Australia is not a screw-up nation

We are not facing cataclysmic failures of our public services, says Marie Johnson.

By Marie Johnson
Jan. 16, 2017

As a public entrepreneur, I need to get something off my chest. As someone who has worked with people to deliver things to government over decades, as a global technology leader, company owner and AIIA board director, I would like to tell Australia and its children what an amazing future we have to look forward to.

I would like to tell Australia of the remarkable people working in and with the public service - including technologists and innovators - who see their life's work as a calling.

They are no less innovative because they are public service technologists. They are the stewards of systems that touch all Australians and millions of visitors to this country - systems that safeguard our economy and society.

Australia is not a screw-up nation. And it is not facing cataclysmic failures of its public services.

The Australian public deserve to know that our public services are world-leading. That is not to say that things can't be improved - things absolutely need to be improved. And it is also not to say that we don't face very profound challenges, because we do.

But there needs to be a different public discourse to the stone throwing and hand-wringing being played out in the media over government IT. 'Blame IT' is apparently what is meant by frank and fearless advice - it's a race to the bottom in a grab for alarmist headlines baying for retribution.

None of this contributes to public discourse. None of this builds confidence in the future.

Yes, there are challenges - there always will be. But that doesn't mean that we are facing a cataclysmic failure and that Australians screw things up. We face up to the inevitable challenges - and at the same time we continue to deliver, to improve and to radically innovate.

The public sector is a complex system - each part is interdependent and continuously evolving. A change or innovation is one area flows through the system. You don't need to change the whole system for the whole system to change.

There are anchors or pivot points in the government and economic architecture that shape and change this complex system. For example, the Australian Business Number (ABN) - implemented in 2000 - was a change far more profound that simply rolling out another 'IT system.' It was policy that touched every part of the economy and it was seamlessly implemented.

The ASIC Company Check is another pivot point. So is the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service, online payment services, and anti-money laundering legislation requiring the financial system to implement Know Your Customer (KYC).

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