Australia – one of the world’s most digitally capable governments

Published on July 29, 2021

Australia has been an early leader in the digitalisation of government services, quickly building an international reputation as an early leader in this area from the ’80s. Although it hasn’t been smooth sailing initially, but overcame these early setbacks through various policies and initiatives and succeeded in its government digital transformation journey that resulted in them being ranked 5th out of 193 countries in the UN e-Government Development Index in 2020.

It all started with the proposal for A national identification scheme (otherwise known as the Australia Card). However, the Australia Card Bill generated significant public concerns about privacy and was not approved in the Senate. 

The Electronic Transactions Act in 1999 allowed entities that were required under federal law to give information in writing, provide a signature or produce a document to do it electronically. However, the Australian government at federal, state and local levels exempted a large volume of legislation from the operation of the Act. While the Act was indeed an enabler, it didn’t create a “unique identifier” that the receiver can check to verify its authenticity and integrity. Later, Prime Minister John Howard made another attempt with the Access Card, but the Rudd government shut it down in 2007. 

However, over the last decade or so, Australia has managed to stay ahead of the curve by taking comprehensive steps towards a total digital transformation. The government has played a proactive role by investing in the digitalisation of departments and public services. Subsequently, Australians can access their medical record, submit their tax returns, and apply for income support online from the comfort of their home or via their smartphones on the go. 

Being a digital-first government

The Australian digital transformation agenda in earnest began in 2014 with an audit of the ICT projects, which led to the formation of the Digital Transformation Office in 2015, or what is known today as the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). This agency was responsible for managing new and existing ICT projects and developing digital government services that are; “easy to deal with, informed by users, and fit for the digital age.” These are currently the three priorities of the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy

An important factor contributing to Australia’s e-government development is the early upgrade of the national copper wire telecommunications network. The National Broadband Network (NBN), which replaced much of the country’s existing network with fibre internet connections, now reaches millions of properties, offering Australians the opportunity to connect and engage online with governmental agencies. 

An ambitious roadmap to complete the digital transformation by 2025

In November 2018, the federal government unveiled the current digital transformation strategy, which the former Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan at the time labelled as a “bold vision”. This strategy is overseen by the DTA and the Australian Digital Council, and it involves spending billions on projects that augment and improve the ICT capabilities of various government agencies. According to the vision statement of the DTA, “By 2025, the digital government will be delivering more responsive policy, less red tape and better services with Australia as one of the top three digital governments in the world.”

There are the core initiatives that underpin this digital transformation strategy:

  1. Unified Digital Identity

At present, Australians have two separate digital identities – myGovID and Australia Post Digital iD. MyGovID represents one of the most well-known e-government development projects, but it only supports public services on the platform. In comparison, the other one provides access to public and private services. The DTA is focusing on incorporating both of them into one system using a common set of security standards. This way, citizens will be able to access everything with a single login. 

2. Higher focus on Citizen Experience

There are efforts already underway to develop a new online platform that focuses on providing smooth, seamless online experiences that are considered a speciality of private businesses. The Government Digital Experience Platform, or GovDXP, aims to provide a modern online experience similar to well-known social media platforms.

3. Personalisation of the public services

Providing personalised services drastically improves the user experience. Intuitive platforms utilise available citizen data to remove or offer services based on age, marital, employment status and other metrics. This means that a student’s experience on the platform would be different from that of a pensioner. 

4. Increasing the level of citizens’ trust

People always tend to look with a fair share of suspicion whenever agencies accumulate sensitive personal data, especially governments. However, this is even more applicable for Australian citizens due to government agencies having a poor track record on cybersafety. However, the DTA is working more in this direction in an attempt to address privacy and transparency concerns. 

An interesting next chapter has begun in the Australian government’s digital transformation ambitions that is worth keeping an eye on over the coming years.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022