Minister Shorten press conference for the launch of the myGov Advisory Group


MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND THE NDIS, BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everybody. I'm really excited today to announce to millions of Australians who use myGov that we're now setting up a new Advisory Board chaired by none other than the well-respected Victor Dominello, former Minister for Services in NSW, to help us get the myGov digital rollout on track and working in the interests of everyday Australian consumers. The advisory board will give myself and the Albanese Government advice on the best way to do digital rollout. I, like many people in New South Wales, very favourably impressed by former Minister Dominello’s stewardship of the Services New South Wales system. I think that Services New South Wales is right up there, amongst the best product offerings for people trying to use the internet to access government services.

So Victor has very kindly agreed to chair an advisory board, a high powered advisory board because what we want to make sure is that when the government does new things, we test it in the real world and talk to real people about how we can best roll out ideas which improve the lives of Australians. In particular, we want Australians to feel that when they access Commonwealth Government Services, that the services are timely and that they're safe and that they’re quality. So I realised that whilst our public service is very good, we need to reach beyond the Commonwealth public service to get the best ideas. We've just seen the shameful chapter in Australian history that was called robodebt. That was the unlawful debt raising against half a million Australians by the former Government relying on a computer algorithm. Robodebt could have been avoided in many ways, but one way it could have been avoided is if the people creating the idea had tested it with an advisory board made up of human rights specialists, ethicists, digital experts, people who understand workers and people who understand the consumers who use the system.

This advisory board, I think, is a really elegant solution to making sure that in the future, when governments have ideas, that they really work. The other thing I'm very pleased to announce this morning is we are going to upgrade the security of the myGov system. What we want to do in the future, and we'll do it in the first six months of next year, is that we want to use the security capabilities and functionalities of your smartphone or your Android phone, and that can be the way you access myGov. This means it'll be harder to be a victim to phishing schemes and scams if you use the facial recognition software on your phone as your means to access government services. It's used in the private sector, this adds a new level of security and confidence for Australians when they're dealing with some of their most important data, including their Social Security number or their tax number or indeed their Medicare number.

Labor is determined to have world-class government services. This week we've announced 3000 new staff to help reduce waiting times on the phones and payment processing, which is greatly irritating to everyday Aussies. But what we're also now doing is trying to do politics differently. I'm very pleased that a person of Victor Dominello’s calibre is interested to have the best outcomes for the nation, and in this conversation were not worried about Liberal or Labor, we just want the best outcomes for people.

I might ask Victor to talk a little bit and then we’re happy to take your questions.

CHAIR OF THE MYGOV ADVISORY GROUP, VICTOR DOMINELLO: Thanks Minister. It’s a great honour to be invited to chair [inaudible]. We've seen that in New South Wales, Service NSW is seen as a global leader and we really believe that Services Australia has the opportunity to be a global leader as well. With the panel that Mr. Shorten has assembled, he's got some deep expertise there to help guide and provide advice to Minister Shorten in the really complex world that is Services Australia and services generally at the federal level. As Minister Shorten said, this is in the national interest that we get this right. This is critical infrastructure, Services Australia and myGov and looping that in with great work Minister Gallagher is doing in relation with Digital Identity. It is important that we get this right, and put people first and as Minister Shorten said a moment ago, technology is not the be all or end all, it’s simply the enabler to improve services for the great people of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dominello [inaudible] you’ve got some experience cutting through the red tape in New South wales that led to the success of the Service NSW capability.  It might be a different beast at a federal level trying to cut through federal red tape. Is it a bigger task?

DOMINELLO: By its very nature, it's much bigger task. But you know, Minister Shorten has a strong vision and a very big appetite for reform so that’s why… if I didn’t back Minister Shorten in, I wouldn’t have done this, but I know that it's his heart and his mind's in the right place but If I can do my bit to help [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: You’ve probably used the Service NSW interface like most of us have. Is there something that sticks out to you that’s the first thing we've got to change?.

DOMINELLO: There's a lot of things to change, but just making the experience much simpler. It is very, shall we say, it's [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: Minister Shorten, you’ve obviously reached across the aisle here, you’re taking politics out of it as you say. Do you think you’ll have any pushback from your colleagues in the Labor party or Mr. Dominello’s former parliamentary colleagues in the Liberal party here. Does anyone have any dramas with this?

SHORTEN: No, from the Prime Minister down, we want to see people put first. It's in the national interest, it's in the interest of everyday Australians that they have good government services. Every day, people put in a Medicare claim, every day families are waiting for their childcare benefit to be repaid. We have veterans who have served us in Iraq and Afghanistan waiting to sort out their matters. We have aged pensioners seeking to get their commonwealth health card. There's 1.1 billion transactions already online for myGov but as Victor said, it's clunky. I want the best in the world for our services, and that'll only just be good enough for everyday Australians. We just want to get stuff done and this country doesn't have time for tit for tat politics. Victor's got an enviable record and so you’d be a fool not to try and recruit him to the national interest and of course, he immediately said yes.

JOURNALIST: Short of a facade refresh, if you want to do some serious backroom changes, I imagine it's akin to turning the Titanic around. How long do you think it will take to see the improvements that the advisory board suggest actually being available to people?

SHORTEN: Smart people are worth their weight in gold, everyone in this advisory board is smart. I have no doubt that the calibre of conversation in Services Australia and our initiatives will improve from the first meeting we have with the Advisory Board. It's very important to stress to people watching this, digital technology is meant to save us time, not add trauma, not add to anxiety, not add to time. My test is not just do we have the right app and the right security and the right identifications and making it seamless. Government Services should in tandem with people’s life cycle, from the birth of a child when you need to get that child onto all the forms with their details; through to a person’s experience trying to get their childcare benefit; through to a child’s journey through school, leaving school, getting information on what to do next; right through to the other end of the life cycle, trying to access your pension and access your payments. For us it’s not about the tech, there are tens of thousands of Australians who are off the grid altogether, who sleep rough and they’re homeless. For them, using the app isn't the issue, it's just connecting them up to the system. There's 10 million people who visit our service centers every year, they matter still. We're not saying everyone has to use a smartphone or an Android phone. But what I do know is that the best way to build trust in government is for the government to be easy to deal with. If we can give people back that rarest of commodities time, if we can stop giving them headaches, if they can get payments in a timely fashion, that's the goal but it'll take time, as you say. Every journey starts with the first step and we're putting some pretty key steps in place today.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of the seamless digital journey, Optus yesterday [inaudible] what did you make of Australians experience with Optus yesterday?

SHORTEN: OMG, what was Optus doing? I get that you can have a technical defect, but for half the nation to be effectively paralysed in communication… I know that Michelle Rowland, our Communications Minister, she's had to fill the gap. We were getting more information from the government than we were getting from Optus in those first few hours. This Optus failure was not a minor matter, it wasn't whether or not you could book your lime scooter or you know, Instagram your friends. This was a real world problem with real world consequences. People couldn't get their health care, people needed to find out information quickly about loved ones in hospital and they couldn’t. This is about small businesses who their Eftpos machines weren’t working. I mean, the banks charge you for using all these technologies and then the deal is though that they work. So Michelle Roland, our Minister, has immediately asked the Department of Communications to have an inquiry into what's gone wrong. Because if this can happen once, it can happen again and we need to learn the lessons now. Secondly ACMA, the independent regulator, are looking to see whether or not Optus followed all the rules but I just don’t feel sorry for the Optus leadership, I feel sorry for the Optus customers.

JOURNALIST: Those customers do they deserve in your view… I mean, there's two, two areas here, there's the everyday customers who services were impacted and then there's business owners who lost vast amounts of money because they couldn’t do their work. Do those two categories of people deserve compensation?

SHORTEN: I think compensation is a legitimate conversation; it’s got to be on the table. It is within 24 hours of the problem happening. So I don't want to get ahead of myself. But people have suffered material loss here. You know, I think I'm like a lot of Australians who just went, thank goodness I’m with Telstra.

JOURNALIST: You obviously have a government phone, I imagine you also have personal devices. Are you with Optus for any of them?

SHORTEN: No, but again people are free to choose, you know they’re both important telecommunications providers. The Optus board are in a world of pain, but more importantly their customers are in a bigger world of pain and we’ve got to find out how this happened. We have two major communications companies in Australia and I think what yesterday highlighted is our vulnerability. We've got to make sure what's the right level of redundancy we have to protect people from further problems, but it's not enough to say there was a technical defect by Optus, we all worked that out ourselves, it’s the why and we need to get to the why.

JOURNALIST: Optus yesterday said that they do know what the problem is but they weren’t ready to share that information yet because they wanted to have a simple explanation for people. Do you think it’s right that they’re holding that information back?

SHORTEN: I suspect that today when they look back at what they said yesterday, they'd like to press the reset button and give a different answer. People aren't dumb, they know their phones and their communications, their fixed lines weren't working. I don’t run Optus that’s not my job but I do know that when you've got a problem, more information early and empathy is probably the high road to pursue, not saying it's too complicated for you mere mortals. It's not complicated for the people whose devices weren’t working, they want to know why. Like at the end of the day, when you've got a problem and you've got a catastrophic problem like this, just saying we know more and you wouldn't understand it, that's not adequate is it?

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the leadership?

SHORTEN: That's up for the board and the shareholders to work out and I’ve heard they’re owned by a Singaporean company, and the Singaporeans, they are very professional.

JOURNALIST: Has the government met with the Optus Board?

SHORTEN: I don't know what the Minister's done, but I know that Minister Rowland, has been a lot more diligent here than a lot of other actors who actually run the company. We don't run this company, but we want to find out what went wrong because it's about Australians.

JOURNALIST: The Government's a big customer of Optus. Why should the contracts be kept given the current circumstances and the failures?

SHORTEN: Procurement contracts are a matter independent of government ministers, so we're not going to get into that. But if you were bidding for contracts this is hardly your best marketing approach, is it? I'm sure departments will be looking at all those matters, the first and most important thing is to find out why did it happen and how do we stop it happening again?

JOURNALIST: The banks have started to monetise digital identity. Is it right for consumers to pay fees to access those kinds of transactions?

SHORTEN: Well, I think a safe and secure way to promote digital identification is through myGov. The taxpayers pay for the system, I think the government has the capability of doing digital ID that is, that if you if you can present your myGov ID to a real estate agent, to an insurance company, to a car hire company, to a hotel when you're checking in, that can save a lot of private sector organisations from hoovering up your data and even if they don't seek to use your data, there's now an obligation on private organisations to protect your data. I think if we had strong digital ID centrally, that'll just save a whole lot of companies from the risk and liability of data. Once upon a time, I think a lot of private sector companies saw data as an asset. Now, I think increasingly they see it as a liability, and there's a lot of smaller businesses and small organizations who don't have the resources to secure all that personal data. I think that rather than just looking at how banks can monetise storing people's identification, I think we're better off having a live consideration as to be the government itself, being the trusted holder of information, rather than just every shop in Australia having your data.

JOURNALIST: Banks will chuck a fee on anything that moves, should they be allowed to put fees on this?

SHORTEN: I think generally banks are overcharging, let's be honest. Good on Westpac, if you're a shareholder, they made a $7.6 billion profit but this is the time of inflation and mortgage rises. I don't understand, I see a lot of charges on small businesses, somewhere along the line when everyday Aussies are doing it tough and our mortgage rates are up, the big banks are making record profits. That doesn't sit well with me.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, I know you’re across this case up on the Northern Beaches yesterday where a lady was unable to say goodbye to her dying mother because the hospital wasn’t able to get through on the phone. What do you make of personal stories like that?

SHORTEN: The personal story, which has been reported yesterday, that a daughter was going to be notified by the hospital because her mum was in her last stages of life and they said, go home, you're only ten minutes away and then this Optus technical defect intrudes like some act of God. Ah, which it wasn't, I think it's devastating. I would be both unhappy and angry in equal proportions that I couldn't say goodbye to my mum.

JOURNALIST: I was wondering with the myGov [inaudible] what the contingency plan is if there is an outage?

SHORTEN: Service Australia has got a range of contingency plans for outages and whatnot, but that's probably a conversation for another day. What we do want to do, though, is make sure I mean, today what we're proposing is a better quality myGov tested more by people outside the government beltway as inside the government, also our upgrading of security by being able to use that biometric identification, the features you've already got on your phone and using that to further secure your myGov identity, I think that's another protection.

SHORTEN: Thanks guys.