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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 817


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (11:07): If there is one area that highlights the complete inability of this government to deliver effective services, it is the rollout call of IT fails that we have had from the Turnbull government. I have to say that the member for Fisher is a brave man for opening up this topic of discussion. I am astounded that he got approval to do so from the Liberal powers that be. In fact, this government have been so phenomenally bad in this area that Mr Turnbull's own hand-picked digital guru and the former head of the Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, resigned last November. Mr Shetler has since revealed publicly the extent of the mess in which the government's Digital Transformation Agenda rests: public service cuts are hitting hard, costly projects are running late and some are falling over completely.

Let's look at a few of the more memorable failures from the past six months alone. Who could forget 9 August last year when the census website notoriously crashed spectacularly across the nation, wasting millions of hours of Australians' time and threatening the integrity of this important national data? Shamefully, the government knew about the impending disaster in 2015 when the head of the ABS penned a crisis memo, warning, 'The program will not be able to deliver on the current scope, timetable and/or budget.' Well, nothing could have been clearer, but for those opposite the choice was to sit back and do nothing to fix the problems.

The next serious IT fail came only four months later when the critical ATO systems crashed, taking down the ATO website, the tax agent portal and the case management system for days, causing havoc for hundreds of businesses and individual alike. Almost two months on, the problems continued with another crash at the end of January. Still, government members have failed to provide an explanation for the mess.

Barely two weeks after the first ATO crash we heard the first screeches of the slow train wreck of one of the worst IT failures in our history. Of course, I refer to the Centrelink robo-debt data-matching debacle, which has seen thousands of Australians falsely accused of debts they did not owe. In its great wisdom the government removed human oversight from the process and left the robots, with their crude algorithms, to deliver the debt recovery system. They, in turn, were coming to ridiculous and erroneous conclusions about job seekers' incomes and working circumstances, and then using the flawed assumptions to raise the bogus debt notices. Make no mistake, this is a fail so serious and so colossal that we will continue to see its impacts hitting vulnerable Australians for months, if not years, to come.

Of course, we need to recognise that these stuff-ups were not just technical issues. The widespread IT mess is a completely predictable outcome of the government's gutting of the public service. Since those opposite came to power the public service has lost 18,000 staff. Those that are left are forced to survive on 2013 salaries, as the government's regressive enterprise bargaining system is stuck and has guaranteed nothing but bad outcomes for those workers. The Bureau of Statistics has lost 700 staff since the last census in 2011, the ATO has lost 3,500 staff in the same time frame and Centrelink has been crippled by years of budget cuts and massive increases in the casualisation of the workforce and has had a loss of 5,000 jobs across the department. To compensate for the damaging staff and budget cuts, the Turnbull government has gone on to waste millions of dollars on what Mr Shetler described as an 'eye-watering' level of contracting to the private sector.

The IT messes that the government has created have fundamentally betrayed the trust of the Australian people, tainting future digital projects for years to come. If Australians do not trust the integrity of digital services it will be nigh impossible for governments to secure the social licence needed for the nimble, agile service delivery that our Prime Minister likes to talk about so much. From the botched census to the ongoing MyGov failures, the ATO crashes and the Centrelink robo-debt debacle, this government has lurched from disaster to disaster, all under the watch of the man whom the Liberals like to believe invented the internet. The fact that this government has chosen to highlight the digital programs area they are particularly proud of should concern us all greatly. (Time expired)