Successive federal governments have talked about building citizen centric online services and making life easier. Despite the rhetoric, it is getting worse not better.

The Department of Finance and Deregulation’s e-Government Strategy, published in 2006, explains the 2010 vision:

Connected government will become a reality and will drive reform of government business processes.

Government will present a consistent and unified face regardless of whether approaches are made in person, over the telephone, using the internet or any other form of technology. This consistency will address the common frustration associated with trying to understand government structures to find the right agency

People will only need to tell government once. They will be able to update their details once and make the update available to other agencies, under privacy safeguards.

We are a long way from achieving these worthy goals and this so called “reality”. The Rudd government is presently building or upgrading the following web portals:

  • Standard business registry portal (Treasury)
  • Emissions trading registry (Climate Change)
  • Online child-care eligibility portal (Education)
  • Australian Government online service portal (Finance)
  • Human services and Centrelink portal (Human Services)

There are a plethora of other existing government portals that provide information and transactions for the Australian citizen. Immigration, Tax and Customs are three of the larger ones.

None of these websites share information or achieve any type of integration so that “we only need to tell government once”.

The siloed nature of service delivery and programs across government was highlighted on Budget night when one of the ministers responsible for the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) announced the creation by January 1, 2010 of a new website called mychild.gov.au, which will enable people to determine online eligibility for child-care payments, a worthy cause in itself. Problem is, Centrelink, the Department of Human Services and its minister knew nothing of this new portal until Budget night. Centrelink is where one goes for applying for child-care payments and the online application occurs through its website.

Why can’t we achieve the seemingly simple concept of a single citizen entry point? According to the 2006 e-Government Strategy, under the section of “The Vision for 2010”:

It will be possible to group diverse transactions and complete them at the same time, without navigating the underlying structure and complexity of government. People will be able to interact with many areas of government without needing to understand exactly which agencies deliver which services

It is clear that this will not be achieved by 2010 and the traditional bureaucratic silos must be broken down for any benefits to be realised.

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner in May last year said: “The most important outcome we can achieve through greater interoperability between agencies is to deliver more integrated government services to citizens. We are committed to streamlining and enhancing citizens’ engagement with government services online.”

But even though Finance’s Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is building a central government online service portal at an expense of $20 million plus, no agency has the authority to stop departments investing in new online services in isolation and there’s no requirement that new online services are delivered through a central portal.

We should demand better.

Simon Bush is a former government adviser and is the managing director of Bush-Consulting, which provides government relations advice to global technology and management consulting companies.

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