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Centrelink debt debacle shows government is unprepared for digital revolution

7 February 2017
Alok Patel
The Age

The recent Centrelink debacle highlights the shortcomings of the federal government's approach to big data. The data bungle led to some of our society's most vulnerable people being hounded by debt collectors for money they didn't owe and – in at least one case – money was taken from them to pay for a non-existent liability.

In a candid interview last month, the Digital Transformation Agency's former head, Paul Shetler, told Radio National: "You can't do policy without delivery for the reasons you just saw here with Centrelink. You have to tie the result to policy."


If you doubt the value of identifying assets, consider businesses such as Uber and Airbnb. These two companies are making billions of dollars by identifying and utilising just a minute fraction of available capacity in their markets. In financial jargon, Uber and Airbnb are known as "cap-utes", or capacity utilisation plays. A proper crash program identifying and leveraging the nation's data assets could be the biggest cap-ute play in Australia's history.

Using existing government assets, Australia could find new ways to approach "wicked problems" like housing affordability, urban sprawl, resource allocation and jobs growth.

The Centrelink debacle shows we're not there yet. Policy doesn't implement itself. It's time public-private partnerships evolved for the digital age.

Alok Patel is the founder of multinational venture capital fund Azcende.