In Parliament

Bill Debate - Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2021



Wednesday, 1 December 2021.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (10:42):

I rise to speak as the lead speaker on the Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2021.

I will start by saying, with the Minister sitting opposite me, that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill.

It is a good thing to see accessibility in IT, in online connectivity and accessibility for all Victorians. It is a good thing, and any Bill that comes into this place that enables that in a proper way is a good thing, and so the Opposition will not oppose the Bill. I will make some comments more broadly about issues more generally—about accessibility, about some of the matters pertaining to the Bill—but I will start by giving a brief summation of the Bill and will not to be too technical about it.

The Bill does a number of main things. The Bill makes the Service Victoria function more accessible—in short—and it does that by reducing and removing some of the restrictions, some of the back-end issues, that a lot of people would not hear about or see. It means that Departments can talk to each other a little bit better. It means that when you request something through a government service, Service Victoria will be able to hold the data for what you are requesting and make it easier to communicate with you. And that is what we want. That is what Victorians want. Victorians want the capacity to interact with government in a friendly way, and I think all of us in this place want to deliver services to Victoria in a friendly way, in a user-friendly way.

When the Service Victoria function was passed in this place and established in 2018, there were issues that were not fully thought through, if I might put it that way, in the way that the function was established, so this Bill goes to some of those back-end issues. Now, you can look at the initial Bill, the establishment, and say, ‘Well, there are a couple of reasons for that’. Some of it will be because technology changes. We have seen, I think in the last year or year and a half, an explosion of need from the community, an explosion of contact from the community, in seeking access to government services, and they have only been able to do it from their homes. They have needed to use IT, they have needed to use the functionality of online services, in a way that we have not seen before. So when we look at the Bill that first established the capacity of Service Victoria, it is understandable that you would then need to modernise or you would need to add to what was established, because you could not have foreseen the explosion of need, you could not have foreseen that demand for functionality. But there are also elements that perhaps we could have foreseen. If this Bill, if I can put it politely, deals with some of those things too, that can only be a good thing. But I do not want to speak of that in the negative rather than in the positive.

I touched on this briefly: if you were going to sum this up and put this on your Facebook, you would say, ‘You’re going to be able to get things easier and you’re going to have a digital wallet that can have more in it than is currently the case’. So, we are all getting used to the digital wallet. I am not great with it. I just learned to put my credit card in the digital wallet. I am probably about 10 years behind everyone else—

Mr Edbrooke: It’s so good.

Mr NEWBURY: I say to the Member for Frankston it has changed my world, but I only learned to do it a few months ago and it took me a while.

Mr Edbrooke interjected.

Mr NEWBURY: Yes, my kids are nearly at the point where they are using my credit card.

So, providing Victorians with the capacity to have a boat licence or a working with children check in their digital wallet is exciting. We should all be excited at being able to offer the community services in a way that we have not offered those services before. I am sure that we in this place when we got our working with children check applied online with one particular government agency, we were sent a letter from that agency with a hard copy card attached to the letter, enclosed in the letter. Isn’t it exciting to think that over time we will have one place for Victorians to go? I mean, that is the way it should be; we should all be striving for one place where Victorians can go and get the services they need.

This Bill is not the end of that. If we pass this Bill, it is not going to be the magical digital app that we all want, but that is where we want to go. We want Victorians to be able to access services through one place and get the services they need simply, easily and understandably because a lot of the issues—and I will get to this a little bit later—in terms of accessibility, especially for older and disabled people, needs to be accounted for. Accessibility matters, and if we can make it easier for people, we know that it will be more accessible for people.

The Bill will expand administrative functions. What that actually means is the back end is easier—the back end of how government agencies talk to each other is easier. Agencies will be able to talk to each other, agencies will be able to communicate with each other and data can move between them. That is what we want—that is exactly what we want.

We want the administration—how the sausages are being made, if I can put it that way—to be behind the scenes and easier so that when someone walks in, or digitally walks in, for a service, that work is done. There are not forms needed—we do not need internal forms. We need to reduce regulation, reduce red tape and allow government Departments to talk to each other and make that happen. What that means online is not just removing the administrative functionality but a need to store data, and there are current issues with how data is stored. Not only can Departments not necessarily fully talk to each other without certain regulations and red tape, but not all data required for that transaction can be stored in a way that enables that ease. So, the bill talks to that.

Finally, the Bill enables people to come in and do some of the things that I was talking about, which in technical terms are called ‘digital tokens’. You are able to receive a digital token to your wallet, like a working with children check, for example, and that is a new set of functionality in the Bill. I will go to the customer account requirements, because there will be some requirements for people to set up an account, to identify themselves and to have an account, and I will go to that shortly.

Rather than going to specifics of the Bill, I do want to talk more generally about some of the issues not just with this Bill but issues that reforms of this nature bring up. Some of these issues are ones that we have seen federally. We have seen these issues through reforms that have happened in the digital space federally, and perhaps some of the conversations that have been had there are ones that it is important for us to have here—for us to think about. I think it is probably most appropriate to start with digital accessibility, because as we move to a more digital age, when functions and services of government are provided more so online, we have to look to the people who have difficulty with accessibility. If I go to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s report Understanding the Digital Behaviours of Older Australians, I will just note a couple of points. They report their findings: ‘Digital literacy levels’—there are approximately 8 million people
in Australia aged over 50 years. Amongst those surveyed, 36 per cent perform online transactions at least once a week, 31 per cent perform online transactions less frequently than once a week, 26 per cent perform online activities no more than once a month and 8 per cent—non-internet users—never perform online activities. So, there are people in our community who need help, and we always have to think about them, especially when this Bill does require an account. When we are requiring people to do things a particular way, we have to think through how many people cannot or do not and how we can perhaps engage them in that process.

Further in that report—and it is a great report—I would note that it talks about digital device use:

Smartphones are the most common device that participants aged 50 years and over have access to, with 71% having access to one. This dropped to 57% for those aged 70–79 and 34% for those … 80 … and older.

Approximately 9 per cent of the population aged over 50 did not have access to a digital device at all. We know that there is roughly 10 per cent of the community who effectively do not have access to these functions, so we need to do things to help them on this journey.

We need to improve digital literacy. Those with higher digital literacy levels are more likely to be interested in improving their skills, but in terms of methods for improving that literacy 72 per cent of respondents preferred online training, 20 per cent preferred online training without digital devices and 6 per cent were not interested in any training. So, again, as we go through accessibility there is a real proportion of the community that have issues.

I would like to now turn to another really important submission from the Council on the Ageing Victoria to the inquiry into the Victorian government’s response to COVID-19 from about a year ago. They talked about some of these issues.  They went in depth into the issues of digital inclusion, and they note that:

23 per cent of Australians between the ages of 50 and 69 have limited or no digital literacy, while more than half of Australians over the age of 70 are not online at all.

They are pretty profound statistics. And for a lot of the time what these people will require is access to government services, so it is very important to keep these people in mind. Further research shows that while most older Australians genuinely want to learn how to use digital technology there are a number of barriers, and I think it is important to put those on the record: cost of internet
access and technology-based devices—so cost; physical issues such as vision impairment, hearing impairment or limited dexterity—and I will touch on that in a moment again; lack of confidence in avoiding online scams; lack of familiarity with technological language; challenges associated with memory retention and fear of doing something wrong. I think that is a real one, and it is important that it is put on the record—the fear of doing something wrong. We all in this place will have dealt with and helped people in our communities who are concerned about online accessibility because they are afraid of doing something wrong.

I touched at the start of this contribution on the pandemic, and this submission in real terms goes to the explosion of elderly people accessing online services by saying that during the pandemic:

… 21% of older Australians have used a new technology for the first time during this period.

Isn’t that exciting? Twenty-one per cent have used technology for the first time.  Obviously, a lot of that is about need and the fact that there was no other option.  People could not leave home, and so they found their way online. I know in my community I found that a lot of people were setting up emails throughout the pandemic or having people set up emails for them and contacting me asking if they could receive the information that I send out from my office through email.  A lot of people who were replying were replying by email, sending me their first emails. I am sure we have all received emails from people who are in their 90s or over who were sending them for the first time, and it is exciting to receive those emails knowing that they are online. The submission notes—which is worth recording—and I quote:

It is important to remember that the prevalence of disability increases with age.  In 2018, 44.5% of people over 65 experienced disability. Standard digital devices do not always provide an appropriate level of accessibility for people with disability.

So not only do we have to think through helping people online, but we also have to think about what other challenges, what other barriers, exist.

One of the Council’s points on these issues in terms of the Victorian Government’s response to this explosion of usage amongst the elderly was that the Victorian Government, in terms of working out how to deal with people with issues in terms of accessibility, were directing people to the Federal Government’s Be Connected initiative throughout the pandemic. Dealing with it in quite a flat way, you would look at that and say, ‘Fair enough, the government was redirecting to another government’—but I try to always, when dealing with the community, abide by the simple rule that I try and help people in the first instance, not redirect. That is why the Council made a number of recommendations on investing in a public awareness campaign, assisting and encouraging older Victorians to get online and increasing investment in initiatives to support older people to get online in terms of accessibility of devices, set-up, installation and training. I think those are worthwhile considerations. Those are worthwhile recommendations of the Council.

The second issue that I want to touch on is an issue that I dealt with in a former life before coming into this place. Between 10 and five years ago there was a national conversation about moving data into the digital space, primarily banking—banking was a lead in that space, credit reporting, credit history—and deregulation, for want of a better term, of how people could access their data and how institutions could access their data. That then moved and will move into certain utilities, the utilities space, and after that potentially telecom. And as that conversation started there was an acceptance and a discussion about consent and the importance of consent—because we have a privacy regime, but there was a genuine need for consumers to have a consumer data right. So, the Federal Government provided Australians with a consumer data right which quite clearly established what rights you have as a consumer, what institutions can do with data and how long they can do it for.

As we look at this particular Bill it is good that the administrative back end is fixed or updated so that Departments can talk to each other. That is great. But we also need to think through what consent means. What does that actually mean?  How long does it last for? If I give one Government Department my consent, how long will that last? What will that Department be able to do with other Departments—and not just at a State level but in terms of other jurisdictions?  What other Governments can they talk to with that level of consent? So that consumer data right at a Federal level is something that is worth considering, not necessarily in the same form but regarding the conversation about consumers having more control over their data and enabling them to access and share their data with those third parties and how that works.

So, working through whether or not Government has thought through consent and what that means and having that conversation publicly is something that I think that over coming years we are going to need to do, because if different levels of government start talking to each other the community has an expectation that they will know what is happening with that level of consent—what those agencies will be able to do. I am sure to some degree that information will be available somewhere in very small print. But having a conversation about what consent means online can only ever be a good thing—to let the community know that they have rights in relation to data. And when you are dealing with Government data, for the most part you are dealing with the people’s most personal data, so when they give that consent, they are giving consent for deeply personal data. To reiterate that point, I will put on record that consumer data rights regime broken down into various forms of consent—things like collection, use, disclosure, marketing and de-identified consent. So, consent, actually, when you think it through, can mean a lot of things. Your data can be used in lots of different ways, and that is something that is a conversation that would be worth the government having.

It would be remiss of me when we are talking about the functionality of the Service Victoria app and increasing its functionality to not at least touch on the government’s record in this space.

You know, we have got the Minister for Health here. The QR codes—hasn’t that been a journey? The journey of QR codes in Victoria is a journey that started with South Australia introducing uniform codes last year and then the other major states stepping through QR codes over several months, mostly getting there by about May, in the most part, several months later. I often go back to an article that I have saved in my little files: the announcement by the government in October last year—October last year—of their QR code system. A Government spokesperson said:

As we start to reopen and move towards a COVID-normal, this technology will play a role in maintaining safe public environments and the response in containing future outbreaks …

It was a big announcement in October. There was a big announcement in October; it was coming. I remember standing up in the chamber in November last year and referring to that big announcement of the QR codes coming, and the Minister— the Minister now on the other side of the table—saying, ‘We’re just trialling it.  It’s here. It’s almost here. We’re going to have it. It’s going to be solid gold.  We’re going to have a QR system that is solid gold, and it’s going to be here soon’, and yet didn’t that take a long time to get there? In fact, interestingly, the Premier, in October last year when the announcement was made, also extolled the virtues of pen and paper QR code methods, which I think now when we look back on it we say, ‘I’m not sure if that was the right call at the time’.

But the IT community and those involved in the community when the announcement was made about moving towards a QR code check-in system were very, very welcoming. You know, people were saying, ‘There’s a huge advantage for Government, because it means data is fed into the Department, and the Government will not share our data’. Well, we had a further conversation about
that in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee last year about whether or not there should be accessibility to data. WA, as Members will recall, introduced laws in that space, which were not followed here.

There were a number of people in the community who were talking about the need for a QR code system. In March this year the Australian Medical Association’s then Victorian president said:

It is much more convenient for people to use one app and it’s likely this would make data management for the government much easier …

If we had an outbreak it would make things easier with the contact tracing.

The Council of Small Business Australia said they were shocked the Government was not managing an online check-in. Peter Strong said, quote:

I can’t believe how stupid it is …

The Government’s system is lot better, a lot safer. I was quite stunned, to be honest.

Deakin University’s Catherine Bennett said it was a ‘messy patchwork’ to not have a uniform system, and a single system has a lot more advantages. All true.

So we have had a chequered history in terms of getting to a mandatory QR code system, and now we have an interesting pathway forward where we do not know when it is going to end, so you could argue that we took some time to get there and now we do not know, unlike every other state. It is almost the same outcome again—we were late to the party and now we do not know where it is going.

But there were other issues with the QR codes, not just the delayed launch. There was phantoming initially in the wrong locations on check-in; there was some clunky linking of vaccination status—noting this is a Federal issue—there were questions around the digital signature and ensuring that that was managed appropriately. We could not get access to our history of where we were checking in; that took a little while to get in place. And of course, as I mentioned, there was who could access the data.

We support accessibility. We support Victorians having access to their data in a functional and easy way. But it is important to get it right, it is important to do it in a way that is responsible and most of all it is important to do it in an inclusive way where we take the community with us, where we help them where they have got difficulty. As I began by saying, the Opposition will not be opposing this Bill.