Public Sector Innovation Show Address

Release Date: 
26 March 2019
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Thank you Liz and thank you Public Sector Network for putting together this event.

It is indisputable that, right now and into the future, digital innovation is crucial to our success as a nation.

BCG estimates that digital innovation has the potential to add more than 500,000 new jobs in Australia or more than AU$50Bn in additional GDP growth by 2025.

Role of innovation

Government has an important role to play in both driving innovation and in harnessing its role for the benefit of all Australian

This is why we, in the Australian Government, have been very clear in our determination to digitally transform government:

  • It is an opportunity to deliver government services better, in a way that puts citizens at the heart of all delivery;
  • It enables us to make more efficient use of taxpayers’ money; and
  • It allows us to employ innovative tools and technologies that, beyond service delivery, may improve the lives of all Australians.

Digital transformation strategy

To guide the government’s efforts in this space, last year we released the Digital Transformation Strategy.

The Strategy sets out the direction of our work from now until 2025.

It will ensure we achieve our goal of being in the top three digital governments in the world by focussing on three strategic priorities:

  • Government that is easy to deal with;
  • Government that’s informed by you; and finally,
  • Government that is fit for the digital age.
  • The Strategy is accompanied by a Roadmap outlining more than 100 key projects and milestones being delivered by over 20 agencies over the next 24 months.
    • 42 of these Roadmap initiatives have already been delivered and are producing measurable outcomes for Australians.
  • While much of the work of the public service often goes unnoticed by the public, the progress made by agencies in embracing digital transformation is significant, as the following examples will show.

AI Centre of Excellence

Let me start with Augmented Intelligence.

Augmented Intelligence is an alternative way of thinking about ‘Artificial Intelligence’ that focuses on AI’s assistive role. It’s about using technology that enhances human capability rather than replacing it.

Put simply, we’re talking about AI that improves and complements services.

It does not replace the humans who develop the services and make decisions, it frees up their time to focus on more complex and interesting things.

AI will equip us to provide the best possible government services to Australians by harnessing technological advances that recognise and address people’s needs.

The Government is exploring opportunities for the practical and ethical application of AI for the delivery of government services. This includes digital assistants, speech translation services and image processing. 

Late last year, I announced the creation of the Augmented Intelligence Centre of Excellence.

The Centre brings together the Department of Human Services, government, industry and academic experts and key stakeholders to consider how we can apply AI to improve the way customers access our services, when and where they need them.

Digital assistants

For example, by using digital assistants to help customers with simple enquiries, we can reduce pressure on our call centres and allow our staff to spend more time supporting those customers with more complex needs.

The Department has a strong track record in using digital assistants.

Our customer-facing digital assistants have already answered more than 2.3 million questions since March 2017.

They are helping people to self-manage their interactions with government at a time and a place of their choosing.

DHS also deployed digital assistants that help staff with HR questions and claims processing. They are also producing great results.

For instance, it’s estimated that ‘Roxy’ is saving staff around 5 minutes processing each claim.

But can’t afford to stand still. We are not stopping there.

Rapidly evolving technology is providing new options to enhance the services these and other digital assistants provide.

So, under the auspices of the AI Centre of Excellence, we are exploring a new, more advanced AI-enabled digital assistant within the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app.

This digital assistant will actively help guide our customers through online processes, offering personalised unprompted support for things like:

  • flagging when you have a letter from the department, and then advising if this requires any action on your behalf or is just for notification;
  • being able to explain the letter in plain English; or
  • translating the content into a number of languages to better support customers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and
  • providing an audio option where the digital assistant can read the letter out or provide its plain English explanation to you.

Initial work on this is already underway, including early user research to ensure our customers find the final product as helpful as possible.

Looking ahead, this new generation of digital assistants will make it quicker and easier for the department to reach out and engage with our customers and will help them to receive a more personalised service.

Digital Humans

Digital assistants will continue to evolve in the period ahead.

We have already seen encouraging examples of digital humans able to interact with people in a variety of scenarios, including banking, retail and health.

Such digital humans will enable, in the future, everyone to have access to their own dedicated, personalised concierge when interacting with the government.

In my portfolio, a few years ago we worked on developing Nadia, an early version of a digital human.

While Nadia wasn’t quite ready for scaling up at that time for that purpose, there is no doubt in my mind of the enormous potential for such technology to change the way customers access services.

In the not too distant future, personalised digital humans will be available 24x7, able to speak the language of the customer, be attuned to their cultural values, tailored for their abilities, and able to use the data provided by the customer to deliver a personalised service, time and time again.

 This, in my mind, is the future of service delivery: tailored, effective and inclusive.

Digital Identity

For this to become a reality, we need to make sure that we are putting in place the fundamental building blocks of our digital future.

Having to show your identity documents in person is the biggest barrier to government services being available end-to-end online.

Even some services which can be mostly undertaken digitally have to be completed in person at a government shopfront to show identity documents.

Such friction must be eliminated if we are to provide simple and convenient digital services.

This is why since I have been leading this portfolio, we have invested $170m in accelerating our digital identity program.

This will give Australians a single and secure way to prove their identity – meaning more government services can be available digitally, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Our digital identity program is truly innovative:

  • We have structured it as a federation, to make sure Australians have access to a variety of identity providers, all held to the same high standards of security, privacy and usability.
  • This will allow users who opt into the system to use an identity of their choice from those participating in the program.
  • This can be the Commonwealth Government-issued ID – myGovID – or one provided by a state government, Australia Post or even a financial institution.
  • We have set up an identity exchange that sits between the identity provider and the digital service to ensure that the identity provider can’t see what service the user is accessing, and the service provider can’t see someone’s personal information.
  • Finally, we are combining existing and new technologies to create a way for Australians to create an identity completely online with instant checking and verification.
  • This is a world first.

We are already seeing evidence of success:

  • In one of the pilots with the Australian Taxation Office for example, applying for a tax file number has gone from being a process that takes one month, to a task that takes just 15 minutes.
  • By the end of this financial year, we will have eight pilots of myGovID running, with high-volume government services such as Tax File Number applications, Grant Management, Youth Allowance and the Australian Business Register all being able to be accessed using myGovID.
  • By the end of next financial year, myGovID will be integrated with myGov, which currently has over 15m accounts, providing an easy option in the future for proving one’s identity and accessing a variety of services from federal and state governments in one place.

Australian Digital Council

Another significant friction point in accessing government services is the need to deal separately with multiple agencies, often across different layers of government, in order to complete discrete transactions associated with a particular need or life event.

To address this and help re-orient service delivery around the needs of the users, last year I set up the Australian Digital Council.

This is the first time Ministers responsible for data and digital across Federal, State and Territory Governments have come together to work on strengthening collaboration and alignment of our transformation efforts.

Since the Council’s first meeting, I have been impressed by the unity of purpose and drive for action across all jurisdictions.

The Council is currently working on about a dozen important projects, focused on transforming services around life events, building trust and community engagement, making governments easy to deal with and developing a national approach to dealing with data.

Digital Skills

In order to meet our goal of being a world leading digital government, we must invest in the public sector to strengthen our innovation capabilities and deliver on our priorities.

We are working across government to boost and attract digital skills and ensure that our public service is well positioned across the board to deliver digital government.

Recently, our Digital Emerging Talent program saw the graduation of over 120 apprentices, cadets and graduates.

This year, a further 102 program participants will commence across 16 government agencies.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Leading Digital Transformation Program saw 155 SES offices from across the service participate in the program in 2018.

A further 90 SES officers are scheduled to undertake the program before the end of this financial year.

We are also working hard to ensure a better gender balance across the board.

We are sharpening our focus on supporting women in working digital roles across the APS by running a range of existing and new initiatives, such as Women in Digital Network, focused on attracting and supporting more women in data and digital careers.

In addition, we are committed to be inclusive in our approach to digital capability development:

  • DHS has been a foundation partner in the Dandelion program to integrate people with autism into the workforce.
  • The program has been running successfully for 4 years and given job opportunities to people who have unique and very valuable skills and abilities.
  • Currently over 80 people participate in the program, including the teams’ technical leads and autism support consultants.
  • I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these participants personally myself.
  • The program enjoys a 93% retention rate, the greatest retention rate for this cohort anywhere around the globe.
  • This is a great outcome, in addition to the great benefits this program brings to the department, and through it to the Australian community.


In closing, I’d like to say that, while digital innovation is a never-ending process, we have put in place the foundation blocks to deliver our goals and we are delivering.

We are creating a safe and secure digital ecosystem:

  • where user needs are paramount and consistent standards are set;
  • where the goals, strategy, platforms and policies are in place;
  • where collaboration is effective across state and territory governments, as well as the private sector;
  • where a digitally capable Australian Public Service will deliver innovative solutions fit for the digital age.

I look forward to celebrating Australia’s success as a world-leading digital government.

Thank you.