Michael Keenan on digital strategy

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The federal government has unveiled its Digital Transformation Strategy, declaring that all Commonwealth services will be available through digital channels by 2025.

The strategy was promised earlier this year by Digital Transformation Minister Michael Keenan, along with a goal to make Australia a top three digital nation by 2025.

The strategy is a 48-page, steady-as-she-goes document that follows the same script developed under previous ministers and repackaged into a 2025 timeline and a collation of projects expected to be rolled out over the next two years. It contains few new policies or strategies.

Mr Keenan, speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday afternoon, declared the strategy “ambitious” and “sets the foundations for prosperity in the digital age”.

“This strategy sets out a bold vision for Australia to remain in the top three digital governments in the world by 2025. The strategy will provide a clear direction for our work on data and digital transformation with an aim to have all government services delivered digitally in the next seven years,” Mr Keenan said.

“We can sit and be idle and see the other countries taking advantage of this change or we can get in the driver’s seat and steer our nation so we can get the benefits for all of us.

“The strategy will put us in the driver’s seat and steer the transformation of government in a way that benefits all Australians. We have a bold vision and we will deliver on it.”

“It’s an enormous journey, and one that will ultimately impact every government department and every single Australian.”

The strategy sets out the overall goal of providing all government services digitally in seven years, along with a roadmap of projects and pilots across the next two years.

It is based on three strategic priorities: government that’s easy to deal with, government that’s informed by you, and government that’s fit for the digital age.

Projects to be launched by June next year include virtual assistants for welfare support and the government’s Digital ID trials, while the year after will soon the pilot of the Tell Us Once project, which shares changed circumstances across government, along with welfare payments being lodged digitally.

“These are the projects that will ensure that we are embarking on this journey of digital transformation with the right purpose and we are accountable for what we’re doing,” Mr Keenan said.

In the face of a series of recent IT and digital transformation gaffs and controversies by government, and the strategy aims to establish trust with an emphasis on privacy and security from the outset.

“We will be ethical in how we treat your data and be clear about what we do. We believe you should have control over your data,” the strategy document said.

“Trust is central to how government uses data to inform its policies and programs. Australians want to know how we use their data. They want transparency and accountability in how we make decisions,” it said.

The recent My Health Record debacle was ever-present during Mr Keenan’s Press Club address, and the majority of questions focused on the controversial project. The minister said the government has learnt lessons from the rollout of MHR, but also slammed “fear-mongering” by some privacy advocates.

“Government hears these concerns and we are acting on them, however we do need to draw a distinction between rational concerns and fear-mongering based on false information. The government does have your best interests at heart but not everyone in the community accepts that,” Mr Keenan said.

“We’ve taken the lessons when it comes to transforming Australia – we need to be on the front foot and accepting that people have these fears and addressing them with what we’re doing,” he said.

“I’d hate for people to get consumed with the negativity about this. It’s up to the government to make the case and remind people that this is at the heart of what we do.”

“Some in the community don’t accept that we have the intent to protect their privacy, and I certainly wouldn’t want to attack those people because I think their concerns are legitimate. We need to accept there might be a section of society we might never win over.”

The strategy also outlined how government would expand digital capability across the public sector, which has been criticised in recent times for its reliance on outside contractors.

“We will identify and describe the digital skills we need so that training, recruitment and career development is easier for the Australian Public Service – programs to recruit emerging talent through internships, cadetships and graduate placements. We are embedding these digital skills right across government,” the strategy said.

Mr Keenan also described “digital democracy platforms” that the government would use to directly engage with citizens.

“Technology will make it possible to engage with Australians in frank and unfiltered views of their concerns,” he said.

“Digital democracy platforms will bring government closer to Australia and allow us to develop and fine-tune policies in a more collaborative way that is reflective of what we believe as a nation.”

“Such engagement will allow us to bypass the self-appointed leaders and industry groups that claim to know what people think. It will enable greater transparency and greater ability for governments to reach out directly to all Australians.

“This is where the expectations of Australians are heading, and this is where we need to be on the front foot.”

The Digital ID project forms a key part of the strategy, with a series of pilot programs set to begin. Mr Keenan maintained that the service will be remaining as opt-in and not go down the same path as MHR.

“It will be opt-in, it will only be there for people that would like to opt into it. It’s going to make government services so convenient and easy to access that Australians will want a digital ID,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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