New DTA chief welcomes push for tech wreck probe

New boss of the Digital Transformation Agency Gavin Slater said he had to rebuild relationships when starting the job. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
New boss of the Digital Transformation Agency Gavin Slater said he had to rebuild relationships when starting the job. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

The new boss of the agency leading the public service's tech upgrades welcomes Labor's push for a Senate probe into the government's troubled $10 billion IT spend.

Making his first public speech to government officials after three months in the job on Wednesday, Digital Transformation Agency head Gavin Slater also revealed senior departmental chiefs had to assure him they considered the agency "essential" before he took the helm.

While the Coalition pushed back against Labor's planned inquiry into the government's tech wrecks, saying it had improved oversight of digital projects,Mr Slater told Fairfax Media the DTA would support the probe as a chance to be transparent and explain how it would lead IT upgrades.

"It's important. We will support whatever inquiry there is," he said.

Labor is expected to move for a parliamentary probe into tech failures and wayward IT projects culminating in the infamous 'censusfail' debacle, the controversial 'robo-debt' program and a series of Tax Office website crashes.

When asked about previous government IT failures, Mr Slater said outages would happen and were a "reality of life".

"What's important is how you respond when you have those issues," he said.

Mr Slater told public servants earlier he sought assurances from Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson and Finance Department chief Rosemary Huxtable that they valued the DTA.

Their response helped to convince him to leave an executive position in NAB.

Mr Slater, a novice to the public service and its political spheres, was caught early into his tenure during a Senate estimates hearing when he admitted to attending a post-budget dinner at Parliament House without knowing it was a fundraiser for the Liberal party.

He made light of the episode on Wednesday, likening himself at the time to a child newly arrived at an amusement park.

"All I wanted to do was go on all the rides," he joked, adding that like a rollercoaster, one turn was enough and he didn't want to get back on.

"I now know there are some dinner invitations I cannot accept."

Mr Slater described a new course for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's pet project following its tumultuous start as the former Digital Transformation Office.

The government rebooted the office, renamed the DTA, in October after it became bogged down in the complexities of the Canberra bureaucracy, and was unable to make headway against the entrenched power structure of public service bosses resisting interference in their operations.

Mr Slater said in his first few months he had to repair relationships and restructure the DTA to clarify staff roles.

Dr Parkinson earlier told public servants the former banker was not about "yanking the digital chains of departments".

Mr Slater outlined an agenda including a digital identity to stop people having to resubmit their details repeatedly while using the government's services; consolidating its websites and improving their content; and making procurement more transparent and open to smaller businesses.

He told public servants that digital services needed to be built around what customers wanted, saying they wanted a simple and secure platform that treated them like people.

The DTA is recruiting new staff and has recently lost some of its top tech innovators, after it was reported elsewhere that the agency has lost up to 35 of its the top performers in the wake of former DTO chief Paul Shetler's stormy departure in November 2016.

Mr Slater denied the recent resignations had been disruptive for the agency.

This story New DTA chief welcomes push for tech wreck probe first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.