Former DTO chief Paul Shetler says a “fundamental” disagreement between himself and Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, prompted his decision to quit the Australian government late last year.
Shetler, who was handpicked to become the inaugural chief executive of the Digital Transformation Office some 18 months ago by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, told ABC radio this morning he believes the political will to truly transform government digitally “is absent” from the Commonwealth.
“When I [joined the government] I thought they were quite ambitious,” he said.
“There is a lot to do. There is an awful lot we can do. But I think there has to be the ambition to do so.”
Shetler's sudden resignation from the digital agency in November followed a major realignment of its functions and scope, directed by Taylor.
The previous month, Taylor had re-badged the DTO as the Digital Transformation Agency, and had radically expanded its remit to include all technology policy, including procurement and back-office work.
He also brought long-term public servant Nerida O’Loughlin in to lead the new organisation, handing Shetler an effective demotion to the newly created role of Australia's chief digital officer.
Shetler told Radio National today that Taylor’s new policy-driven approach to digitisation created a “fundamental disagreement on philosophy and working approach” between him and his political master.
“I believe in delivery. I believe you can't do policy without delivery,” he argued.
“And the idea that the DTA should just become a policy agency and essentially stop doing its delivery was not something I agreed with.”
He characterised Taylor’s re-branded DTA as “the same approach that didn't work several times before”.
Shetler has also recently emerged as an outspoken critic of the federal government’s so called “dragnet” approach to welfare debt recovery using Centrelink and ATO data matching systems, which has produced an outcry over its high rate of erroneous debt claims.
He believed the Australian people needed to hold the government to higher standards when it comes to digital service delivery.
“In any other government this would be viewed as a really bad thing,” he said.
“It's not OK when the government cannot deliver the basic services that people are paying for.”
Angus Taylor is currently on annual leave.
However in his end-of-year address to DTA officers in December he said the agency needs to be "a fusion of policy, of strategy, and of implementation".
"The magic happens when we can pull of those things together and I’ve seen it again and again in my career, if we can combine great policy, great strategy with great implementation the sky is the limit".