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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 820


Mr KEOGH (Burt) (11:17): It is a brave member who puts forward a motion congratulating the Turnbull government on information technology changes given its debacle of the census in 2016, let alone when thousands of Australians have received incorrect debt notices from Centrelink thanks to an automated system. But the member is not that brave; he is not even still in the chamber. He must instead be what Sir Humphrey Appleby would describe as 'courageous'.

The flawed data-matching program recently implemented by Centrelink has been spitting out thousands of debt notices to people who have done nothing wrong, who do not owe Centrelink a cent and who have been forced to spend hours following up Centrelink over false accusations. Any member of this place who says that their electorate office has not been inundated with constituents distressed by these accusations clearly has not been paying attention at home. Labor has repeatedly called on the Turnbull government to suspend this program until its flaws can be fixed, but the Turnbull government has simply doubled down and refused to own up to its problem.

But the Centrelink debt-recovery debacle is just the latest of a series of disasters for the Turnbull government in the tech space. Let's go back to that census fail. After an extensive campaign encouraging all Australians to fill out their census online in what was supposed to be the first time a majority would complete the form digitally, a 40-hour system crash left millions wondering how the Turnbull government could possibly have messed it up so badly. The Prime Minister himself described the attack that caused the crash as 'not particularly clever, utterly predictable and utterly foreseeable'. In perhaps my favourite piece of evidence to the inquiry, the contractor IBM admitted the whole thing could have been avoided if they had simply turned the router off and on again—the most timeless of all IT advice!

But this government still refused to step up and take responsibility for the stuff-up, blaming the contractor, refusing to acknowledge its own culpability, despite its almost three years of preparation time for the census. The Prime Minister's cybersecurity adviser, Alastair MacGibbon, said the census fail was a serious blow to public confidence in the government's ability to deliver on public expectations.

But that is not all. Then we have the ongoing issues at the Australian Taxation Office. A data storage system crash in December cause the ATO website, tax agent portal, and the case management system to go down for two days, which the Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan, described as the worst unplanned system outage in recent memory. Earlier this month, the same issue reared its head again, knocking out the ATO website for another four days.

I note that the member makes reference to myGov in his motion. MyGov is a fantastic idea, do not get me wrong, but has there ever been a less user-friendly system created? Even I, someone who worked as an IT technician, have trouble linking my services on myGov. Anything useful requires you to actually call the agency involved, and you cannot do that at 10 pm, defeating its purported usefulness in the first place.

Last year I visited an employment services provider in my electorate with the member for Chifley. The work they do at this service is fantastic, but one of the biggest issues faced by their clients is just navigating myGov. Logging in is a headache. The former head of the Prime Minister's much vaunted Digital Transformation Office —we are well into the 21st century by now, I might point out—Paul Shetler, has slammed the culture surrounding IT within the government, calling out the digital deskilling of government departments under the Turnbull government's watch.

But these individual agency issues pale in comparison to the biggest joke of all from this government, that in an era when government insists that we move most of our interactions with agencies and the public service online, the same government trashes the infrastructure rollout needed to ensure that every Australian has decent internet access. I am, of course, talking about the NBN, the rollout of which was supposed to be finished by the end of last year. In my electorate we are finally seeing the first homes connected just now, but already I am hearing stories about poor speeds and connection issues, thanks to Malcolm Turnbull's flawed fibre-to-the-node model. I would ask members opposite, what is the point of pursuing this technology reform agenda if you are going to saddle Australia with the 20th century broadband. I would welcome a federal government with a genuine commitment to modernising the way the public interacts with government, but you cannot force all government interaction online if you cannot guarantee that those systems work, let alone you do not make sure everyone can get online to access them. But, as with so much else, the Turnbull government has well and truly proven that it is all talk when it comes to tech.