Tech and data part of Qld govt’s accountability problems

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Joseph Brookes

Missing data sharing policies, a government digital strategy not publicly updated since 2017, and a damaging reliance on consultants have been highlighted in a damning review of accountability within the Queensland public sector.

Conducted by Professor Peter Coaldrake, the review was released on Tuesday and found the state’s public sector is dominated by “short-term political thinking” and has had capacity “eroded” by contractors and consultants.

While progress was being made on technology projects, translating them into better digital services was still “lagging behind” other states.

The review’s key recommendations go to big issues of transparency, governance and culture, but the information technology issues were identified as part of the accountability problem, and led to a call for more “interesting and challenging” work for IT public servants.

The introduction of a mandatory data breach notification was also among the review’s official recommendations, backing repeated calls for one for several years to protect citizens’ privacy.

The Queensland government announced its move towards such a scheme late last week, just a few days before the Coaldrake review was released publicly.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

The review took aim at the state government’s slow progress on using technology to improve government services, as well as transparency and public trust.

“This Review’s interest in both culture and accountability has led it to try to use the digital tools available to the public as a means of holding government to account. Unfortunately, they are – in general terms – comparatively lacking,” the final report said.

While progress has been made on the provision of government data and “preparation for a fit-for-purpose digital future”, it hadn’t come without challenges for the state government and progress is slow, the review said.

Queensland government agencies are required to make non-sensitive data open by default on an Open Data Portal. The review found agencies are generally publishing data in line with their own open data strategies, but nearly two in three agencies aren’t keeping the strategies up to date.

This has meant “progress is slow in developing coordinated actions plans” the Queensland government promised in 2017.

Commitment to the state’s five-year digital strategy was also questioned, with the review finding the news section of the strategy website had not been updated since 2017, the year it launched.

The Queensland government last year flagged a new digital strategy is coming, but the 2017-2021 version – a glossy 33 page document – remains on the government website.

The review also criticised the state government’s overreliance on external contractors and consultants, warning it is one of the problems which had “eroded” capacity of the Queensland public service.

While complex or specialised IT projects were a potential legitimate use of outside help, the review said too much across the board had become a problem.

“The longer-term impact has been circular: the more work is outsourced, the less capacity is developed within the ranks of the public service, and the more public service roles default to ‘contract management’ rather than the hard but rewarding graft of policy analysis, testing and costing of options, making and defending recommendations, or the challenges of on-time on-budget project management.”

On Tuesday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the review and said she “embraced” its findings.

“I would not have asked Professor Coaldrake to conduct this review if I did not want reform,” Ms Palaszczuk said. “We will accept all of his recommendations and we will implement them lock, stock and barrel.”

She said the report will go to state Cabinet and trigger sweeping reforms.

“Once they’re implemented, Queensland will have the most transparent and accountable government in Australia.”

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