Opening of Innovation Month 2018 (IPAA)

Opening of Innovation Month 2018 (IPAA)

PM&C Who We Are The Secretary
Tuesday, 03 July 2018

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Martin Parkinson, Secretary


Dhawra nguna, dhawra Ngunawal.

Yanggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngunawal dhawra.

Wanggarali-ji-nyin mariny balan bugarabang

In the language of the traditional owners, this means:

This is Ngunawal Country. Today we are all meeting together on this Ngunawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.


Thank you Dr Heather Smith and thank you to the Institute of Public Administration Australia for inviting me to help ‘launch’ Innovation Month for 2018.

And thank you all for joining us today. I look into this audience and see old friends and familiar faces – and I see many new faces too. Welcome all.

I particularly want to acknowledge our MCs, Ms Jamie Crowe from the Office of Innovation and Science Australia and Ms Emily Casey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

It’s absolutely proper that APS graduates like yourselves should be up on stage at an event marking the start of Innovation Month. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the best thinking and ideas about innovation in the public service may be more likely to come from your cohort than mine or Dr Smith’s.

I am struck by the work the grads are doing to bring together entry-level APS employees to improve the public sector’s use of data.

There’s been great feedback about the workshop you held last month – with more than 100 grads from 15 different agencies – where you discussed some of the data challenges we face.

Now this may concern you, but I’ve taken a look at some of the brainstorming and sketching you all did on butcher’s paper at that workshop.

I think my favourite line I saw scrawled across some paper was "One small step for grads, one big leap for datakind."

It certainly makes sense to look to one of humanity’s greatest scientific accomplishments for inspiration.

What the APS grads are showcasing there is innovation.

They’re having a go at doing things differently.

They’re trying to revise and refine what we do, so we do it better.

That’s really what innovation boils down to.

Innovation might be a "much ballyhooed word", as the esteemed ANU Professor Genevieve Bell said in an address to the IPAA in March[1].

Of course, she’s right in one sense – 'innovation' is certainly a word we use a lot now.

But there’s a good reason for that. Innovation is hugely important. It’s not a feel-good fad.

Not one of us, whether we work in the public or private sector, should be thinking it isn’t important to them.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider some of the benefits we can already demonstrate…

Saving money and improving lives

Innovation in the Australian Public Service is good for the budget bottom line – and it’s making things easier and better for the public we serve.

The Australian Tax Office, for example, helped recoup an additional $23 million in revenue last year – simply by using behaviourally-informed ‘pop-up messages’ to nudge taxpayers to review their claims if they have unusually high deductions, or unusually low interest or dividend income.

That figure bears repeating: $23 million in increased revenue because of a simple and effective innovation.

And while we’re on tax – we won’t be here for long, I promise! – I’m sure you’ll also have noticed that the process of lodging your tax return is much less of a headache these days.

Almost all individual income tax returns, some 98 per cent, are now lodged electronically. And when you go to do your online return, as many of us will be doing in the coming months, much of the work has already been done: the web-based service pre-fills information provided to the ATO by employers, banks and government agencies. So many people paying for a tax agent are simply paying them for services provided by the ATO!

Where else are we saving money and time?

Well, the Department of Health has managed to save $11.7 million using behavioural insights and data analytics to improve Medicare compliance.

It did this by writing to high billers of urgent after-hours Medicare items, pointing out that their claiming was higher than that of their peers. This reduced those providers’ claiming of the urgent items by 19.5 per cent.

Again, that’s a simple and innovative step that’s saving millions of dollars.

And, as with the tax example, the innovations in this area reach beyond the budget bottom line.

Remember the days of keeping receipts from your GP visit, and having to go to the Medicare office to claim back some or all of the cost?

Now think about your last trip to the doctor.

Your claim was most likely lodged right there in the doctor’s reception area, and the money landed in your account within 48 hours. That’s making your life better.

Human Services Department data tells us that more than 98 per cent of all Medicare claims are now made digitally – that’s approximately 34 million services claimed each month.

We’ve trialled another ‘nudge’ in the health sector.

Working with the behavioural economics teams in my Department and in the Health Department, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to GPs in the top tier of antibiotic prescribers in the country, prompting them to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance from overprescribing.

This is important because antimicrobial resistance is a growing health threat and in Australia was linked to a number of infection outbreaks in 2015. 

The letters reduced antibiotic prescriptions by 12.3 per cent over the subsequent six months.  The trial itself resulted in savings of $1.4 million over a year to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Here’s another figure for you: $6.6 million.

That’s an estimate of the amount of money the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is saving per annum through its Maritime Arrivals Reporting System.

It’s the first fully online system for ensuring vessels meet regulations relating to the risk of pests and diseases. It reduces inspection costs and manual processing by Biosecurity Officers.

And at the Department of Finance, the Service Delivery Office has achieved a 10 per cent reduction in operating costs – with up to 80% improvement in operational efficiency – for whole-of-government shared services,  after it introduced an app-based, self-service interface and by automating some of its processes.

Those are all innovations that are having real, measureable impacts on two of our most precious commodities: our time and our money. They are making lives better for the public we serve.

Better use of data

Many innovations come from better use of data.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is using data provided by Defence to process the claims of some veterans much faster.

They can now automatically assess 40 medical conditions, including osteoarthritis and shin splints, and they’re looking into whether more conditions can be added.

That makes things simpler and more efficient for the Department’s operations.

But, more importantly, there’s also a very real impact for the veterans who receive faster medical care, rehabilitation and compensation for their service-related conditions[2].

The new streamlined processes mean that, in many instances, veterans making claims about post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and adjustment disorder are spared from having to recount details of the traumatic incidents that lead to those conditions.

Better use of data will even save lives.

Staff at the Health Department used data from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to find out where medicines are associated with adverse events.

The statistical technique they used was able to flag some medicines that had not previously been associated with heart failure.

That’s potentially very important information that needs to be explored further – and it’s the sort of information that was previously only available by doing expensive and time-consuming clinical trials or lab tests.

And well outside the lab, we are now using new satellite and mapping technology to detect all kinds of physical changes in Australia’s landscape through ‘Digital Earth Australia’. Using this new platform, for example, we recently monitored in near real-time the release of 30 gigalitres of water into the Barwon-Darling rivers.

Digital Earth Australia has provided a 50% productivity gain in Commonwealth and state compliance and modelling processes, with immense potential to increase business productivity over time.

Consider for a moment the breadth of the benefits, impacts and outcomes I’ve spoken about.

What they have in common are that they’re all highly innovative and are making things better, easier, faster, safer, smarter or clearer.

Of course there are countless other fine examples across other Departments and agencies too. So much so that I will attach to the published version of this speech an annex listing other great examples of innovation.

I’ll let you read the annex, but to give you a taste of some other great stories…

  • automated ‘digital assistants’ like Alex, Oliver and Sam have answered over a million questions about Government services in the last year or so…
  • businesses are now taking just 6 days to finalise grant agreements through Industry’s grants hub – down from 49 days…
  • DFAT is doing a pop-up diplomatic post in Estonia… and
  • Geoscience Australia is leading a world first demonstration of next generation satellite positioning technology – technology that could generate upwards of $73billion of value to Australia by 2030!

It really is an inspiring picture.

Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

The APS does great work. It is a strong institution and we are rightly ranked as one of the top public services around the world.

Our challenge is to ensure we’re fit-for-purpose for the decades ahead, given the staggering array of global, technological and public policy developments shaking up our economy and society.

That is why I recommended to the Prime Minister that we undertake the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service.

This Review will help set us up to best serve governments and the Australian public in the decades ahead.

It’s an ambitious undertaking.

As you may know, the Review is the first root-and-branch analysis of its kind since the Coombs Royal Commission in the 1970s.

The Review has broad terms of reference to help it go where the evidence leads it.

The Panel is consulting and engaging widely to develop and draw on the best available research. It is using an agile and iterative approach to inform and test its thinking.

I know that Review Chair David Thodey has already been out and about meeting people and, most importantly, listening. In fact, David and his Review team have held more than 40 meetings to learn from existing research and experience.

They’re having conversations with experts overseas to glean what we can about best practice from other jurisdictions, and see whether that will work in an Australian context.

The Review will hold workshops right across Australia, in cities as well as in regional centres.

In addition, the panel is also looking at existing research and processes within the APS to draw on their insights and data. It will also work with academia in Australia and further afield.

Fittingly, the Review will use ‘Artificial intelligence’ and natural language processing to develop insights and analysis.

That’s all well and good, but what the Review needs is your input.

So, after this afternoon’s event, I want to you go home and log onto APS Review website.

You’ll see a teal-green button saying “contribute”. I urge you to do so. After all, it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of our profession. And it’s very simple to do.

The Government will receive a report in the first half of next year – that’s not far away.

And we’ll need to be ready to implement after that, ensuring that we turn good ideas into solutions.

Getting to know the public we serve – citizen survey

In December last year, at an address hosted by the IPAA, I floated the idea of a citizen survey as a way to get to know the public we serve better – to better understand the services people need and what they think of them.

This idea was also recommended by Terry Moran’s 2010 public sector reform blueprint, Ahead of the Game.

It’s true that many agencies have mechanisms to understand user satisfaction in their services.

But there’s an obvious gap here.

There’s no consistent way of understanding the public’s overall experiences and perceptions of the diverse range of services we provide.

That is not a tenable situation for a smart and innovative institution.

I think we have an opportunity to better understand citizen attitudes and satisfaction with the APS, and to contribute to a ‘citizen-centred’ APS culture.

This afternoon, I’m pleased to announce that my Department will conduct a regular national survey of citizen experiences and satisfaction with the Australian Public Service and the services we deliver.

Over time, survey results will provide a better picture of how well the APS is serving the people of Australia, and help us identify where we can do better.

Australia is not the first country to undertake a citizen survey.

Canada, New Zealand and several Australian states and territories have pioneered this kind of citizen engagement and found the experience valuable.

I’ve asked my Department to begin developing the survey in collaboration with relevant agencies, and design a methodology and model that ensures the results are robust and useful to us.

Transparency will be important and I’m committed to reporting on major results of the citizen survey.

As I indicated in December last year, results should be published after a lag. This will provide time for us to build a baseline and give agencies time to consider what the data means, rather than jumping in response to what may well be statistical noise.

If we show that we’re listening and responding to citizens’ feedback, we can sustain a relationship of trust – if we lose the trust of Australians then we will have failed as a service.


Whether we’re seeking out the views of the people we serve, or scrutinising huge and complex datasets of numbers to figure out patterns of behaviour, or automating some processes to make life easier and save money – all of this is innovation in way or another.

And this holds us in good stead to face the challenges of the future.

But technology alone will not get us there. And data alone will not get us there.

Innovation is about our imaginations, and it’s about our attitudes.

What’s yours?

As I asked the APS last year – how ready are you for disruption? How well do you know the public we serve? And how ready are you with big ideas to make Australia better?

It’s my genuinely held view that we’ve got some of Australia’s best, most hard-working and dynamic people in our APS.

So I feel confident that we’ll be able look honestly and intelligently at the way we currently work, and come up with some original thinking in how we can position ourselves to best serve the government and Australia now and in coming decades.

I hope you’re inspired by the imaginative and ambitious work that’s being done right now across the public service – including by our smart graduates. I’m optimistic that today’s event is part of a vibrant conversation about how we best serve the government and the public in the decades ahead.

Thank you.

Innovation Success Stories across the Australian Public Service

Many recent innovations within the Australian Public Service have delivered substantial benefits to citizens, business and government.

Improved service delivery

Connected, automated online services are making it quicker and easier for people and businesses to deal with government.

Department of Jobs and Small Business – Fair Entitlements Guarantee

The Department of Jobs and Small Business has modernised the Fair Entitlements Guarantee program to deliver quicker, direct payments to eligible claimants. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee supports workers who have lost their job when their employer enters liquidation or bankruptcy, and who are owed employee entitlements which are not able to be paid by their employer or from another source. By 30 June 2017, the average processing time had fallen from 27 to 10 weeks, unprocessed claims reduced from 10,000 to 2,500, and complaints had fallen from 550 to 30 a year.

Department of Home Affairs – Seamless Traveller

The use of SmartGates, which use Artificial Intelligence facial recognition technology, rose from 6.8 million passengers in 2014-15 to 24.2 million in 2016-17. The implementation of the new SmartGates technology has the potential to facilitate 90 per cent of travellers to self-process at the border by 2020, cutting processing time to as little as 15 seconds.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs – MyService

The Department of Veteran Affairs’ MyService gives veterans a faster and simpler experience when lodging compensation claims. MyService has reduced a 16-page claim to a one off two-screen registration and a two screen claim. It has reduced the average processing time for these claims from 117 to 33 days.

The Department is also using data provided by the Department of Defence to process veterans’ claims faster. They can now automatically assess 40 medical conditions, including hearing loss and shin splints. The new streamlined processes also mean that, in many instances, veterans making claims about post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and adjustment disorder do not have to recount details of the traumatic incidents that lead to those conditions.

Department of Human Services – Medicare Digital Claiming

Medicare’s digital claiming channels are now the main way to lodge, assess and pay claims. Digital claiming allows Medicare claims to be lodged at a doctor’s room, rather than visiting a government shopfront, and are paid within 48 hours. More than 98 per cent of all Medicare claims are made digitally, which equates to approximately 34 million services claimed per month.

Australian Taxation Office – myTax

The ATO’s myTax service allows people to quickly and easily lodge tax returns online with 98 per cent of all individual income tax returns lodged electronically. The service is web-based and pre-fills tailored information provided to the ATO by employers, bank and government agencies. With this service, 95 per cent of individual returns are assessed and processed without human intervention.

Better policy development

Data-driven, targeted interventions are improving policy outcomes.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS)

The Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) is the first fully online system for ensuring vessels meet regulations relating to the risk of pests and diseases.  Widely embraced by the international shipping industry, the major benefits of MARS include clarity of Australia’s biosecurity regulations, transparency of penalties for non-compliance and an efficient clearance process for each vessel. The department estimates that MARS saves $6.6 million per annum including reduced inspection costs for industry and significant reductions in manual processing by Biosecurity Officers.

Department of Social Services – Data Exchange

The DSS Data Exchange is being used to inform a number of key policy initiatives in social welfare, including identifying linkages between people accessing problem gambling services and Centrelink payments, and implementation of the cashless debit card.  The Data Exchange replaced six DSS data collection and reporting systems, and is estimated to have saved non-government organisations over $6 million per year since 2015.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Tupaia

Supported by DFAT’s innovationXchange, Tupaia is a data aggregation, analysis and visualisation platform that maps the availability of medicines in low- and middle-income countries. Delivered in partnership with six Pacific island countries, the project helps governments distribute health resources more effectively, improves access to life‑saving medicine and helps patients locate appropriate care quickly and safely. It is an example of government supporting an early stage idea and helping it to scale regionally. By April 2018, Tupaia contributed to an increase in medicine availability in Kiribati to 81 per cent at primary healthcare facilities – an increase from 66 per cent in October 2017.

Geoscience Australia – Monitoring water release into the Barwon-Darling rivers

Digital Earth Australia recently monitored the release of 30 gigalitres of water into the Barwon-Darling rivers – a release worth many millions of dollars. It was able to track this accurately by using    near-real-time processing and analysing imagery from the Landsat and Sentinel-2 satellites, which offer high-frequency (approx. every three days) national coverage of the Australian continent. State and Commonwealth monitoring agencies have estimated that Digital Earth Australia provided a 50 per cent productivity gain in compliance and modelling processes. Digital Earth Australia is working to bring similar capabilities and productivity gains to Australian businesses.

Data61 – Spark Platform

Data61’s Spark platform has helped government understand how power lines impact the potential for bushfires to spread. This has been a key issue since the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which claimed 173 lives and cost an estimated $4 billion in losses. Spark draws in a range of data including weather, geography and environmental information. It uses state-of-the-art simulation science and artificial intelligence to predict and visualise the spread of bushfires.

Impacting behaviours: Predictive analytics and behavioural economics are changing the behaviour of those in front-line services.

Department of Health – Medicare compliance and public health

The Department of Health is using behavioural insights and data analytics to improve Medicare compliance. In April 2016, the Department wrote to 1200 high billers of urgent after hours Medicare items, comparing their claiming to that of their peers. This reduced those providers’ claiming of the urgent items by 19.5 per cent, saving $11.7 million.

Working with the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) and the Department of Health’s Behavioural Economics Teams, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to General Practitioners in the top 30 per cent of antibiotic prescribers prompting them to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance from overprescribing. The letters resulted in around 126,000 fewer scripts – with the most effective letter reducing scripts by 12 per cent over six months. The trial resulted in savings of $1.4 million over a year to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). If implemented at scale to all high-prescribing GPs, this measure would save $1.6 million per year.

Bureau of Meteorology – Smoke and Air Quality Forecast System

The Bureau of Meteorology collaborated with the CSIRO to develop the Smoke and Air Quality Forecast System. The system enables Fire Management Agencies in Victoria and the ACT can better predict how the smoke from control burns will spread and affect the population through reduced air quality and reduced visibility. The system is guiding the deployment of on-ground smoke monitoring equipment and has been vital in providing more timely and targeted health messaging and precautionary advice to communities.

Australian Taxation Office – Improving Tax Compliance

Working with BETA, the ATO’s myTax 2017 program used pop-up messages to prompt taxpayers who entered unusually high deductions (based on a comparison against the claims of others in the same profession), or unusually low interest or dividend income, to review their claims and adjust accordingly prior to lodgment. This is now business-as-usual and is provisionally estimated to have increased Government revenue by around $23 million.

Another trial with BETA used messages to notify selected tax agents their clients had higher-than-expected work-related expense claims. The impact of this trial increased the average tax paid by their clients by $76. It delivered a tax revenue increase of $850,000. These messages have similarly been incorporated into business-as-usual.

Department of Human Services – Job Seeker Payments

BETA and the Department of Human Services (DHS) used SMS reminders to improve Government service delivery and help job seekers get their Government payments on time. In this trial, the reminders improved on-time income reporting for job seekers receiving Government payments by 13.5 percentage points (from 53.1 to 66.6 per cent). This saved DHS employees 240 hours each fortnight on calls to resolve issues with late reports (equivalent to over 6,000 hours per year if scaled up) – even more time was saved by jobseekers when accounting for time on hold. These hours could be re-allocated by DHS to assist others in need, improving overall service delivery.

Innovative processes

Improvements to internal operations are making the APS more efficient and saving the government money.

Department of Finance – Service Delivery Office

The Department of Finance’s Service Delivery Office is delivering shared services to 13 departments and agencies. Through the introduction of an app-based, self-service interface coupled with process automation capabilities, they have achieved operational efficiencies (80 per cent in some processes) and unit price reductions (a 10 per cent reduction in operating costs in 2017-18).

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science - Gamification (Rev) Platform

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is using game-design elements and principles – a technique known as gamification - to positively impact employee behaviour. The department’s gamification platform, Rev, motivates staff to engage in professional development, and encourages communication and collaboration. The prototype pilot resulted in almost 40 per cent of participants seeing positive changes in staff behaviours, including increased engagement and motivation. Team interactions improved, with increased communication and better clarity on team and branch goals. Gamification has the potential to be used more broadly to solve problems, including policy challenges.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Pop Up Diplomatic Posts

Lightweight and agile diplomatic posts are an innovative and cost effective way to expand Australia’s diplomatic network. The ‘pop-up’ post model, established in Estonia in 2018, has a physical presence for two months of the year and a virtual presence for the remainder of the year. Having the flexibility to implement different models of posts, including through reducing the infrastructure and administrative support required for a traditional Embassy, provides Australia the opportunity to expand its foreign, trade and investment, development and consular work overseas.


[1] Transcript of Proceedings: Artificial intelligence and the public sector address by Dr Genevieve Bell, IPAA event 20 March 2018

[2] Minister for Veterans' Affairs Media Release: Streamlined processing reduces red tape for veterans

A complete video of the event (55 minutes) is available on IPAA's website.