Former Service NSW chief executive Damon Rees will lead the federal government’s independent review of the modernising business registers program, which Treasury estimates will cost $1 billion more than was budgeted by the Coalition.
Mr Rees will conduct the four-month health check of the project aimed at consolidating the country’s legacy business registers in order to determine whether design or technology changes will be needed.
The review was triggered after Treasury informed the Albanese government that the project budgeted as $500-odd million would cost $1 billion more to complete, leading Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones to accuse the Coalition of hiding a blow-out.
At $1.5 billion, the modernising business registers (MBR) program is significantly more than the “somewhat more” than $100 million then-finance minister Mathias Cormann estimated when the project was first flagged in 2017.
The project is also behind schedule, with the government moving legislation in July to give the Australian Taxation Office another four years to complete works.
Mr Rees, who will be assisted by a secretariate of staff from Treasury and the Digital Transformation Agency, has more than 25 years’ experience in digital across both the public and private sectors.
He left the NSW public service after five years at the helm of New South Wales’ one-stop shop for digital services in December to establish business consulting firm Better As Usual.
At Services NSW, Mr Rees oversaw the launch of the bulk of front-facing digital services envisaged by outgoing Digital Government minister Victor Dominello, including the digital driver’s licence.
He has also chalked up stints as the NSW government’s chief information and digital officer, Macquarie Group’s chief digital officer and Woolworth’s acting chief information officer.
Announcing the appointment, Mr Jones said “Mr Rees brings considerable expertise in driving complex, digitally enabled transformation to the review”, which will ensure “core national economic infrastructure is delivered within a reasonable timeframe and budget”.
According to the terms of reference for the review, possible strategies to migrate significant risks to the program also now include “appropriate revisions to the scope of the program’s deliverables”.
The MBR program is replacing the 32 business registers, including the 30-year-old Australian Business Register, with a single platform to be run by Australian Business Registry Services.
The former Coalition government allocated more than $500 million to the project over six years, including $60.6 million in the 2019-20 Budget and $419.9 million in the 2020-21 Budget.
Around half of the funding allocated to the project during the Coalition’s term has been spent with consulting giant Accenture – which landed more than $200 million for its work – and Foster Moore.
Following the election, the Albanese government was told by Treasury the project was “not properly resourced” and would now likely come in at $1.5 billion.
The government subsequently provided funding of $166 million in the October Budget to sustain the project until 2025.
A final report with recommendations is expected to be provided to government by the end of June.
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