Address to Meet the Chiefs lunch in Canberra

I also start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people on whose land we meet. And with the hope that this is the year they, and all First Nations peoples, are finally recognised as the original custodians of this country in our Constitution.

Thanks to Greg for the chance to be at this gathering again.

My address to you last year was the first major outing on the government services side of my portfolio.

And there was good reason.

The people in this room will play a role in realising the Albanese Government’s plan for digital reform in Australia.

Digital technology represents the fastest growing sector of the global economy and we’ve got to keep up if we’re going to compete.

Our mining and agriculture industries are close to best practice in digital technology because long-term operation in competitive overseas markets has dictated so.

But others are lagging.

Industries such as information and communication, retail trade, health care, government and transport are also behind in adoption, capabilities, presence, cloud usage and digital patents.

And yet, evidence shows workplaces that embrace digital technologies increase their productivity, create more jobs and pay higher wages.

More broadly, digitalisation boosts productivity and GDP growth.

The Labor Government will build world-class digital systems, not just with government services, but across the breadth of the economy.

A well-functioning digital ID, for example, will have uses outside the government services context.

One example is women fleeing domestic violence.

Often when a woman flees an abusive situation, she does so with nothing. Her partner having all her identity documents as a form of coercive control.

This would eliminate that power.

Even without her phone, she could log in to myGov and prove her identity through a digital ID.

This was spoken about at the Data and Digital Ministers Meeting last Friday, and all states agreed to work together.

Another example relates to the amount of personal information renters provide to real estate agents. In the context of the cybersecurity resources of such businesses, it’s worrying.

The government is perfectly placed to vouch for renters’ identity.

And I’m pretty sure 9 million current and former Optus customers would have much preferred to have used a government digital ID to prove they were real.

If government proves its leadership on digital services, it will equate to a significant step-up in digital investment.

And that drives productivity stimulus.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

Update on achievements

When I spoke with you last year, I set out the Labor Government’s plan.

Today, I want to give you an update.

I spoke about fixing the antiquated Passports process. I likened it to a five step 1950s odyssey.

I said we’d look to Estonia and Denmark, who are leaders in this field.

And I’ll talk more later about my fact-finding mission to those countries, as well as meetings with EU officials.  

We’ve started work on Passports and, as the task progresses, we’ll create a whole-of-government solution for executing deeds and statutory declarations.

There are currently 146 Government processes involving stat decs.

Allowing people to use myGov to execute these legal documents will conservatively save around $80m per annum in time savings for citizens.

No more chasing JPs.

I also talked to you in 2022 about honouring our election commitment to hold a Royal Commission into Robodebt.

I think that update has written itself.

I said that the Government was beta-testing a new form of technology on literally the most vulnerable people in our country. I don’t think the Royal Commission has dispelled that theory.

The memories of four Liberal MPs appearing at the Royal Commission failed them on the witness stand 140 times.

They couldn’t recall much about it at all. And that’s despite tens of thousands of news articles, a Centrelink whistleblower, 713 mentions of Robodebt in Parliament – and the fact Robodebt was the Macquarie Dictionary People’s Choice Word of the Year for 2019.

Just head-shaking stuff.

The Commission has been extended until 30 June and I’ll have a lot more to say when the report is handed down.

But I will say that we can’t let this happen again and we have taken some practical steps. One of them, Single Touch Payroll, has been reliant on private sector expertise.

A large payroll software provider began a staged rollout of Single Touch Payroll software updates in late January this year.

Around 14,000 customers per day now benefit from having their employment income prefilled and ready to confirm or correct.

That’s almost 2 million instances where reporting has been easier and more accurate.

More can be done to build on the benefits of Single Touch Payroll but it will be dependent on making further investment available.

I can’t think of a better public-private partnership than one that is the antithesis of Robodebt.  

myGov Audit

Another significant promise we made during the election was an audit of myGov, which has now been completed.

I was pleased at the rigour with which the report was developed, based on extensive consultation with myGov users, peak bodies and key stakeholders across government.

David Thodey was the right person for the job.

He brought to the role peerless experience from across the tech and telecommunications sectors – as well as a deep understanding of the role of innovation, and research and development.

The panel he chaired was made up of digital, human rights and health experts – and you can see their individual influence in certain sections of the report. That was intentional.

The report is thorough. Cohesive. And has delivered recommendations that will be the cornerstone of future of government digital services.

A key finding of the report is that myGov is critical infrastructure.

It makes perfect sense.

Australians are conducting up to 1.4 million sessions in myGov each day – more than triple what it was three years ago.

Put another way, more people rely on myGov than commute to work on public transport each day.

Having myGov identified as being critical to our economic and social prosperity – as critical as roads, banking, hospitals and the energy grid – has influenced a number of the recommendations in the report.

A crucial message I want to give to you today is that this Government knows that confidence in investment is the key for significant infrastructure development.

And let’s face it, there have been previous events that have eroded confidence in whole-of-government capabilities.

One event that illustrated this was the DTA’s retirement of the Notify platform due to a change in the agency’s responsibilities.

The myGov audit noted this left the 130 federal, state, and local government agencies that adopted the platform in a scramble to find a new provider at short notice.

That would make ICT architects understandably wary of adopting capabilities that do not have certainty of funding.

The Review panel called for a legislated five year roadmap for myGov, and for it to be made public.

The roadmap has immediate, medium and long-term initiatives.

Immediate initiatives we’re delivering right now include:

  • improving customer authentication, security and messaging
  • document modernisation
  • improving myGov integration with Digital Identity
  • and expanded wallet credentials.

On that last point, I’d like to have a calendar where we can start dropping more credentials in. The Medicare card is first out of the blocks and will be added to the app in March.

Ahead on the roadmap is the intention to:

  • Enhance Cyber resilience and fraud capabilities within myGov
  • Consolidate government apps
  • Develop a Whole of Government service catalogue to help bring together payments and services to customers from their myGov dashboard.

The decisions on longer term initiatives should rightly sit with a joint ministerial committee – which I would sit on with the Minister for Finance and relevant policy Ministers – as set out in the myGov audit governance arrangements.

We would seek advice from an independently chaired Advisory Board comprising government and non-government members, to provide formal advice and assurance of myGov against its commitments to citizens.

This roadmap and a commitment to long-term investment will make myGov a digital asset for all Australians – from renewing passports, enrolling to vote, or even completing the Census.

These recommendations are intended to allay fears of investors about myGov’s longevity.

Let’s do a deal – you invest in the componentry that connects myGov with member services and the private sector, and I’ll do my best to charm Chalmers. But I’ll be honest, I’ll be joining a long queue of colleagues bearing flowers and chocolates.


Every element of myGov will operate under the framework of choice, control and transparency.

It must be people-led. And we want it to deliver services tailored to individuals from multiple layers of government.

There is much more to discover about all the possibilities of myGov.

The potential for growth is huge.

A month ago I worked with the NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government, Victor Dominello, in a step towards integrating state and federal services.

NSW and the Commonwealth agreed to share Medicare and digital driver’s licence credentials in their respective service apps.

It was welcome news that progress on collaboration in this area was made at the Data and Digital Ministers Meeting, chaired by my colleague, Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher.

All states and territories agreed to work with the Commonwealth to include credentials – such as drivers licences, occupational licences, passports, professional accreditations, academic attainments and government working-with-children safety checks – as part of a digital ID.

Senator Gallagher oversees the DTA which has responsibility for the development of the new digital identity system, and has been a real champion of the cause.

It’s essential that the states and federal governments work to deliver seamless services.

Not just for the citizen – who doesn’t really care if a drivers’ license is a credential owned by the state, they just want to be able to access it anytime, anywhere – but also essential for the credibility of the myGov platform.

Estonia, Belgium and Denmark lessons

I visited Estonia, Belgium and Denmark last year to learn from those at the top of their game in delivering digital tools and solutions for their citizens.

I wanted to find practical examples of innovation in government service delivery that we can translate to an Australian experience.

Estonia has been an exemplar in this area for more than 20 years. The government’s approach is simple – it’s a distributed architecture and is based on open-source software. And it works.

These service-oriented type architectures are tried and true. Twenty countries are now using the code-base Estonia uses. I found the security outcomes of the distributed data layer very convincing.

Australia has adversaries, illustrated by recent high-profile data breaches. But Estonia is under constant attack.

It has been in a cyber war since February 2022, experiencing approximately 100 times more daily cyber attacks than when it fought the world’s first cyber war in 2007.

The value of collaboration with, and learning from, our global allies was brought home to me by our visit to NATO’s cyber security hub.

Especially as Australia has seen a marked uptick in cyber attacks compared to the year before, and to the year before that. This is the new reality we have to deal with.

We also saw the power of a distributed, services oriented architecture in practice in Estonia.

Health data, for example, is distributed across seven databases – referred to as registers.

For hackers to get a citizen’s full health data, they need to infiltrate seven environments in real-time. At any time, a citizen can enquire who has used it.

And I don’t want to hear the old chestnut that it is easier for them than us.

Sure, Estonia’s population is much smaller than ours – but is it really the case that with our significant government resources and know-how we can’t scale?

I spoke to Government leaders and officials, and a number expressed the view that Estonia’s history of public-private partnership has been integral to its success.

I like the Estonian approach that if a private company can deliver something cheaper than the government, the government outsources this to the private sector, and then buys it back.

Collaboration rather than competition.  

There are more than 3,000 services available in Estonia’s digital ecosystem, many of these are delivered by the private sector.

The on-boarding is streamlined where providers can self-serve until the last step.

The myGov Audit suggests we need to codify and streamline on-boarding to myGov as well.

That includes our procurement practices.

They not only have to be faster and easier but must ensure that small to medium enterprises can compete with larger enterprises.

Trust us enough to tell us once

Of course, for the private and public sectors, individuals and business to fully take advantage of a digital world, there must be trust.

Citizens should know how and where their data is being used.

While in Brussels, I met with the EU’s Commissioner of Justice, Didier Reynders, to discuss the world’s toughest privacy and security law, General Data Protection Regulation.

It works on the premise that only information required for the services provided is recorded and must be deleted when it’s no longer needed for that purpose.

It also gives regulators the ability to issue significant fines to businesses that fail to comply with its rules.

Since 2018, some of the high profile companies to be penalized for not meeting their GDPR regulatory responsibilities have been:

  • WhatsApp – €225  million for failing to properly explain its data processing practices in its privacy notice
  • Google – €90 million for failing to properly allow users to refuse cookies

With the GDPR, each piece of information is only stored in one location, so implementing a “tell us once” function is made easy.

We may be able to take advantage of the surge in the uptake of myGov during the pandemic, to sell this idea to Australians.

We got a taste of the convenience of having digital vaccination certificates on our phones during COVID.

One young bloke can tell you all about it. He called the myGov helpline in a panic because he needed his vaccination certificate urgently.

The helpful staff talked him through downloading the app, assured him he’d be fine and, yes, the bouncers would now let him into into the pub. Crisis averted.

As that young man discovered, the Services Australia ‘outcome rather than the process’ approach to technology has been hugely successful.

Digital Identity

People are sick of hearing the ‘gonna’ of digital identity. We’re gonna get it right. We’re gonna do it soon.

Well, the myGov audit panel rightfully said – just do it!

This is exactly why establishing the audit panel was one of my first acts as Minister in this area – to end the ‘gonna’ and set a pathway for the ‘how’.

Yes, we have to coordinate across multiple portfolios – but I can assure you this government recognises the need to get cracking.

That is evident from today’s cyber security roundtable hosted by the PM which will introduce a discussion paper outlining a seven year strategy, with a proposed start date of next year.

There’ll be a consultative approach across industry, academia, state and territory governments and the Australian and international community. A real team effort, as it should be, if we are to harmonise regulatory frameworks and build a collaborative approach to major cyber incidents.

This is coupled with the announcement by Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, of a national cyber security co-ordinator.

We have an ambitious aspiration to be the most cyber secure nation by 2030.

An ambition that, if realised, will allow us to progress a digital economy further than any previous government.

And our model will not seek to profit from protecting privacy.

You’ll have to work hard to convince me the recent Facebook announcement, that users have to upload a government ID to verify who they say they are – and pay for the privilege – isn’t ridiculous.

Why would we pay them to borrow our watch to tell us what time it is?

Our government will deliver a model that turns this around 180 degrees.

We won’t charge to create a government ID and you won’t need to give private companies your government photo id to prove who you are.

So, how will we know when we’ve created a successful digital ID?

I’d say it’s when Australians opt to take up the offer of having their personal information securely stored.

When it is functional, reliable and tailored to the circumstances, or change of circumstances, of the individual.

When it ‘wraps around’ Australians in times of crisis by connecting Commonwealth, state and local governments.

When it give people access to the full catalogue of government services.

And when it restores trust in the government.


Just four years ago, we were second in the UN’s global ranking of ‘e-governments’. We’re now seventh.  

But the path for us to again move to the top global positions can be reasonably plotted.  

If government and business take a collaborative approach  

Consider the pedigree of public-private partnerships in Australia.

The CSIRO development of wifi is the gold standard. Scientists applying radio astronomy to commercially relevant areas resulted in the most ubiquitous technology ever seen.

It is not an overstatement to say it changed the world.

What is the next wifi?

The Albanese Government will build a distributed architecture that puts Australia back at the top.

The private sector, the people in this room, can be critical players in that ecosystem.