Minister Shorten interview on ABC Radio Melbourne Drive with Ali Moore


SUBJECTS: Introduction of passkeys to myGov; Staffing boost at Services Australia

ALI MOORE, HOST: Do you have trouble remembering your password? Well, maybe that will become a thing of the past, at least for MyGov. Bill Shorten is the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for Government Services. Bill Shorten, welcome to drive. 


MOORE: Can I start on that Optus outage, actually, because you obviously have great oversight of people who need care and need other people to look out for them. Were you worried about what might have happened to some of them yesterday if they couldn't access the services they needed?

SHORTEN: Yes. I think this has highlighted how much we depend on our telecommunications and our digital services. We're fortunate that in the Medicare payments and Centrelink we weren't on the Optus network, so that was fortunate in this case. But our Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, moved pretty quickly because we need to understand what's gone wrong here, because if it can happen once, it can happen again and this affects real people. There would have been people yesterday who on their Optus technology were trying to access payments, people need their money, there'd be people trying to make appointments to see the doctor…

MOORE: Or contact carers who may have been due to turn up, all that sort of thing.

SHORTEN: It's diabolical and it just shows you our vulnerability. So, we need to find out what's gone wrong at Optus, but it also, I think, highlights our general vulnerability and our reliance on particular bits of infrastructure, doesn't it?

MOORE: So, let's have a look at what you're planning with MyGov and the whole idea is to use a different form of technology to access accounts to cut the number of scams. So, what are you planning?

SHORTEN: Well, what we've seen is people are trying to phish information off unsuspecting people, criminals are trying to phish, ph- phish information off unsuspecting people where they might send out a false myGov message and they say, please download your details and go on the link. Now, we won't be sending a link out to people, that's not how it works but some people might inadvertently give passwords and details. The good news about myGov is it has multi-factor identification, but the scammers are every day trying to get more information about people to sell on the dark web. So, we're introducing something new. In the first six months of next year, we're going to introduce passkeys to myGov. Now, I'm not a digital engineer, but a passkey is a simple description for the biometric security that you have on your smartphone, or indeed information you have on your Android phone so, instead of you having to remember multiple passwords, as you were just saying it'll just look at your thumbprint or your Face ID, and that's more secure than even the existing systems we've got. So, it's a new level of sophistication which uses the security aspects of your phones and reinforces the safety of MyGov data.

MOORE: And do you think, I mean, you're trialling it and will it then sort of be rolled out to everybody?

SHORTEN: Yeah, everyone on myGov. 

MOORE: And how long for people to opt to do it?

SHORTEN: It’s for people to opt to do it.

MOORE: So, you opt in, not opt out?

SHORTEN: Yeah, but it's very simple. It'll just be to basically click a box and you can do that as your mechanism to access MyGov. We use this technology on our phones right now. Now, I must rush to say, not everyone wants to use digital services, we still have 318 service centres, we've still got other forms of communicating but for those who want to use their phones and technology, to me, this is smart, because we're already using our phone security features for a lot of other decisions and things we do. So, this is leveraging the security of your phone plus the pre-existing security of MyGov. So, I think this is a good development.

MOORE: Just a question here from a listener tried to log into my myGov app on my phone. The message displayed said my last login was too long ago and I had to prove my identity again. Why and how long can we leave it asks the texter. I mean, it's a fair question, isn't it? If you leave it for a couple of months, you're going to have to start all over again.

SHORTEN: No, I better get that person's details offline from your producer and I'll try and understand what's exactly happened to that person. Requesting people's security details can be annoying, but it's also a system of safety.

MOORE: Does it sort of expire? Does your identity check expire?

SHORTEN: No, I'd need to check what happened with this particular user, so I haven't heard a lot of that. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but I'd have to get this person's details before I start giving an individual sort of circumstance answer, because I just need to get more details. But our passkey will also make that easier. Your face doesn't change, you can grow a beard, but your thumbprint doesn't change.

MOORE: The other thing that you've announced, the important thing that you've announced in the last week was extra staff and extra staff for Services Australia and when you look at the evidence to at least one Senate committee recently, just about how long people are waiting on the phone, how many are getting congested messages or they're actually being hung up on 3000 extra staff, is that going to fix that?

SHORTEN: I think it'll make a serious dent. From about 2015 onwards, about the same time as the previous government introduced Robodebt, there was a decision by the previous government to invest in new technology and therefore they said they'd need fewer staff. That hasn't worked. Some of the new technologies worked, but since coming to government, we've had to write off some of the big expenditures of our predecessors. In the meantime, waiting times have got longer and so have the times for processing payments. So, the government's made a good decision, I feel, to invest in 3000 extra people, we think that'll make a serious dent in payment processing, 20% of all the phone calls are people chasing up their payments. So, if we can not only just put more people on the phones, but also process people's payments more quickly, then that'll decrease the volume of calls.

MOORE: How are you going to find 3000 people?

SHORTEN: Well, we've started. There's 800 have been onboarded or in the process of being onboarded, I sort of loathe that HR jargon, but we're just teaching people about the welfare system. It's a very complicated system. There's hundreds of different regulations and payments but people are interested because one thing that we are doing is making sure that these jobs are ongoing public service jobs. They won't be in a boiler room, at a labour hire company, in a call centre so, there is a bit of interest in these jobs. The other thing is they're not all based in Melbourne and Sydney. In fact, I'm optimistic that the majority of the new jobs will be outside of Melbourne and Sydney. So, if you spread these jobs in the regions, Adelaide, the Illawarra, Wollongong, Hobart, Regional Victoria, there are enough people to do the work here and they're not high paid jobs, but they're ongoing permanent jobs if people prove to be satisfactory. And that's a good thing, a permanent job in this day and age.

MOORE: Bill Shorten a couple of other texts just concerning the new way of logging into myGov. Greg says, what a clever way for the government to build a huge biometric database. I mean, it's a relevant point about what sort of security will be around retention of the data.

SHORTEN: It's funny, Greg probably uses his Apple phone, so he's got no hesitation of being on his Apple phone. And the other thing is we're not interested in… this is just a key, we're not interested in logging everyone's biometric details. I mean, this is, by the way, it's not compulsory. So, if Greg wants to use, if he wants to go into a Centrelink office, if he wants to ring, he can. If he wants to use the old myGov multifactor identification, he can. But if he wants to have a more secure system using a technology which a lot of people use every day to order things online, to just log onto their phone, then he can do that too.

MOORE: And a couple of other people and I accept that you can't deal with individual circumstances, Minister, but just on that one case that you're going to follow up, a couple of other people just saying, yes, myGov password expires after an amount of time. A few people saying it's annoying, but it's easy to reset. But I do wonder, it would be interesting to find out just what the time period is.

SHORTEN: I wouldn't mind finding the details of the couple of individuals who you've mentioned. This is part of our job, we go on talkback radio, we get good insights from people. So, we'll go and find out and I'll send that other information to your producer.

MOORE: Excellent and I will share it with everyone who listening. Bill Shorten, thanks very much for talking to us.

SHORTEN: Super. Have a lovely day. Bye.

MOORE: Bill Shorten there, the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme and also for Government Services. And there you are, a bit of a change to how you might be able to log into myGov.