Malcolm Turnbull’s signature public sector innovation agency, the Digital Transformation Office, is set to come under intensified scrutiny in the next Parliament, with Labor already calling for an overhaul of its priorities.
The Digital Transformation Office was announced in early 2015 by then- Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull to drive the delivery of more efficient digital services. After five months as an interim agency, the DTO was formalised with the arrival in Australia of its current CEO, Paul Shetler.
But even as the DTO celebrates its first full-year of operation, Labor has called last drinks on the bipartisan niceties that has kept the high-profile agency relatively free of public scrutiny.
Labor’s digital innovation spokeman Ed Husic says the Opposition had conceptually supported the creation of the Digital Transformation Office, but says the agency has drifted from is core purpose to deliver better government services faster.
A year into its operation, he says the DTO has not delivered on its promise. And that no gains had been made in the areas of Commonwealth service delivery that has been most problematic – the high volume transaction areas in Human Services where phone wait-times can stretch to hours.
Mr Husic says the original aims of the DTO are important, and that the agency’s work must continue. But he has belled the cat on scrutiny of the DTO work program.
“You will see a much bigger focus from us on the Digital Transformation Office,” Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com.
“We had agreed to the creation of the DTO conceptually and we offered bipartisan support for its launch. But we have not agreed with the execution, and we have said as much.”
“The work plan at the DTO needs to be much more sharply focused on improving federal government service,” he said.
Mr Husic says the DTO work program has been somewhat ephemeral, without attention being directed to the low-hanging fruit – that is, the areas of Commonwealth service delivery with the biggest problems.
He is sharply critical of work the DTO is doing on state and territory digital services.
“There are some agencies where you’ve got people waiting on phone calls for three hours to get service. And while that’s happening, you have the DTO offering assistance to state and territory governments,” Mr Husic said.
“Well that’s not going to help things. You would think they would get the backyard sorted out first before looking around other parts of the government neighbourhood [for work to do],” he said.
Mr Husic said the Opposition would put a much sharper focus on the DTO and its work program through the parliamentary processes available to it over the next three years.
He has previously complained that while the public who are most reliant on transactional services from agencies like Centrelink are waiting three hours to have phone queries answered, the DTO’s attention has been on niche services.
Mr Husic has suggested a citizen-driven DTO project list, “perhaps radically shaped by inviting the public via social media to nominate priority projects” as a way to build confidence and recognition in the Digital Transformation Office.