Critics turn up the heat on embattled Australian Digital Transformation Agency

Written by Sam Trendall on 15 August 2017 in News

Following a series of high-profile setbacks, central government digital arm faces renewed calls for independent investigation


A debt-recovery scheme implemented by the DTA has been one of the agency's most notable setbacks

Australia’s “beleaguered” Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) must face down renewed calls for a public enquiry following a series of high-profile setbacks over the course of its two-year existence.

Two politicians from the opposition Labor Party – MP Ed Husic and senator Jenny McAllister – have issued a joint statement calling for the Australian Senate’s Finance and Public Administration Committee to investigate “why so many (DTA) projects have failed, been cancelled, or crashed, and what can be done to put the vital work of digital transformation at the centre of government”.

The statement comes four months after Labor requested that the ruling Liberal-National coalition government establish an independent enquiry into digital transformation. This request was ignored.

Husic and McAllister claim that, since taking power in 2013, “the coalition has doubled its digital spend to A$10bn” (£6.06bn). The duo cite a range of projects they claim add up the “digital wreckage” created by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government. 

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These include the website of the Australian Taxation Office enduring “repeated crashes over eight months”, and the myGov site for accessing government services going over budget by a factor of three. 

“Worse still, at a time where the Turnbull government increasingly pressures the Senate to support harsh budget cuts, it is remarkable [that] the government has ploughed billions more into its digital spend, without explanation”, said Husic and McAllister.

They added: “Despite all the digital failures, the Turnbull government has remained silent as services crash and projects go off the rails. The Australian public deserves to know what went wrong, and how it can be fixed.”

The DTA was set up in summer 2015 and, for its first 19 months, was helmed by Paul Shetler, a former senior figure at the UK Government Digital Service. Following his resignation, Shetler has publicly criticised the Australian government’s response to the problems encountered by the debt-recovery service of its Centrelink welfare agency – perhaps the most notable of all the IT controversies to have befallen the Turnbull administration in recent years.

Since implementing new data-matching software and an automated system for requesting debt repayment, Centrelink has, according to reports, sent out about 14 times as many debt recovery letters to welfare recipients as it was previously. 

The controversy surrounding the new system was subjected to a senate standing committee enquiry, whose report published two months ago recommended that the debt-recovery programme “should be put on hold until all procedural fairness flaws are addressed”.

The committee added: “The system was so flawed that it was set up to fail.”

A DTA representative indicated that the agency “is unable to comment on political stories”. 

PublicTechnology had contacted Australia’s assistant minister for digital transformation, Angus Taylor, requesting comment and was awaiting response at time of going to press.


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