Expectations are mounting that a digitally-literate prime minister will drag government services kicking and screaming into a pulsar of technological catch-up.

Stoking hopes is Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to tow his Digital Transformation Office (DTO) from his previous Communications portfolio into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Under newly appointed chief executive Paul Shelter, the DTO is tasked with slinging government services into the digital age, to make contact between government and citizens fast and efficient, while opening up opportunities for outsourcing and public-private enterprises.

Yellow brick road a path to shrinking government

While billions of dollars will be needed to update government payment and public interface platforms, the end game could well suit Prime Minister Turnbull’s stated goal of shrinking the size of government.

The tender process has already commenced for the outsourcing of the $150 billion in government payments handled by the Department of Health Services (DHS), including the $30 billion a year Medicare payments system.

The concept was flagged in the National Commission of Audit (CoA) report released in April last year, which highlighted how inefficient and antiquated the DHS had become following decades of technological neglect.

Unions nightmare Turnbull’s dream

While unions have claimed such a move would cost the public sector between 5000 to 20,000 jobs, from a perspective of making government smaller and more efficient that might be an acceptable outcome, particularly if a reasonable number of those jobs transferred to the private sector.

The CoA report, chaired by businessman Tony Sheppard, found Commonwealth spending will increase by $280 billion over the next decade, with 70% of the increase coming from the 15 largest programs, of which the DHS is the largest.

While Australia Post made public its desire to take over all the payment systems of the DHS, other contenders include Telstra and Eftpos, and German software and solutions group SAP and US technology group Oracle.
While still under a Tony Abbott-led Government the public sector watcher GovernmentNews reported in April this year that DHS outsourcing progress was headed into palliative care

Bold government or political pragmatism?

DTO’s rise to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under the newly installed prime minister puts responsibility for breathing life back into the transformation process squarely on Shelter, and as part of Turnbull’s portfolio his performance will be more closely scrutinised.

But it remains to be seen if such action, which will certainly stir up union agitation, will occur before the federal election next year, or wait to see if Turnbull is elected with a mandate to enact his vision.

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