Govt delivery of digital services to face Senate inquiry

Broad terms of reference to scrutinise "all the digital failures"

The government’s delivery of digital services will be scrutinised in a Senate inquiry which is due to report by the end of the year.

The terms of reference for the inquiry, referred to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee yesterday, are far reaching, and include an assessment of present and planned projects with regards to privacy, security, reliability and value for money.

The inquiry will also investigate the strategies behind whole-of-government digital transformation.

The governance, design, build and procurement of digital projects will be probed, as well as “the adequacy of available capabilities both within the public sector and externally”.

Moved in the Senate by Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, the inquiry was unsuccessfully opposed by government.

In a statement, McAllister said there needed to be an examination of “why so many projects have failed, been cancelled or crashed”.

“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,” she said.

“Without proper oversight the Turnbull Government will just continue to preside over more failures and the Australian public’s trust in digital transformation will slide further.”

Queensland Coalition Senator James McGrath argued the inquiry would result in “unnecessary use of time and money” and that the government had already initiated a review of all projects over $10 million, and all critical business systems, the results of which "would be released shortly".

Digital failures

In February the government’s assistant minister for digital transformation, Angus Taylor, announced the government had commissioned a review of all its major technology projects.

Taylor said the review – which is being carried out by the investment management office within the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) – would provide greater transparency and oversight of Government’s $6.2 billion annual ICT spend.

"This is more than a review, it’s ongoing oversight, and it will provide unprecedented visibility and centralised management of IT projects," Taylor said at the time.

The review is yet to be given to Government.

The inquiry comes in the wake of a slew of high-profile government technology failures.

Last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ online Census was a debacle. The Census was pulled offline after a series of denial of service attacks that a government review concluded were “defeatable” had there been adequate preperation.

Later in 2016 the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) suffered a major outage of its core services after a storage hardware failure. A second major failure occurred earlier this year.

In addition, a data-matching program by Centrelink has faced significant criticism (though its implementation has been defended by the government).

The committee’s report is due to be tabled on December 4.

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