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Digital ID and other gov’t services part of massive reform in Australia

Digital ID and other gov’t services part of massive reform in Australia

If the international digital ID movement ultimately accomplishes nothing else, it will be judged a success for making government services more than a cartoonish partisan weapon.

Debates about national and state services in developed economies long ago devolved into slogans as one-dimensional as the bumper stickers they are printed on.

Indeed, The Australian Financial Review this week ran a 2,100-word analysis of a financial review summit for Australia‘s Government Services ministry. Medicare, Services Australia, Centrelink (social security) and the National Disability Insurance Agency are overseen by the ministry.

The summit was run through with descriptions of digital reforms underway and ideas for what could be. Bill Shorten, minister of Government Services, voiced admiration for South Korea’s portal, which allows citizens to directly manage the personal digital data of theirs that the government keeps.

Services Australia has its eye on digital identity, too. According to the article, the nation’s Digital Transformation Agency has the funding to consolidate functions including digital IDs, government permissions, payments and revenue. Private services like social media platforms are not part of the scheme.

Digital delivery has become a dominant force in reforming government services delivery for many economies, including the United Kingdom’s. The pandemic, followed by catastrophic flooding along the East Coast of Australia, have convinced a political spectrum of some breadth that not only is change needed, but to actually start the change.

If the Financial Review article is a guide, Australians may not be marching in step on reform, but many are at least walking in the same general direction – toward easier and secure online access that protects people’s privacy.

According to the publication’s government editor, Tom Burton, eight in 10 Aussies now prefer internet delivery of government services, an almost 20 percent swing toward services by keyboard. The percentage of people interacting with the government face to face, said Burton, has dropped in half over two years.

The current finish line in this regard is the federal government’s myGov portal, operated by the federal Tax Office and now in beta testing, that ultimately could be where everyone goes for any federal government service, and through which personalized services could be pushed.

Burton said that could include such mundane things as notifications to get a cancer screening.

How fundamental is this change? The government services and housing minister of the state of Victoria, Danny Pearson, is quoted saying the digital reformers are the “new economists.” That might be overstated abstraction, but it also is a timely reminder that the first role of democratic government is serving its citizens.

Along with advances in online government services at the federal level, the article spotlights work being done in Victoria and New South Wales.

The state has turned the traditional service model upside down, according to Burton. It no longer is “an agency [that] provides a one-off, linear service report to a secretary, who in turn reports to a minister.”

Radical change in public services might be what it takes to keep the entire enterprise known as Australia going. Digital services will have to evolve to better address mental health, homelessness and elder-care needs, which have not been dented (in Australia or other economies).

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