Australia’s peak IT vendor representative body has called for the federal government to reintroduce a dedicated digital minister to improve policy coordination and industry engagement.
The Australian Information Industry Association made the appeal for a ‘Minister for Digital Capability’ on Thursday to support the country’s economy in the wake of COVID-19.
The government has been without a dedicated digital minister since August 2018, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison scrapped the ministry in his first ministerial line-up.
Government IT oversight currently sits with government services minister Stuart Robert, who erroneously said a denial-of-service attack was the cause of a massive myGov outage in March.
But having responsibility for a large chunk of the Social Services portfolio, including Centrelink, Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, means digital and IT is often overlooked.
There has been a new-found recognition of the importance of IT within government in recent weeks following the mass adoption of remote working and digital processes.
This was highlighted by Australian Public Service (APS) Commissioner Peter Woolcott last month, when he said “the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored, in the sharpest way possible, the need for the APS to be more joined up and agile with digital technology.”
As such, the AIIA believes it is now the right time to appoint a dedicated digital minister within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who would report to the PM and the Cabinet.
This positioning would mirror a similar arrangement that existed under former PM Malcolm Turnbull, who appointed assistant ministers for both digital transformation and cyber security.
The cyber security ministry - a key action in the 2016 national cyber security strategy - was also a casualty of the August 2018 shake-up.
AIIA CEO Ron Gauci said the current digital policy landscape was “fragmented”, with responsibilities currently split across numerous government departments and agencies.
This includes the Department of Home Affairs, Attorney-General's Department, Australian Signals Directorate and Digital Transformation Agency.
“Given the fragmentation, there is no central coordination of advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on many critical issues,” he said in a statement.
“We must have a cohesive approach and understanding by portfolio ministers to issues such as cyber security and sovereignty, supply chains, skills, and data as major decisions are being made in these areas.”
Problems with the current policy approach have been highlighted recently, with all four of the above agencies involved in the design and development of the COVIDSafe contact tracing app.
Gauci said that having a minister for digital capability would go some way to overcoming these issues, while allowing industry to effectively engage the government on key issues.
“The creation of a minister for digital capability will also allow industry to engage with government taking a whole of government approach to digital capability and cut through often opaque areas of government policy making in areas like national and cyber security,” he said.
The request for a dedicated minister is one of a number of recommendations for federal, state and territory governments to be contained in an upcoming AIIA white paper.