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An own goal on digital progress

14 February 2017
Denham Sadler

The government has formally tried to congratulate itself in the Parliament on its digital transformation of services in a sign of either “irony or grand self-delusion,” according to the shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic.

But the motion in the Federation Chamber only served to give a long line of Labor MPs the opportunity to lash the Commonwealth's digital woes. From the CensusFail, to the ATO outages and the current Centrelink debacle, Labor MPs lined up to sink the boot in.

Two Coaltion backbenchers, the Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien and Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace moved to “congratulate the government for pursuing an extensive technology reform agenda that will change the way Australians interact with government services for the better”.

The motion pointed to the government’s Centrelink technology, its health and aged care payment system and the MyGov online system.


Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon said the government has been “phenomenally bad” in the digital transformation space.

“If there is one area that highlights the complete inability of this government to deliver effective services, it is the roll-out call of failures we have had from the Turnbull government,” Ms Claydon said.

“The Member for Fisher is a brave man for opening up this topic for discussion and I’m astounded that he got permission from the powers to be to do so.”

The recent Centrelink robo-debt disaster is “one of the worst IT failures in our history,” Ms Claydon said.

“The IT messes the government has created have fundamentally betrayed the trust of the Australian people, tainting future digital projects for years to come,” she said.


Even Liberal MP Jason Falinksi seemed a bit bemused by the government’s motion.

“When I first saw this motion I wondered what the Member for Fisher was up to,” Mr Falinksi said.

The strange motion from the government comes as its much-maligned Centrelink robo-debt recovery system is facing a Senate inquiry.

The motion for an inquiry, introduced by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, easily passed during the first sitting week of the year with support from Labor and the Nick Xenophon team.

The wide-ranging inquiry will look at the impact of the robo-debt system on Australians, the administration and management of customers’ records by Centrelink, the capacity of the department to deal with the level of complaints and demands, the review process and the data-matching system itself.

Ms Siewert said the entire process has been a “monumental mess”.

“The automated debt-recovery system, which started trying to collect debts without human oversight, has caused anguish for thousands of Australians, many of which do not even have a debt at all,” she said.

“These people are now having to rake through records from years ago to prove they don’t have debts - they need and deserve answers. It is clear that the automated debt-recovery system must be investigated by a Senate inquiry so we can drill down and being providing answers to the community that the government won’t.”

Submissions to the inquiry will be open until 22 March, with the commission reporting back on 10 May.