Labor calls for gov’t tech review

James Riley
Editorial Director

On digital transformation in government, bipartisanship has left the building. The Federal Opposition is calling for an independent, arms-length review of the government digital transformation efforts and its growing ICT spend.

After offering at least benign support to the government’s digital transformation roll-out during the first term of the Coalition Government, Labor’s digital economy spokesman Ed Husic has offered a stinging rebuke of its outcomes.

Speaking at a Australian Information Industry Association summit in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Husic weighed the series of high-profile technology failures within the federal government against the billions of additional dollars that have been spent on ICT implementations.

Ed Husic: Wants an independent review of major ICT projects and spending

Mr Husic pointed to the ugly Census fail debacle, the on-going Centrelink robo-debt problems, the outages at the Australian Taxation Office and the issues and cost over-runs at the Child Support Agency project, against an increase in Commonwealth ICT spending in the past two financial years from around $6 billion to more than $9 billion annually.

Mr Husic is outraged that the government is sheeting the blame for the Commonwealth’s recent tech problems of on the previous Labor government, pointing to the government’s own audit of APS tech operations which largely found it was largely providing value for money and meeting government benchmarks.

And now, with hugely increased spending, the tech problems have emerged.

“Let’s put this in perspective: the Coalition experiences double the digital drama and then doubles the digital spend,” Mr Husic said.

“The harsh reality is this: the Coalition has simply not fessed up to its problems.”

“Worse still – at a time when Senators are being asked to tick off federal budgets containing massive cuts to family payments, paid parental leave, childcare support, schools and hospitals funding – the Turnbull government brags out an effective doubling of its ICT spending,” he said.

“This is offensive. This can’t go on. It will undermine digital transformation and set back the process.

“The Opposition believes that the only way forward is for the government to do what it’s previously shown an eagerness for – submit its entire digital transformation process to review.

“It needs to be independent. Done at arms-length,” Mr Husic said.

Labor says the review should:

  • Find out why so many government ICT projects and upgrades have gone wrong
  • Test the quality and likely success of government remedial actions
  • Determine what has been put in place to get value for money following the multi-billion increase in ICT spending
  • Establish what governance and oversight arrangements are now in place to make sure projects are delivered on time, on budget and are providing services the public values
  • Determine likely improvements to the management of the digital transformation program

Mr Husic congratulated former National Australia Bank executive Gavin Slater on his appointment on Wednesday as the new CEO of the Digital Transformation Office.

He says while there might be disagreements with banks on some issues, they should be recognised for what they have been able to do as large organisations in digital service delivery.

“The first order of duty for Gavin Slater as the new CEO is to undertake a thorough review into what’s gone on, commission this independent review that Labor is calling for, and make sure we get better government digital transformation as opposed to the wreck that we’ve had so far,” Mr Husic said.

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