Service Victoria Bill 2017
15 November 2017
It is my pleasure to also rise today to talk on the Service Victoria Bill 2017. The purpose of this bill is to prescribe Service Victoria as a service delivery agency for government and to provide a regulatory framework for the identification verification activities of Service Victoria. I have to say that I have some concerns about this bill and that the creation of this agency makes me somewhat nervous. The concept of Service Victoria first appeared in Labor's 2015–16 budget, and we saw it funded to the tune of $96.1 million in that budget. But I suppose I am a little bit concerned that, instead of actually improving service delivery by removing red tape, we are creating another agency, which seems to me to be the ultimate irony in this bill.
I think there is the question that many Victorians are frustrated by state government agencies, and certainly in our role as local members of Parliament we are often at the front line of dealing with those frustrations. In my preparation for debating this bill I was thinking about what some of those are, and I was thinking about even how a lot of training organisations under changes that this current government have made have found that they are no longer able to deal directly with the department on issues and on contracts. Instead they are being told that they have to submit any query, no matter how small, through a web-based portal when in reality, if they were able to simply pick up the phone to somebody within the department, they would often be able to resolve those issues. I was also thinking about a little example in my own electorate, where we have issues with motorbikes at Mount Disappointment around Clonbinane. Addressing that issue is just getting bounced between the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria and Victoria Police.
There are lots of examples where there is a failure of state government agencies to just take responsibility for what lies within their remit, and there is no doubt that that creates significant frustrations for Victorians, but I struggle to see that any of those examples or the examples that I see coming through my office would be improved through the creation of another agency. I think that those issues tend to be best tackled by ministers themselves driving change through their own portfolio and through their own department and by endeavouring to make departments more responsive. I am concerned that by actually centralising service delivery through Service Victoria we will give agencies another excuse or another reason to hide behind somebody else rather than just examining their own failures in particular areas and getting on and fixing those. But, as I have acknowledged, there are instances where the primary barrier is more around information sharing and communication.
I was interested to note in doing some background research on this bill that the Special Minister of State — may I say, with his usual trademark verbosity — described 'citizens seeking to navigate through a mirror maze in the dark' when he was talking about this bill.
The minister said that Service Victoria apparently means that the government controls the mirrors but Victorians — lucky them — control the light switch. According to the minister, the challenge is how the government configures the mirrors so users can easily get what they want in whatever way they choose whenever they choose. The minister has a vision of lights and mirrors. I have a vision more like Nat in Utopia when she is asked, in an episode that I think is called 'Nation Shapers', to deal with a minister's bungled IT project, because my understanding of Service Victoria is that it is primarily going to be a digital platform where people register an account to access services like perhaps paying their car registration or their drivers licence transactions. I understand there was a plan at one point to consider shopfronts, but that was hastily dumped.
If this agency is primarily about managing front-end digital services for agencies, then allocating $96 million to that is quite a staggering amount of money. I understand Deloitte have been awarded the tender to build the project. I did a comparison of the commonwealth government's platform myGov. Whilst obviously I am not intimately familiar with the details of the government's planning around Service Victoria, I would have thought that myGov would be an accurate comparison. That project started with a budget of $29 million, but it tripled to $86 million. It had three cost blowouts. Even when factoring in the cost increase, the commonwealth still spent less than the Andrews government is proposing to spend on this platform. The other thing that I found of note was that the commonwealth Auditor-General, in reviewing that project, found that the federal department failed to show how the platform made services any more efficient.
This is a high-risk program. It is complex. It is expensive. As we heard from the member for Warrandyte earlier, we still do not even know if the program has a business case. One has not been provided to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. We really have to question whether this is the most effective and responsible use of $100 million.
Given Labor's track record in ICT, we have every reason to be nervous, and I know that the member for Warrandyte went through a few of those examples. When you consider the Ombudsman's 2011 report, he examined 10 projects initiated by the former Labor government and he found that every one of those projects failed to meet expectations. Most failed to meet delivery timetables, and all of them — every single one — ran over budget. Those bungled ICT projects cost the Victorian taxpayer at least $1.4 billion in cost blowouts. It is quite an extraordinary sum of money.
Then we also have in the training space the student management system, which in recent years has been subject to heavy writedowns and is a major reason why — though this government does not like to say it — a number of TAFEs turned substantial deficits.
I do not think the current government has addressed a number of the key factors that the Ombudsman pointed to in the failure of those projects. The absence of a business case is certainly one reason to be very nervous, but I am further concerned because I cannot see any evidence that this project has actually been subject to the high-value, high-risk framework within Treasury, which is an additional mechanism for controlling risky projects. It may very well have been, but there has certainly been nothing from the government to indicate that it has. We know that that framework was developed to provide additional scrutiny to major infrastructure projects and to ICT projects to make sure that they are delivered on time and on budget, and I think that Victorian taxpayers have a very real expectation that that will happen.
Among the key things that the Ombudsman spoke about that were failures of those 10 previous ICT projects was the fact that key roles and responsibilities for ICT-enabled projects were often not clearly defined, acknowledged or accepted.
Again there seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst the government around what this project is actually intended to deliver. It seems that the parameters for the project have changed a number of times, it seems that the project is running behind schedule and we do not appear to have a business case for it.
The Ombudsman also said that senior officers appeared reluctant to make critical decisions about projects; that many of the project steering committees did not have the requisite expertise; that the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) could have taken a more proactive role in many of the projects — again, one of the reasons why I would argue this project should actually be exposed to the high-value, high-risk framework within Treasury; that the effectiveness of DTF's gateway review process is limited by its reliance on agencies engaging in and being supportive of the process, which often was not the case; and that DTF failed to implement the government's high-value, high-risk process in a timely manner.
So I do remain sceptical about this process. I hope that the government provides a greater level of detail about some of those key financial aspects of the case, and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution on this bill.