Newly-appointed DTA chief Gavin Slater concedes he has a lot to learn about his new role after an embarrassing first appearance at the Senate estimates where his political impartiality was called into question.
The former NAB group executive was appointed as the new Digital Transformation Agency CEO in April, replacing interim chief Nerida O’Loughlin, who had led the agency since it was rebirthed from the ashes of the old Digital Transformation Office last October.
Mr Slater’s appearance at a Liberal Party fundraising dinner following the Federal Budget two weeks ago was questioned by Labor senators. The DTA CEO said he had been invited by a “personal friend” – a staffer to Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo – and that he had not paid for the ticket.
“Fair to say I have a lot to learn about my obligations, and I’m going through that process now,” Mr Slater told the Senate estimates.
Attorney-General George Brandis defended Mr Slater’s appearance at the fundraiser, saying there was a “wide cross-section” of Australians in attendance. But when Ms O’Loughlin was asked by Labor’s Penny Wong if she had ever attended a party fundraising, she confirmed that she had not.
The Estimates hearing was Mr Slater’s first public appearance as the new DTA chief executive after officially taking over the role at the start of this month. He said he has spent the time since learning about the agency’s operations.
“I’ve spent the past couple of weeks on a pathway of discovery about what the DTA is working on and where things are at. There’s still plenty of listening and learning for me to do,” he said.
Mr Slater reiterated the DTA’s newfound approach of not stepping on any toes in large government agencies, and collaborating rather than taking over the digital reigns.
“I don’t see the role of the DTA as going in and taking over a whole project. We’re simply not resourced to do that and I don’t think that’s the best use of our expertise. It’s really important that accountability for projects reside with the departments themselves,” Mr Slater said.
“We have an oversight role now to play and if we feel there’s an opportunity for us to get involved and assist we will do that but that does not entail us taking over the whole project.”
The DTA will now be working with departments on tech projects from the start, rather than stepping in when “things go off the rails”, Ms O’Loughlin added.
“What we’re now in a position of being able to do is engaging much more with projects from the very beginning until the very end,” she said.
“In the budget process, we have had a new role of actually providing our professional advice on projects coming ahead to budget both in design and implementation. We’re much more involved from the very beginning.”
Mr Slater confirmed the $70.1 million funding boost in the budget for the digital transformation agenda, with the agency to receive $201.95 million in 2017-18 and $166.35 million in 2018-19.
“This gives the DTA the funding and remit to deliver on the government’s digital transformation ambitions,” he said.
Senator Wong grilled Ms O’Loughlin on whether Australians were getting value for money from the DTA.
“I can’t give an overall opinion about value for money – that comes down to the specific projects. Some indeed have value for money, and some have fallen lower than the bar set for them,” Ms O’Loughlin responded.
The new digital boss pointed to the DTA’s collaboration with the Department of Human Services on the revamped MyGov website as an example of the work the agency would be looking to do in the future.
“It was a great example of collaboration between ourselves and the DHS. Our involvement was predominantly around the user-centred design, the look and feel, and the tone in functionality we wanted to land on that second release of MyGov,” Mr Slater said.
After meeting with the DHS in July last year, the DTA set up a joint team and consulted widely with MyGov users before identifying the main issues with the platform.
Launched over the weekend, the new site features simpler language, larger logos and a more mobile friendly design.