the risk is that the DTA slumps back into being another mainstream agency, complacent with the ways of government rather than driving a fundamental rethink.

The original Digital Transformation Office had been announced in January 2015 within the Communications portfolio under the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Shetler had been recruited to the role by the DTO interim chief executive David Hazlehurst (who is now a deputy secretary within the Industry department) after a global search.

It is understood Mr Shetler met directly with Mr Turnbull, who made a persuasive case for him to relocate to Australia.

More to come

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