Saturday, 17 October 2020

Door stop, Digital Passenger Declaration


STUART ROBERT: Good afternoon. Great to be here with my friend and colleague, Minister Tudge, where we'll announce today – we'll have a discussion paper out today, and a tender out next week – for a whole-of-government permission capability. This capability is to build a simple and easy way for Australians and others to engage with permissions. Be it a visa, be it a customs permission, be it an agricultural permission. The first use case for the whole-of-government permission project will be a simple visa and, of course, digitising the incoming passenger card. And then we'll build out the entire suite of government permissions. I'll pass to Minister Tudge to talk about the first use cases. Tudgey.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Stuart. So, the very first use case that will be underway, and we hope to have completed by this time next year, is to digitise the incoming passenger card. So, at the moment everybody who arrives unto Australia, be you a foreigner or an Aussie, you would complete this card and it has your contact information, your details, as well as some of the biosecurity information. That, obviously, is sometimes difficult to read. It takes time to manually process this and, in the future when we need to be able to contact trace people, we of course would like that information to be able to get to health authorities immediately, rather than having to go through the process of entering the data across to them.

So, from this time next year, our expectation is that we'll no longer need this incoming passenger card because we'll have a fully digital incoming passenger card. And what's more, by having a digital product, in the future should there be a globally-available vaccine, we'll be able to attach an authentic vaccination certificate to the incoming passenger card so that we will know if a person has, indeed, had that vaccination or not. And therefore, they will be able to enter into Australia, potentially without quarantining.

Furthermore, by digitising this, we have much greater authenticity and integrity associated with who the individual is. Because typically you'd do this on your phone, an image would be taken of your face which would match up to your passport, to ensure there is integrity in relation to the identity of the individual. And of course, from a contact tracing perspective it means that we will be able to immediately have the information connected into contact tracing capability in each of the state and territories' jurisdictions, should they need it.

So, this is a significant development. As Minister Robert said, we'll be putting this tender out next week. And our ambition is to have this available for us next year. And this is just another further step in our efforts to slowly reopen and safely reopen the Australian borders so that we can allow more people to leave the country and more people to come into the country. Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Will it mean that we could potentially reopen the international borders sooner?

ALAN TUDGE: We've already started that process, as you'd be aware. In terms of having some arrivals back into Australia who are Australian citizens, and indeed some migrants coming in. Obviously, as of yesterday we had some New Zealanders coming into the country as well. And we're slowly increasing the numbers there. We're working, of course, on further quarantine arrangements, we're working on further bubble arrangements. But this would clearly be an additional tool which would help facilitate the further reopening of the borders.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister flagged yesterday that more international students and corporate visitors, that may not need to quarantine or at least have some other form of quarantine like home quarantine, or corporate quarantine. Can you elaborate on that? What does that mean?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes, so those things are all being investigated as we speak. Obviously, the Howard Springs quarantine facility is potentially available for 5000 more Australians to be able to quarantine there, which is good news for those Australians who are wanting to come back. But we're looking at all of these options so that there is more capacity for Australians, and indeed for foreigners to be able to enter into the country in a safe manner. But what we're announcing today in terms of a new digital incoming passenger card is another further step towards us safely reopening the borders too.

QUESTION: What's corporate quarantine?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, we're investigating all of these things. I'm not responsible for that particular activity. But all of these are under consideration in terms of wanting to ensure that we have safe quarantine mechanisms in place, so that people can safely come into the country.

QUESTION: How were the 17 Kiwis allowed to enter Victoria?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, let me just say a few things in relation to that, because clearly Premier Andrews has had some very strong comments today in relation to this. And I think that his comments today, frankly, are a complete distraction. And I hope that he actually focuses on keeping up with his side of the bargain. Victorians have done their side of the bargain, in terms of adhering to very severe restrictions for months now. And we hope that the Premier will adhere to his side of the bargain tomorrow and start to open up in a similar manner to what New South Wales has done.

I'm a Victorian myself. I just arrived literally last night and having quarantined for two weeks in Victoria. And I can tell you, the mental health consequences of the lockdown are absolutely enormous. Beyond Blue alone has had a 77 per cent increase in enquiries to Victoria compared to any other jurisdiction. We know that we've had a 30 per cent increase in September on the Medicare supported counselling sessions compared to September of last year. Let alone the 77,000 jobs that have been lost over the last couple of months. So, there's really serious consequences associated with this lockdown, both from a health perspective, from a social perspective, but equally from an economic perspective, too. And as I said, I hope that the Premier will focus on doing his side of the bargain tomorrow, because Victorians have worked so hard to do their side of the bargain.

QUESTION: Should those travellers be able to remain in Melbourne, the ones from New Zealand?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, I just want to make this point clear as well. This was discussed in the AHPPC meeting on Monday of this week. The concept that people may be arriving into New South Wales and then potentially going on to other destinations was explicitly raised in the meeting. And no official from any jurisdiction raised concerns in relation to that. There was an understanding that when Kiwis arrived into Sydney, coming from a country which has zero community transmissions, that there'd be no need for quarantining, and that once they had arrived into Sydney that they would be treated like any other person in New South Wales - any other Australian or any other visa holder - and therefore be able to travel into those jurisdictions which enable those people to travel into them. And they, of course, included Victoria.

I'll just make one further point as well, in relation to a point which the premier raised on the- it concerns the incoming passenger cards. They were requested this morning just after 8 o'clock from the Australian Border Force Commissioner, and they were delivered to the Victorian Government at midday. So, four hours later. As soon as the request was made, the Commonwealth Government went straight to work in finding those incoming passenger cards and delivering those incoming passenger cards to Victorian contact tracing authorities. Of course, in the future this will be a digital process, so that when you actually enter the information on your phone or on your computer before you depart, that will automatically go to the contact tracers.

QUESTION: Who are they? Are they Victorian residents – those that are from New Zealand [indistinct]?

ALAN TUDGE: So, there's 17 people. My understanding is they're 17 New Zealanders who came in last night that- I don't know their nationalities, actually, I'm not aware of that, whether or not they're Kiwi citizens or whether they're Australian citizens. I don't know. I can get that information for you.

QUESTION: The Government has had some issues with some of its digital systems in the past – census, COVID-Safe robodebt. How can Australians be confident that has happened?

STUART ROBERT: Well, I'll take issue with your statement that Australia's has had problems with its digital systems. Seven months ago, half a million Australians used to log onto our digital platforms a day. Yesterday, it was 2.6 million. COVID-Safe is considered widely one of the finest tracing apps on the market. And our digital systems now are quite expansive and quite extraordinary. What we're building at now in terms of a permissions capability for whole-of-government is to allow a simple, helpful, transparent, respectful process for citizens to request a permission. Now that includes those from overseas who are coming into Australia to request a visa. And in the simple cases Minister Tudge has rolled out, we'll be looking at digitising the passenger card and a simple visa - probably the electronic travel authority - so ensure that people crossing the border, we know who they are. And then linking through, of course, to any vaccination registers.

But the government's response throughout this entire pandemic, in terms of getting Australia.gov.au up, getting COVID-Safe apps up, rapidly expanding the capability of our systems from concurrent users to accessers(*), I think speaks volume of the capability of the Commonwealth to deliver this. And I'm looking forward to working with Minister Tudge on it.

QUESTION: But they have been hiccups with a number of them, so how can you be sure that won't happen?

STUART ROBER: In terms of the sheer volume of what government does, we process Services Australia, more transactions than the four big banks put together. Ae answer almost 200,000 calls a day - 130,000 calls to the welfare line yesterday were answered in just over 60 seconds - 2.6 million logins into MyGov, 82,000 concurrent users, all working seamlessly in terms of government system and delivery. This permissions project is one more platform in this whole-of-government digital platform, and I remain very confident working with Minister Tudge on delivering. I remain very confident. We will release the tender next week, that we will choose a good partner to work with, and ensure this adds value to how we open the borders next year.

QUESTION: And so, can you explain a bit more about how it would work in relation to incoming passengers? So would they need to use their own technology? Will there be technology provided for those who don't have it? What about elderly people who might not be tech-savvy?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes. So look, all of these things will be worked through. But basically, you'll be doing these on your mobile phone or you can do it on a computer. And of course, , if you're an elderly person that needs a bit of assistance, you can go and ask for that assistance. But our ambition, of course, is to start with this incoming passenger card and digitise that, and then over time for more of our visas to become digitised as well. Because obviously that that makes them more efficient, adds greater integrity to the system, and improves with the identity as well. So that we know exactly who is coming into the country. And of course, in a COVID world, it means that we can have some surety down the track, if there is a vaccination, that we understand exactly who's had a vaccination and who has not.

QUESTION: The AP is now investigating the Leppington Triangle deal. How was it that the minister in charge was not aware of the breach, was not aware about the price of the deal – was that in confidence?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, that was actually all addressed in the Auditor-General's report. And as you know, the Auditor-General has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police and, given it's with the Australian Federal Police, I'm not going to comment further on that investigation.

QUESTION: How did he not know the price of the [indistinct]

ALAN TUDGE: Well, that was explicitly addressed in the Auditor-General's report and subsequently.

QUESTION: What did the Auditor-General say?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, in terms that it wasn't briefed up to the minister.


ALAN TUDGE: That's a question for the department, not for me.

QUESTION: And who is ultimately responsible for that purchase.

ALAN TUDGE: Say that question again?

QUESTION: The purchase of the land, who was actually responsible?

ALAN TUDGE: The ultimate decision maker. I mean, in many cases, it will be a departmental official, which is the person who signs off in relation to these purchases - obviously at arm's length from the government. But these matters were addressed by the Auditor-General's report. There's been a referral to the Australian Federal Police to look into this. And there's also two independent investigations underway, by the department, to get to the bottom of all of this. We're taking this very, very seriously. And we will get to the bottom of this. The department's putting in place the appropriate investigations. And, of course, has been referral to the Australian Federal Police as well.

QUESTION: Is that official still in his job?

ALAN TUDGE: There's an investigation underway and it's appropriate that we allow the investigations to do their job.

QUESTION:  But are they still working in the department?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, there's an investigation underway into all of the matters which you have raised. And there's a proper process which will be gone through. There's a proper process.

QUESTION: [Talks over] And then the investigation…

ALAN TUDGE: There's a proper process which the department is undertaking. And obviously, there's a process which the Australian Federal Police is undertaking as well.

QUESTION: [Talks over] Was there corruption at all involved in this?

ALAN TUDGE: We will let those processes go through. I mean, we've got an Australian Federal Police investigation to determine whether or not there has been criminality. And so, I'm not going to comment further on that Australian Federal Police investigation. And there are further investigations being done by the department, by very good people, at arm's length, and they will get to the bottom of these very serious matters.

STUART ROBERT: Thanks very much.

ALAN TUDGE: Thank you, everyone.