The odd couple engineer a seismic shift in digital government

James Riley
Editorial Director

They make an odd couple, but in a brief 15-minute press conference in Sydney last week, Bill Shorten and Victor Dominello outlined more progress on federal-state cooperation on government digital services than anything over the past eight years.

Bill Shorten, the federal Government Services minister and Victor Dominello, the NSW Customer Service minister announced a seemingly simple program of work to let citizens share credentials and access services across each other’s digital infrastructure.

The ministers said NSW citizens will be able to store and access their NSW digital drivers licence and digital birth certificates through the federal myGov platform. And citizens will be able to access their Medicare card through the state’s ServiceNSW app.

These services will be launched in the second half of the year.

Victor Dominello and Bill Shorten

For some, these were no-brainer announcements, the common-sense culmination of the direction digital transformation in government has been taking for years.

But this is a watershed moment. It is a seismic shift not only in the roll-out of public sector digital infrastructure, but also the fundamental relationship between federal and state governments.

The wonder is that it took a newly elected Labor government to get this common-sense program of work underway.

Watching federal Labor’s Bill Shorten and state Liberal’s Victor Dominello on stage, each complimenting the digital work of the other, was really something to behold, a real dog-in-a-hat moment.

It is remarkable that the previous Coalition federal government could not bring itself to make this simple commitment to collaborate on digital infrastructure to span federal and state jurisdictions.

NSW has led the way in this country as the exemplar in digital delivery of government services and is considered a global leader.

Victor Dominello has been a primary political driver of digital services, both inside and outside of NSW. He has alerted and energised Cabinet colleagues to the upside of digital investment for years.

He has been talking up the opportunity for the state and federal governments to share these kinds of credentials and to enable data sharing to underpin inter-government life journey services since at least 2015-16.

But for years, the federal government has not been receptive. Certainly, it is hard to imagine former Government Services minister Stuart Robert sharing a stage with Victor Dominello and announcing sweeping plans to clear away the blockages to further cooperation.

This is not how the Morrison government worked. Under Scott Morrison, the federal Coalition in Canberra had a famously tetchy relationship with the NSW Berejiklian/Perrottet government.

But even regardless of fraught political relationships, federal bureaucrats have not warmed to following the lead of better performing state colleagues.

Bill Shorten, armed with the just-released review of the myGov platfrom, was able to do what previous federal digital leaders could not. He embraced the progress that had been made in NSW and clearly articulated the need to work together with all states and territories to build-out a universal digital infrastructure.

It is all the more remarkable that he would do this just weeks away from a NSW state election.

Sharing credentials and sharing digital access to the government services of other jurisdictions is a massive change, a giant leap for all governments. It is something that has been talked about for a decade, but now looks like seeing practical progress.

Of course, there are challenges to this ambition.

At the federal level, much will depend on how myGov and digital government is treated in the May budget. It will also rest on how digital delivery is structured across government, and whether machinery of government changes are put in place.

And at the state level, NSW is losing its chief digital protagonist, with Victor Dominello retiring from politics at the March election. There is no obvious replacement for Mr Dominello, whose influence in the nerdy business of digital government has been profound, even if government can retain power.

That picture is even less clear in the event of a Labor victory in NSW under Chris Minns. The shadow minister for customer service and shadow minister for digital, Yasmin Catley, is an unknown quantity.

Whoever takes the role will have big shoes to fill.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. Ian Dennis 1 year ago

    It is sad that seeing real Federal State cooperation by competent, intelligent politicians from our major parties is considered ” odd”. It should be the ” norm” that citizens both demand and receive.

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