Minister Shorten interview on 2GB Afternoons

SUBJECTS: myGov review

JOE HILDEBRAND, HOST: Give us a bell and tell us if you've had a bad experience or a good experience with myGov. myGov is of course the Australian Government website, but it's much more than that. It's a digital portal that we use to access all our services, be it Medicare, be it Centrelink, be it childcare rebates, be it our tax returns. 

And it let's say it's, it's not the most smooth experience. And you might have remembered in the lead up to the election, there was a story in the Daily Telegraph, I believe, great newspaper written by very handsome journo about plans by the government, very welcome plans to overhaul myGov and make it more user friendly and actually basically go back to the drawing board and say, right, how can we actually make this work better? Not for us, the government, but for you, the Australian citizen. And since that that report, it's basically been injected with a whole bunch of steroids and they're going to look at the whole of government digital platforms, its digital interactions with its citizens and how it can well better serve them. 

What a novel idea that is. And the bloke who is overseeing this huge digital transformation, almost a revolution, is the Minister for Government Services and former Labor leader Bill Shorten and he joins me now on the show. Good day, Minister. Welcome to Afternoons.


HILDEBRAND: This is a pretty this is a pretty ambitious program, isn't it? I mean, you've taken this ball and really run with it. Talk us through what you're hoping to do and some well, the big name especially that you've got to do it.

SHORTEN: Well. During the election campaign, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and I announced that we would do a user centric independent audit of myGov. And just for listeners, just some fast facts on myGov. It's the largest authenticated digital platform in Australia. There are over 25 million active or linked accounts. That figure includes people who've had one member service linked. It's been in operation now for ten, almost ten years. It's being used more than ever. Now especially with the pandemics and the disasters, what we want to do is we want to look at myGov reliability, how it functions, how it can be improved to make it a more user friendly experience to Australians who have to deal with government and find out information without having to, you know, have a PhD or, you know, spend forever to try and get an.

HILDEBRAND: Answer: because it can be done. I'm sure if you've had any directions with yourself, you would know. Well, indeed you did know this from the user perspective and now you know it from the administrative perspective. Jacob, our producer here, is a millennial. He's you know, he's a digital native and he says his worst nightmare is when he gets a message from myGov. The message from myGov doesn't actually tell him what the message is. It just tells him that he's got a message from myGov and his heart immediately sinks because he knows he's going to have to wade through all these things. It'll probably be telling him he owes them $0.15 or whatever. And, and it's just and that's not what you want as citizens or an Australians first reaction to be if their government contacts them is it?

SHORTEN: No, that's right. When things work well that's great and there's a lot of positive news stories there. But the one thing that we've not found a way to reproduce on this planet is time and we just don't like to waste time. So I think it's incumbent on the government to try and improve that experience and rescue people's time. We've got a very good expert panel. The public will get a chance to have an input into this. But, you know, obviously, Jacob should reach out to the review and tell us his millennial experience.

HILDEBRAND: Well, I'll make him do that, a lot more paperwork. The Review, this crack taskforce is being led by former Telstra CEO David Thodey. So this is this is a big deal. This isn't just the Government reviewing itself. This is bringing in someone who is probably arguably one of the most highly experienced, powerful executives in digital communications and saying, right, how can we make this better? How can we how can we fix this?

SHORTEN: Yeah, that's right. He's got extensive, extensive global experience. We've got him and other experts and what we're asking them, we want to know, how do we put people at the centre of whatever we design? How do we have, you know, the nirvana is a single access point for all government services. How do we make it a seamless user experience? The reality is that the Government of Australia you know our basic departments many of them were set up in the 1890s or 1900s. But that doesn't necessarily bear relevance to people's cycle of life. You know, when you when you're looking for information about kids, you want to put in, you know, kids health or children and ideally myGov should be able to tell you instantaneously, well, you might be eligible for a welfare payment and it takes you down to that path. Yeah. 

You want to get information about children's health or you want to get information about family relationships, or you want to get information about schools. These are all we've got apps in the private sector where you're allowed to with you. But when it comes to government, you've got to get out there.

HILDEBRAND: That's exactly. I was. Yeah, I was about to side the exact same thing. I mean, eBay knows what I'm thinking even before I think it. It anticipates all my needs it directs me to things that I'd be interested in, whereas the government, myGov at the moment works in the opposite way. 

And so by actually doing that, tying all those services together and say, right, okay, our, our records say your children are going to be this old. Well, we can direct you to this childcare benefit or, you know, your Medicare or your tax office and your childcare records could be linked. So you're not actually constantly having to file the same forms. But the government just knows it's beautiful. I want to just instead of listening to me rant, just quickly take a call from Mary from Little Bay, who's called in and we've got it. This is part of this is the first, first user feedback from your review Minister. Mary, how have you found myGov?

MARY, CALLER: Shocking. I am power of attorney for my mother and when I tried to set up all the different groups to come together, my aged care, Centrelink, Social Security, they seem to all be under the umbrella, but they're not, they're all individual. And when I did set it up, it obliterated myself off my own account, and when I would log in it would say Hello, my mother's name. And when I tried to do something for myself, it told me I didn't have an account. Then I was told I must never have never had an account and I had to start another one. When I tried to start another account, it said I couldn't because I already had one and it meant that each time I had to get off, you couldn't do it online, you had to speak to somebody and it's hours waiting. And then they pass you around and then they tell you what you've done with one group. So My Aged Care doesn't work for Centrelink or I've done something illegal and I've set it all up wrong. They had to get a second email account to have my own and my mother's and then somebody along the line at one of those groups told me, no, I shouldn't have to. I should be able to go under one account and have myself as an authority on my mother's things.

HILDEBRAND: Oh, Mary, it sounds like an absolute Kafkaesque nightmare. Minister, this is exactly what you're talking about, isn't it? Different departments being siloed, not talking to each other, not sharing information with each other. And then, of course, you've got Mary's, you know, well, I suppose specific problems with power of attorney and not being the individual using the service, but acting on their behalf. I imagine that creates its own added layer of complexity and nightmarish ness.

SHORTEN: It does, but it shouldn't. I just want to say to Mary, I mean, I've only been the Minister for three months, but, you know, to be honest, listening to you is traumatising and I'm sure it was worse for you. The power of attorney has existed for a long time. So the fact is, why do we have IT systems, which are surprised? What we need to do is design machines and machine learning around people. So, by the way, if you've got Mary's details, we can always try and help follow up on individual matter just to help. 

MARY: Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that.

SHORTEN: That's not the way to fix all problems.

HILDEBRAND: No, that's right. But yeah.

SHORTEN: Listen to Mary. That's tough. You know, you're trying to do the right thing by people you love.

HILDEBRAND: It sounds awful. And we will get her details and put her in touch with the right people. Thank you, Minister. Look, I know you're having a very busy day, so I'll let you go. But just tell us what. What do you imagine? What do you hope this can look like? Obviously, there's a review going on and you don't want to pre-empt the outcome, but what is your vision for a sort of a perfectly seamless government experience?

SHORTEN: You go to the Apple shop, you download the myGov app, and then when you've got an inquiry to do with Federal Government and ultimately all levels of government, you can go through myGov and it just directs you.

HILDEBRAND: Fantastic works for everyone else. Why not us? Why not the Australian Government? Thank you very much, Minister. That's long overdue, which is I know what policymakers love to hear describing their initiatives.

SHORTEN: Thanks for the interest.

HILDEBRAND: Absolutely pleasure. And it's it is something that has been a long time coming, and it looks like it's actually now really going to happen. So more strength to your arm. We'll come back after this break with some more feedback about myGov. It looks like plenty of people have had really bad experiences with it, plus all your feedback on just who is Twitter trolling who, plus your thoughts on the Queen as well. Don't go anywhere