Eyes were firmly on the New South Wales and Queensland Governments this week following the same-day release of their respective 2022-23 Budgets.
Widely acknowledged as Australia’s premier digital government, NSW looks to have pared back its ICT investments for its Budget 2022-23, despite a considerable jump in government spending more broadly.
With a state election looming and economic storm clouds on the horizon (and perhaps conscious of the recent electoral rout of the Morrison Government), the Perrottet Government has put considerable focus on growing the state’s productivity and knowledge economy, including substantial commitments to empower and support women in the workforce (with Treasurer Matt Kean promising $16.5 billion over the next decade “to make NSW the best place for women to live, work and raise a family”), investment to support the commercialisation and growth of R&D, and several green initiatives.
The Queensland Government, meanwhile, capitalising on a windfall to Treasury coffers from surging fossil fuel prices, earmarked heavy investments in healthcare and infrastructure.
We take a look at some of the key ICT investment priorities for each state.
The state’s Digital Restart Fund (DRF), established in 2019, remains the centrepiece of the NSW’s digitalisation program, though the Government appears not to have topped up the $2.1 billion allocated in the 2021-22 Budget.
From the DRF funding pool, $38.8 million will be directed over the next two years to the state’s eRegulation platform, delivering a single case management system for regulators and businesses.
Nine agencies, including the Department of Planning and Environment, the NSW Electoral Commission and NSW Education Standards Authority, will receive $33.1 million to uplift the security of operating systems and applications to ensure more “proactive management” of cyber threats, the Government said.
The Valnet Framework Refresh Program, a new digital land valuation solution to replace a more than two-decade-old, largely manual system, will also be allocated $19.8 million over the next three years from the DRF.
The Health Department will also receive $20 million over two years from the DRF for its Digital Access to Care, Customers at the Centre of their Care program, which promises an improved platform for local health districts to manage inbound patient referrals. The Government said the program would “provide the community with greater flexibility and an improved experience when accessing care in and out of hospital”.
Another $20 million over two years will be directed to integrating the current stand-alone Health Outcomes and Patient Experience (HOPE) Platform with local health district electronic medical records. The integrated platform will be made available to additional patient groups with the hope of improving patient care.
The Government will also commit $53.7 million to expand the Digital Baby Book initiative, providing real-time integration with hospital, community-based and general practice health records of children.
As part of the Stronger Communities cluster, the Government has allocated $29.6 million in capital expenditure (under a $40.4 million investment from the Digital Restart Fund) for digital programs and services for prisoner rehabilitation, providing inmates with access to digital learning portals, a library and mental health services. This funding allocation expands the digital technology rollout from 13 prisons currently to an additional 17 prisons over the next two years. “Access to digital technology has helped to alleviate the Covid-19 pandemic impacts in prisons and will increase inmates’ access to rehabilitative supports and services,” the Government said.
The Customer Services cluster, more broadly, has also been allocated $150.7 million in capital expenditure (and $77.6 million in recurrent expenses) from the DRF to support whole-of-government future digital transformation strategy and investment.
The Government has, overall, committed $456.4 million (representing 73 per cent of its capex spend) to the Customer Services cluster for initiatives and projects supporting “digital leadership and innovation in government services” – a slight drop on the $510.2 million committed in the 2021 Budget.
Beyond the DRF, emergency services communications also appears to be top investment priority for the Government, with an additional $145.7 million (including $60.3 million in capital) to be invested in the NSW Government Telecommunications Authority “to consolidate, upgrade and construct” a Centralised Mission Critical Emergency Services Paging Network. This would see the consolidation of all existing agency networks into one whole-of-government paging network.
The Government said the investment in the Paging Network – a direct response to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfires and Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangements 2020 – would “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of front-line workers when responding to fires and other emergencies”. Paging and radio services remain critical lifelines for emergency services based in remote and rural areas, avoiding dependence on mobile communications networks that are liable to outages and congestion during disasters.
The Telco Authority will leverage ongoing work on the Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) to expedite the deployment of the paging network, with the CCEP itself receiving $297.3 million to roll out the single interoperable Public Safety Network for all emergency service organisations.
$85.6 million over four years will also be allocated to a Mission Critical Emergency Services Messaging Program to centralise the emergency paging network.
Among the other digital priorities, the state’s Police Force will receive $96.3 million over five years to support in-car digital systems and connectivity between body-worn video, as well as new Glock pistols and tasers.
The Communities cluster will also be allocated $13.8 million to create a new Integrated Biometric Platform. The investment will replace the current legacy PhotoTrac system, “delivering a multi-modal platform that delivers a comprehensive profile of an offender including DNA, fingerprints and imagery”.
The Opal public transportation ticketing network will also get a substantial half-a-billion-dollar funding injection ($568.7 million) over the next three years to support the creation of a “connected and personalised ‘plan, book and pay’ experience across public and private modes of Transport”, as well as an integrated and consistent ticketing experience for customers in regional NSW, with an immediate $159.1 million allocated for 2022-23.
Live NSW, the state’s Spatial Digital Twin program, will receive a $31.3 million boost.
The Government has also earmarked $73.4 million ($536.3 million recurrent expenses over four years) to enable its chief government services agency, Service NSW, to boost its response to growing demand “across frontline and digital channels as well as providing additional resources to assist with complex transactions and enquiries to improve the customer experience”.
Another $1.2 million ($5.0 million in recurrent expenses over four years) will be allocated to a whole-of-government online booking system to streamline and provide secure access for customers to Government services.
Healthcare and justice appear to be the key focus areas for the Palaszczuk Government’s ICT investment priorities, with a significant boost to the state’s electronic medical records system.
Queensland Health will get a $300 million funding boost over the next five years ($60 million each year) for the continued roll-out of its Digital Hospital Electronic Medical Records System. Also known as the Integrated electronic medical record (ieMR), the medical records system rollout has been bedevilled by cost overruns, with a 2018 audit revealing the department would need to spend an additional $256.8 million (an increase of 42 per cent) above the original budget allocation to complete its implementation for all hospitals. As of 2019, the most recent update by the Government, 16 hospitals had implemented the ieMR, with another 14 awaiting its deployment.
As part of its Achieving Justice System Efficiency program, the Department of Justice and Attorney-General will receive $126.9 million over five years to digitise Queensland Courts and the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, of which $30.4 million over four years will be allocated to upgrading Queensland Corrective Services’ Integrated Offender Management System.
Queensland Police will receive $16.7 million over four years ($1 million in the first year) and $5.3 million per annum ongoing from 2026-27 to deploy its Body-Worn Camera Digital Capability, which it says will “provide more effective and efficient policing services to the people of Queensland.”
Meanwhile, beyond health and justice, the second phase of the Rural Water Futures (RWF) Program will see $9.3 million ($5.3 million in year one) allocated over two years to deliver “digitally enabled, modern and responsive” management of the state’s water resources.
The state’s Legislative Assembly will get $5.3 million over four years and $1.2 million each year to continue to roll out its Electorate Office Technology Model which is hoped, through the provision of new software and infrastructure, to deliver “improved data service performance and reliability, data security, mobility and business tools”.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services will get a funding boost of $12.8 million over four years, and $600,000 ongoing to 2027-28 to support a critical upgrade program “to modernise and maintain… the Operations Centre’s critical information communications technology and audiovisual infrastructure”.
The state also allocated an additional $1.9 million to further develop the Queensland Digital Infrastructure Plan supporting trials of new and emerging technology to improve connectivity in regional and remote Queensland. The Plan, launched in 2021, has now received a total of $4.9 million over two years since its inception. Another $1 million was directed to digital economy growth for “foundational work” to shape Queensland’s digital direction, bringing total funding for this program to $4 million over two years from 2021-22.
The QLD Government has also allocated an additional $3.6 million over four years (and $400,000 in 2022-23) to accelerate the digitisation of the state’s print and audio-visual records.