Our bold vision for Australia's digital future

Release Date: 
21 November 2018
Speech
Check against delivery

National Press Club Address - 21 November 2018

We are today living at time when technological change has never been faster and it has never offered so much potential to improve our lives.

The rapid development of technology will alter everything.

The world has lived through 3 previous industrial revolutions – periods of great advancement that completely changed the fabric of society.

The first industrial revolution utilised water and steam to mechanise industries and transform our largely rural economies.

The second saw electricity open up vast new potential and over the last 70 years the arrival of computers has created the third industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution will bring the same transformative change although it will happen much, much faster.

Things will be connected, information will drive insights and increasingly everything will be automated.

Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, robotics, blockchain and enormous advances in data analytics will drive this revolution.

Entire new industries and new jobs -  that we never envisaged - will appear.

These changes hold great promise for Australia but they also represent great challenges.

New forms of crime will take advantage of new technologies and law enforcement will need to use new high tech tools to apprehend criminals.

The idea of strategic conflict and war will rely much less on troops, bombs and bullets and more on cyberattack and defence.

Change can always be scary, particularly when it is rapid, but the reality is the astonishing pace of technological change is enormously positive as long as we harness all it has to offer.

Every government around the globe is aware of these changes and seeks to profit from it.

The job of the Australian Government is to keep Australia at the forefront of these changes and work to utilise digital advances for the good of the whole population.

I think it is a bit underappreciated how well we have done that in Australia to date.

Australia is consistently ranked as one of the top digital governments in international comparisons.

In July this year, we were ranked second in the United Nations’ e-government survey.  This is a survey that measures effectiveness in the delivery of public services among UN nations. It assesses technology infrastructure, human capital and online service delivery.

To come second is an extremely strong result.

To do so 3 consecutive times is a validation of the decisions we’ve made and the approach we’ve taken so far, as a Coalition Government, to transform the government’s digital capabilities. I want to highlight some of the successes that have driven this result.

Think about how we used to have to make Medicare claims – collect the receipts from a visit to the doctor and then line up at a Medicare service centre to claim your refund.

98% of all Medicare claims are now processed on the spot at a point of service – and the money arrives back in your bank account as quickly as your bank can process it. It is simple, efficient and provides far superior service.

This is what digital transformation does: it makes dealing with government easy. If you’ve travelled through one of Australia’s international airports you might have noticed how quickly you now get through immigration.

If you did so in the last year, you were probably one of almost 26 million travellers who passed through our Smart Gates - a system that uses facial recognition technology to verify identity.

This is not only quicker, but crucially, it makes our country more secure.

This is the digital transformation of government.

It is an enormous journey — one that will ultimately impact every government department, and every Australian.

Some government services have already undergone transformation and are delivering measurable outcomes.

Other projects are only in trial or pilot phase — many more are in the pipeline, waiting to be rolled out.

There are some that are just emerging as incredible opportunities that can become reality in the digital age.

This is the most exciting story in town. Digital transformation will change how government does things for you. It will mean much less red tape and much more responsive policy. It means we can harness data to deliver social and economic benefits. It will mean the government can be there whenever you need us, but we will stay out of your way when you don’t, so you can go about your life with minimal interference.

Launch

To power this transformation forward I am very pleased to announce today the launch of our Digital Transformation Strategy. This Strategy sets out a bold vision for Australia to remain in the top 3 digital governments in the world by 2025.

The Strategy will provide a clear direction for our work on data and digital transformation, with the aim to have all government services available digitally in the next 7 years.

The world is moving fast.

Digital transformation is happening across the private sector, and increasingly across governments.

Failure to embrace technological change would deny Australians the incredible opportunities and advantages that digital transformation will bring. It also means we will get left behind globally.

The Strategy is accompanied by a comprehensive Roadmap of key projects and milestones being rolled out over the next two years.

These are 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 are delivering.

In doing so, the Australian Government is building a strong foundation that will allow us to take advantage of all the opportunities of the digital age, for the benefit of the Australian people.

Let me assure you from the start, we will go about this the right way.

We will ensure that privacy, safety and security are built into the very core of every single thing we do.

Privacy and digital transformation are not mutually exclusive: in fact, digital transformation can strengthen privacy.

We can and we will deliver both.

The Digital Transformation Agency works hand-in-hand with the brightest minds from the Australian Public Service, academia, privacy and community groups to improve how government delivers services.

The Strategy I am releasing today will take us forward for the next seven years — to make Australia one of the world’s best digital governments.

Until I reminded you, I bet many of you had forgotten how time consuming it used to be to get a Medicare refund. That’s because it is now seamless and we don’t even think about it. In the not-too-distant future, more and more government services will be delivered the same way.

We’ll be looking back at the way we access many government services today and wonder how on earth we coped before digital transformation. The story of digital transformation is enormous, but this afternoon I want to talk to you about two key things. The first is why we have set this goal — why we think Australia needs to aspire to be one of the world’s best digital governments. The second is how we plan to get there…. 

The economic case for digitally transforming government services is incredibly strong. We are now firmly in the digital age, and digital capability is a key marker of productivity and economic leadership.

Recent research published by McKinsey says digital innovation has the potential to contribute between $140 billion and $250 billion dollars to Australia’s GDP by 2025, based on currently-available technology alone.   

We know that when people access government services online as opposed to face-to-face at a shopfront, there is a significant cost saving to the government.

Deloitte estimates that each online transaction costs just 40 cents, compared to 16 dollars for face-to-face transactions.

The Government estimates we have already saved taxpayers approximately a quarter of a billion dollars just by providing Centrelink customers the option to register with myGov and elect to send and receive their correspondence electronically — instead of through the mail or phoning the call centre.  

If Australia can be a global leader in digital innovation, we have the chance to lead the world in terms of technology-driven competitiveness and boost productivity.

We can already see what best practice and best technology can deliver when we look at other leaders in this area, including other governments.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Europe, where I met with global technology leaders who are driving innovation in digital transformation.

Denmark and Estonia, in particular, boasted a range of impressive digital capabilities. In Estonia today, there are just three things that citizens of the country are physically required to do in person at a government office — registering a marriage, a divorce or a property settlement.

Their electronic signatures are now recognized legally across the entire European Union.

In Denmark, every citizen has an online ID and a mailbox to receive government correspondence electronically.

What most persuades me of the value of digital transforming government services, is when I see the positive impact it has on people’s everyday lives.

A few months ago, I went to meet new parents in the maternity ward at Bentley Hospital, in my home state of Western Australia.

Bentley is the site of the second trial of the automatic enrolment of newborns into Medicare, the Medicare Safety Net and the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register.

Under the existing system, in order to enrol their new-born, parents must fill out reams of paperwork or visit a shopfront once they’re out of hospital — potentially with a new baby in tow.

Under this new digital system we’re trialling, all parents have to do is verbally tell the hospital they want their baby enrolled, and it is done.

The new parents I met were very clear how much they liked the simplicity of this new system and as the father of a newborn I very much agree.

It’s convenient, but it’s also quicker.

The traditional way of registering a baby has an average wait time of 40 days. Our trials are showing that under this new system, it is just five days.

This means that new babies are being enrolled into our world-class health and Medicare system more than a month earlier than they used to be.

As part of the Digital Transformation Strategy, we are revolutionising how we deliver our services.

Our new approach is to design services that respond to common life events — like having a baby or starting a new job.

This is a big change from the way we do things now, where a member of the public has to go to any number of government departments, online or community groups to find information and services.

We currently organise government around our imperatives and needs, but in the future we will organise it around yours.

Having a baby is a great example.

At the moment, a new parent has to get online and search multiple government departments to find out information about things like child care subsidies, parental leave or health care.

Particularly for first time parents it’s a new world with lots of questions. How much will child care cost? When do I immunise? How do I fit a car capsule?

You might come across contradictory information — or be nervous you’re not getting the full picture.

At hospital you will be given a whole bunch of paperwork about government services like Medicare enrolment and My Health Record — but really, who wants to look at that kind of stuff when you have a beautiful new baby in your arms?

It can get forgotten, and it’s not until you’re at the doctors a few weeks later with baby’s first cold, you realise they have no Medicare number.

By 2025 — everything you could possibly need as a new parent will be streamlined.

myGov, for example, will be able to act as one integrated digital service where you can find out everything from how to apply for a child care subsidy, to the nearest community service that fits car seats.

We are working behind the scenes to connect up not just all federal government departments, but also our partners in state, territory and local governments, and where appropriate, partners in industry and the community.

This is where the Australian Digital Council, a Ministerial-level forum that brings together the Commonwealth and all states and territories ministers with responsibility for digital transformation, will play an important role.

I set up this Council because it is clear to me that Australians don’t care where a jurisdiction boundary starts or ends in service delivery, they just want services that are convenient and effective. We’re doing this so in the future, if you’re experiencing a common life event — like the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, or starting a new business — you have much easier and straight forward access to any of the services or advice you need, whoever is providing it.

As part of the Digital Transformation Strategy, not only will we re-focus the way we provide services, but we will also be able to turbo-charge Australians’ interactions and engagement with the government.

For example, digital technology will make it possible to deliver a fully personalised digital assistant.

That means that everyone accessing government services may have access to their own dedicated, personal avatar assistant, that can talk in their language, know their preferences, understand their needs and provide a familiar face to dealing with the government.

This is not science-fiction. In fact, a couple of years ago, my department had a prototype – Nadia – that was world leading.

Unfortunately, Nadia wasn’t quite ready at the time to deliver on the promise, but technology is evolving rapidly. I am confident that the day when such assistants will be around us – both in government and in private enterprise - is not that far away.

We already see smart assistants in our lives, whether it’s Siri and Cortana in our phones and computers, or Amazon’s Alexa or Google in our homes.

Having your own dedicated government digital assistant also means that, as a government, we will be able to deliver truly personalised services.

While we are starting with re-focusing government services around life events, our ambition is to end up offering you tailored support when you need it, based on your individual circumstances.

Whether you need to manage a health issue, find employment, care for someone young or old, or all of these at the same time, our vision is to be able to meet your actual needs.

Not as a matter of fitting into a category or other, but as a truly personalised service to you as an individual, or family, or business.

Equally, technology will make it possible to engage much more directly with Australians, and get a more frank and unfiltered view of their concerns and beliefs on issues that matter to them.

Digital democracy platforms will bring governments closer to Australians and allow us to develop and fine tune decisions and policies in a more collaborative way that is reflective of what we believe in as a nation.

Importantly, such engagement allows Australians to by-pass self-appointed leaders and interest groups that claim to know best what people think.

Digital democracy platforms enable greater transparency and a greater ability for the government to reach out directly to Australians.

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

However, when talking about such developments, as a government, it is important that we have in place both the foundations that will enable such innovations to flourish, as well as the trust and confidence of the people.

I have been determined as Minister to complete the fundamental building blocks required for digital transformation, such as enabling Australians to easily prove who they are when accessing services online.

Digital Identity

Digital identity is one such building block that will enable the whole system.

Last month I had the pleasure of announcing the first pilot of Australia’s new digital identity system. This will have an enormous impact on the ease with which Australians can connect with government. 

At the moment, if you were to interact with every available online government service, you would need 30 separate logins.

Who could possibly remember all those passwords?

Not only that, but you have to prove who you are to government over and over again, every time you need a new service.

It’s like groundhog day. The crazy thing is, you’re being asked to provide information the government already has about you.

Basic information like your date of birth, or Medicare card number. With a digital identity, you will be able to use one ID for any of the government online services you need to access.

Creating this digital identity is simple. Instead of visiting an office or shopfront to prove who you are, you can do it all from an app on your mobile phone.

It’s important to understand that this is a system built with privacy and security at its very core.

The digital ID is not a new database of information the government will hold — it is simply a smarter use of information we already have.

Everything and everyone that operates in this new digital ecosystem works under a rigorous set of rules and standards called the Trusted Digital Identity Framework.

To ensure the highest standards of privacy and security there is an inbuilt identity exchange that is “double blind”.

This means that when you use your digital identity to access a government service, the identity provider can’t see which service you are accessing, and the service provider can’t see your identity documents.

The first pilot for MyGovID — which is the name of the government’s digital identity — is with the Australian Taxation Office.

It will allow a selected group of users to apply for a Tax File Number online, using their MyGovID.

Under the current system, getting a Tax File Number involves a trip to the Post Office with your passport or drivers licence and a 30 day wait for processing.

Under our pilot, once a person has their digital ID, they can apply for their tax file number from their phone — anytime, any place — and receive it within just minutes.

This is seamless government service delivery in action. Over the next nine months we’ll be rolling out eight pilot programs for MyGovID, testing its delivery on a range of services.

We are looking to a future where every Australian — if they choose — can use their digital ID to access nearly any government service online, at a time and place of their choosing — even if it is from the couch on a Sunday night. Even in these early stages, we are already seeing how digital transformation can vastly improve the quality of people’s lives.

The social security system is already part way through a massive transformation that will result in a completely new and vastly better system. My Department is processing over $100 billion in payments to over 7 million Australians every year. Once the changes to the system are complete it will be one of the largest social welfare IT system transformations in the world. Early tranches of the program are already delivering success.

For example, in the past, students submitting a claim for Youth Allowance had to wait between 3 to 4 weeks for the claims to be processed. Today, for simple claims, they can receive notifications of the outcome within 24 hours.

My Department has also teamed up with Department of Veteran’s Affairs to find ways we can better support our veterans and their families. Under the old system, when Veterans lodged a claim under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, they had to fill out a 16-page form with 36 questions.

Veterans found this complex, confusing and dispiriting. Now it’s been transformed into a simple, online way to interact with veterans using a two-screen registration process and a three to five question online survey.

Access to DVA-funded mental health treatment now requires just two clicks, and many people no longer need to complete follow-up questionnaires for their claims. Digital transformation is making government a far better partner to our veterans.

Data

A digital future will also enable us to make better use of data, in a way that will generate huge economic and social benefits. The Australian Government holds vast amounts of information collected from individuals and businesses, all generated by different government agencies.

This is a strategic national resource, but today much of it sits on its own, in silos.

We want to harness this untapped resource as a force for good.  We can use it to improve the efficiency of government spending and deliver more effective and better targeted government policies and services.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Using funding under our Data Integration Partnership for Australia program, researchers analysed datasets to detect possible heart failure events that could be associated with particular medicines.

Data analysis identified 5 new medicines that may be associated with heart failure in certain patients.

This knowledge means we can work with doctors to change prescription guidelines to minimise adverse reactions and enhance patient safety. This is a discovery that has the potential to save lives. But to do so, we must work together, across federal, state and territory governments.

Another example is that Western Australia has data records of babies born with birth defects that go back almost 40 years. At the same time, at the Commonwealth level, we have records of the medicines taken by pregnant mothers.

Bringing these two data sets together can give us insights into what medications may be linked to birth defects and help reduce or prevent such cases in the future.

Current legislation across jurisdictions is so fragmented, that doing so seems impossible.

This is why the Australian Digital Council is so important for us as a nation.

It brings around the table the people who can make decisions on data and digital transformation.

It allows us to say: this is an important issue, in fact, a matter of life and death, where data can make a difference; so we will find ways to improve collaboration on data sharing between state, territory and federal agencies. One of the other priorities of the Council is using data linkage to improve our understanding of the outcomes for children in out-of-home care.

Currently, state and territory governments have data on what services support children in out-of-home care, but there has been no visibility about what happens to these children after they exit the state-care system.

Integrating Commonwealth welfare payments data with state and territory services data will give us better insights into the outcomes for these children and their families.

This includes whether these children successfully transition into employment and move away from long-term welfare dependency.

The project allows governments to design better policies for some of the nation’s most vulnerable children that will actually improve their lives.

This is the real story of digital transformation: when technology enables the government to better serve the Australian people.

ROADMAP The Digital Transformation Strategy is accompanied by a roadmap that outlines the improvements we will deliver.

In the near future you will start to hear about pilots of the Child Care Marketplace — which is a safe way to connect people with service providers.

In 2019 we will be launching a pilot of something called ‘Tell us once”.

This is a service where - if you have to update your information or circumstances - you can just securely tell government one time, and any relevant government service will be updated on your behalf.

Think about this in the case of the death of a loved one.

Imagine not having to make that painful phone call multiple times, to cancel welfare payments, to remove a person from a shared Medicare card, or cancel a passport. Just one call, or better yet no calls, and it’s taken care of.

There are also benefits for business.

Imagine if you run a business and it is the government that contacts you to let you know about services, grants and events that suit your business?

In some cases, your business might even pre-qualify for a service or a grant, without you doing arduous paperwork, because government already has the right information about you.

Privacy and Security

Having this information doesn’t mean we will take it for granted.

The Australian Government takes its obligation to protect the people’s privacy very seriously. Having a safe and secure system is integral to our ambition of being in the top three digital governments in the world. It is non-negotiable. The DTA has consulted with thousands of people as it has developed new platforms, including with privacy advocates and community groups. Our approach is always security by design.

We make sure security is built into the very foundation of every single project and digital platform.

Where questions do arise, we will put robust legislation in place and protect the privacy of Australians. Given the recent high-profile revelations about the behaviour of some private corporations, like Facebook, it is understandable that many Australians are concerned.

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. We are taking a robust approach to making sure that stringent data privacy provisions are maintained as we tap into the social and economic benefits of data. We’re investing $65 million dollars to reform Australia’s data system, including establishing a National Data Commissioner. We are developing new data sharing legislation to simplify the complex web of more than 500 secrecy and other provisions that currently exist across government departments.

We are establishing a Consumer Data Right, so that people can benefit from the data held about them by companies, such as banks, energy companies and telcos. A National Data Advisory Council will advise the Commissioner on ethical data use and technical best practice.

I will be announcing the membership of the Council soon.

We believe that data collected by government is a vast national resource that shouldn’t be locked away.

Instead, by having the necessary safeguards in place, it can be used as a force for good.

Conclusion

I started my speech referencing the four industrial revolutions. The one we’re going through today is the fastest developing one.

The world is hurtling into the future at great speed, and we are witness to it taking place.

We can sit idle and see other countries taking advantage of this change, or we can get in the driver’s seat and steer our nation so that we grab the opportunities and benefits it offers for all of us.

I am committed to doing exactly that.

This is why our Digital Transformation Strategy is so important: it will put us in the driver’s seat to steer the transformation of government in a way that delivers benefits for all Australians.

We have a bold vision and we will deliver on it.

If we were to meet again, at a lunch in 2025, your daily interactions with government services will be vastly different to what they are today. Government services will be so easy and so seamless that, like with the Medicare refund, there will be many tasks that have disappeared so completely from our lives, we will have nearly forgotten it took us effort to do them. This is the outcome we are steering towards and I look forward to continuing our work to make it happen.

Thank you