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Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Keynote address to the 2015 Australian Digital Summit

26 October 2015

2015 Australian Digital Summit, Sydney | Telstra Digital
Monday 26 October, 2015 9.20am-9.40am
"No going back now - The intersection of people, business and digitisation"
Keynote address 'Thoughts and insights on Australia's role in the digital economy'

E & EO

Well, thanks very much. And Monty, I don't think any politician really likes to hear the song "When I used to rule..." played as they walk on.

But it is a privilege to be here in my still relatively new role as Minister for Communications and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government.

But I did want to start by acknowledging Andy Penn for a fantastic presentation, and also for the great leadership he provides not only to Telstra but also in the digital economy more broadly. So, great to see you Andy.

I do also want to acknowledge the DJ this morning. He has managed to give me, in some of his earlier choices, my daily fix of eighties music – particularly Spandau Ballet's "I know this much is true".

I find myself a little bit torn today between my role as Minister for Communications, here on stage, and my other role of the Arts over there with the DJ. Always good to get my eighties fix at the start of the day.

Now on the matter of subjects eighties, Andy mentioned that this is of course the week of the thirtieth anniversary of the first Back to the Future movie in 1985.

In 1985, I was in first year uni. And that was a time when I went through all of school and university, without touching a computer, without touching a mobile phone. Obviously the internet didn't exist then. There was no Twitter. There was no Facebook.

It really was a pre-digital world that I grew up in and just to emphasise the point, in Sydney University, the library catalogue was in three parts. The bulk of it was on cardboard cards that you'd flick through. Some of the more recent acquisitions were on microfiche, if you remember that. And the last six months or so of acquisitions were on computers and there were these screens with funny orange writing. So that was the world that I grew up in.

And obviously, so much has changed. The role I have as Minister for Communications, up until 1975, that position was called the Postmaster General. I kind of like it, so I might bring it back: Minister for Communications and Postmaster General.

But that was the title of the Minister with responsibility for telephones and for post. And there's probably no better indicator of digital disruption and change than Australia Post itself and its declining mail volumes which are literally going that way. Ahmed Fahour is doing a masterful job in reinventing Australia Post as an organisation. But that' s just I think a salient example to look at to see the pace of change and how it is manifesting itself.

Digital disruption – what is happening to industries?

Now disruption clearly is not new to this century, it's always been with us in different forms. As is often said, history doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme. With a look back to rail transport in the 1800s, or mass industrialisation in the early twentieth century. Since then, we've seen things like hard copy maps replaced by GPS navigation devices. And these in turn, transformed by an inventive group of Sydney-siders, with an app called Expedition.

And today, we can all know our world intimately thanks to the Rasmussen brothers and their Google Maps. 

We've seen computers, that would fill a lounge room when I was growing up, give way to compact and affordable micro-processors, and now storage and processing has well and truly moved into the cloud, as Andy mentioned.

And today, we just need to look as far as our wrists, and if we have anything on our wrists at all, or pockets, to see the new wave of digital disruption transforming industries around us.

We can buy music on Apple or Spotify, companies that haven't produced a single song. We pay for things with payWave or PayPal, if we never see a single note or coin.

I note the title of today's event is, 'No going back now' – ain't that the truth!

Although, I hasten to add, why would we want to go back, when the future looks so good?

Online jobs marketplaces like Fiverr enable an army of freelancers to undertake millions of jobs without any employees. And, if you're looking to give away an old couch or fridge to a good home, well, there's a sharing economy for that too.

Imagine then, if you never again had to visit another government office?  This Government is aiming to harness these profound opportunities to drive Australia's future productivity and our digital economy. 

What is a digital platform and what are the benefits

So what can we do to realise the opportunities of the digital revolution?

Digital platforms offer one of the greatest opportunities for both businesses and governments, not only to meet the challenges of the digital era, but to carve out exciting new niches.

Innovations such as cloud infrastructure and open source software means these systems are more accessible and affordable than ever before. Linking different parts of a business to a shared platform means less duplication and reduced waste.

While this is critical for any business of scale, it is especially important for governments which are made up of dozens of departments and countless smaller agencies, each traditionally managing their own IT and duplicating a range of similar services.

Perhaps most importantly, digital platforms are inherently, and infinitely, scaleable. We're no longer talking about a single piece of hardware occupying office space. And with scale comes affordability - a key benefit for governments and businesses alike.

This becomes an even more important proposition when we're talking about interactions with government. We simply cannot deny that the best interactions with government are those that do not require a visit to a government office. 

New industries, new jobs, new opportunities

To achieve this, we need a strong pool of digital talent and skills.

And the imagination of Australian companies large and small. Companies like Telstra and the range of Australian banks which have made massive investments in technology to improve convenience for their customers and provide easy access to their accounts.

We need to leverage tech expertise from outside government and partner them with the DTO and other agencies. There are hundreds of innovative tech businesses - startups and SMEs right across Australia - that would not normally partner with government due to prohibitive procurement costs. Our aim is to make it easier and less costly for companies of all sizes to partner with government - this is critical if we're to innovate our own use of IT in the Australian government, and essential if we're to deliver services that are simpler and easier to use.

Modelling from a CEDA report has found that almost five million Australian jobs – or around 40 per cent of the workforce – are at risk of being replaced by computers in the next 10 to 15 years. But there will be many, many new employment opportunities that will be created by this revolution.  

So it is vital that Australia adapts to take advantage of these opportunities. We must become even more flexible, agile and more intelligent if Australia is to remain the 'birthplace of the fortunate' as Michael Fullilove describes us in his recent Boyer Lecture.

Digital Transformation Office

This Government recognises that there are profound opportunities to drive Australia's future productivity and growth. It's fair to say that our Prime Minister is the most tech-savvy leader to date. He has placed innovation and the advancement of the digital economy at the heart of our economic agenda.

He knows the technology sector intimately and has outlined a forward-looking policy agenda in which Australia's telecommunications industry – as a key enabler of innovation – will be central.

He has set a clear mandate for this task, including in part, the establishment of the Digital Transformation Office earlier this year and my appointment as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government.

The government will also launch an innovation package by Christmas to strengthen Australia's innovation system. Measures will focus on specific challenges such as improving collaboration between business and the research sector, increasing investment in startups and ensuring that Australia has a larger pipeline of students capable of critical thinking and problem solving moving through the system.

Exposing more students to STEM, and in particular to computing at a younger age, will be critical to Australia's competitiveness and overall prosperity in the years ahead.

The government must also lead by example through initiatives such as the DTO.

Our mission is to overhaul the way government delivers services, and to ensure people can get the information they need, when they need it.

We also want to make government more efficient, to better position Australia to benefit from the opportunities that digitally-smart businesses of all sizes – from startups to major corporations – can offer.

A new way of delivering government services

For example, in government, and with the guidance of the team at the Digital Transformation Office, we're looking at ways to embrace change and deliver better products more quickly, using an agile and multidisciplinary approach.

As our Prime Minister stated recently, we need to become more comfortable with disruption, uncertainty and change – like Christopher Pyne – we need "to channel our inner revolutionary".

Our vision is that everyone who needs to use government services should be able to find what they need, quickly and easily.

Just last week the DTO announced it would develop a GOV.AU prototype for how the public can more easily access government information and services ㅡin just nine weeks. If you've ever worked on a major government project, you'll understand what an incredible timeline that is.

Collaboration between people, business and government

But if you're in business, even big business, that's probably not unreasonable to you. When businesses live or die by their customers' demands, there's an impetus to change – and do so quickly.

We've been unashamed about seeking influence from the private sector in the way we go about digital transformation and as we work toward becoming the leading digital economy in the world.

We know there is a global demand for talented digital specialists and this remains true in Australia.

So we'll need skills and expertise from both within the public and private sectors to meet this demand and to ensure Australia can capitalise on the opportunities that lie ahead.

That's why our close collaboration and partnerships with the business sector is going to be absolutely critical.

Focus on the user

Of course, in many parts of government, we don't have customers in the traditional sense. People don't have a choice about where they can go to apply for a license, register their business, or access important benefits and information.

However, I should add, postal services and broadcasting are notable exceptions.

So, although many government services are not in a competitive marketplace, we are judged by the standard of service people experience through the commercial sector in their everyday life, and rightly so.

In any given month, more than half of the 2.5 million Australians who look up government information and services online will experience a problem. Chances are, it's happened to you.

Many departments are working on their services individually, but we can still improve our approach to design and delivery overall so members of the public can do what they need to do, without having to navigate multiple, difficult to traverse, and disparate websites.

This cuts to the core of our Digital Transformation Agenda and the DTO's reason for being: to find ways to deliver services that are centred on the user.

It's not about pointing the finger at any one service or one department, it's about realising that Australians do not distinguish between departments, or even between tiers of governments. They just want to do what they need to do, quickly and easily.

Their expectations are high – as they should be.

The Digital Transformation Office has announced that one of its first projects will be a collaborative effort with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Australian Tax Office, and Service NSW at the State Government level to use online services to streamline business registrations: improve compliance, minimise errors and, of course, reduce frustration.

Another important piece of work being undertaken by the DTO is the establishment of a common digital identity, or online credential. This would be an online ID which could be used to verify your identity across different tiers of government, between MyGov federally and state-level online service portals.

This is an important step to ensure that users can conduct transactions online without being required to go to a physical office to provide ID, saving both users and government time and effort.

Cost savings of digital transformation

So, in addition to improving the quality of our services, digital transformation will offer substantial savings as well.

Research shows that many users will try to conduct their transactions online first, and if that's too difficult, they'll move to other channels such as the telephone or face-to-face interaction.

That means that by the time they reach us, they're already dissatisfied; never mind that telephone or face-to-face services come at far greater cost to the government.

Of the 800 million transactions with government agencies every year, around 40% are still completed using non-digital channels.

According to a recent report from Deloitte Access Economics, if that figure could be reduced to 20% over the next 10 years, the change would deliver around $17.9 billion in savings to government (through productivity, efficiency and other improvements) and a further $8.7 billion in savings for consumers through time, convenience and out-of-pocket savings.

So the potential cost savings available through digital transformation are intrinsically linked to improving the quality of the service. If we get one right, the other will inevitably follow.

A service transacted over the phone costs about 16 times the digital equivalent; through the post, about 32 times; and a face-to-face transaction is around 42 times.

That said, it is important to note that embracing digital transformation is not just about chasing savings for Government. Rather, there is an incentive for government to more effectively utilise digital technologies which create a simplified, quicker, easier experience for the customer - in our case, the citizen.

If citizens embrace these improved online services, just as they have with online banking and online airline ticketing amongst other things, then the cost savings to government will be an additional benefit in that change in behaviour.

On this note, last week you may have noticed in the Government's response to the Financial System Inquiry, that we will move to ensure payments are technologically-neutral, by banning merchants from imposing unfair card surcharges.

Conclusion

So if we want to remain a prosperous economy – with all the associated benefits for our citizens – digital transformation for both government and business is not negotiable.

We have made a lot of progress, but we can't rest on our laurels.

We must be more competitive.

We must be more productive.

Above all, we must be more innovative.

And for many of us – including those of us in government – it means fundamentally changing the way we do business.

We have to pick up the pace. We have to be more agile in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are available to us.

We're no longer seeking to proof ourselves against the future; we are seeking to embrace it.

And we'll be able to do that best by working together.

Thank you.


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