Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (15:49): I rise to make a contribution on the Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2023. The bill will amend the principal act to provide for the Service Victoria CEO to make agreements with non-government entities for the delivery of functions and the performance of functions jointly, for or on behalf of one another or on behalf of the other service agencies as defined in the principal act. In addition, the bill will clarify the purposes of the principal act and set out further functions and powers of the Service Victoria CEO, including to support digital delivery of government services and to establish and maintain a centralised point of access for government services. Furthermore, the bill will ensure that the processes for the application for and the issue of renewal suspensions and cancellations of electronic identity credentials is governed by the identity verification standards made by the minister under section 41 of the principal act and ensure that information management requirements under the principal act are consistent and equivalent requirements under other acts.
The Service Victoria Amendment Bill 2023 will enhance the capacity of Service Victoria to act as a central point of access for Victorians for end-to-end government services by enabling more government services to be provided online, which will provide Victorians with a simpler, faster and easier access point to government services. As many have experienced, there can be many delays or complicated processes when trying to source information or documents. There have been issues with people trying to get through the application process. Just this week my office was contacted by an elderly couple who were trying to access documents for their son. Their son’s circumstances had changed following a heart attack, and he was struggling with his mental health. His parents had tried desperately via phone to get access to the required forms and documents and were advised there was a 3-hour wait. This is a clear example of where people face lengthy and unacceptable delays. Obviously this couple were not technologically savvy, and it raises a valid point to ensure that the bill has adequate provisions for a range of challenges. Simplifying and modernising the identity verification process and improving administrative efficiencies makes sense, and we do have to ensure that protections are also in place.
The bill before the house will also support the role of Service Victoria in furthering its digital transformation of the Victorian public sector by ensuring that government services can readily adapt to the technical changes of today’s modern society, aligning the information management and privacy requirements applying to Service Victoria under the principal act with those applying to the whole of the Victorian government and enabling identity verification standards to deal with the processes governing identity verification.
As we have seen with the establishment of a new government department last year, the Department of Government Services, Service Victoria was established to deliver modern government services designed around people’s needs and to make it easier for customers to transact with government online at a time and place convenient to them. Right through the COVID-19 pandemic Victorians frequently and consistently used the Service Victoria app by scanning QR code check-ins and through more day-to-day interactions such as car registration payments and ambulance subscriptions. But the Service Victoria app also includes a digital wallet where Victorians can securely store and show their digital working with children check, veterans cards, Victorian seniors cards, or even their fishing licences.
In addition, through these amendments to the principal act, the bill will allow Victorians to access Service Victoria to receive more documents and approvals for services without having to be passed around different parts of government, instead establishing one place for Victorians to go for government services. We want to see a change in the back-office administration that is currently taking place and prolonging this process. We need regulations to deliver new services and reduce the need to obtain ministerial approvals for such operational matters and underlying technology for a new database to create an improved experience for people applying for personal documents. This will see firsthand positive effects and experiences where unnecessary red tape is removed, making it faster for Service Victoria to efficiently operate and deliver more services for the people of Victoria right across the state regardless of their postcode.
Most importantly, the bill before the house will allow for more flexible options for identity verification. We need this bill to align to national and international standards and not the limitations that we have currently been experiencing. The principal act includes complex provisions about applications, processing review and the issuing of temporary and ongoing identity credentials. The changes in the bill will provide more alternative processes for people who are unable to verify their identity online, which will allow existing services to be moved to Service Victoria more quickly and efficiently. We need to support and facilitate more customer-friendly processes for Victorians. Most importantly to note, the verification of personal identity is crucial for protection, and we must have software and protections in place so identity online cannot be undermined or harmed. Victorians should have confidence in knowing that their personal identity will be protected, not be fearful of their personal identity being stolen or harmed through weak software and know that they have protections in place.
The bill seeks to repeal an unused identity verification review pathway to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal that has allowed a customer to seek review of decisions about verifying their identity. Since the provision was introduced in 2018, Service Victoria has verified over 1.5 million customer identities and no customer has sought a review by VCAT. Although there are several areas of concern within the bill, such as digital inclusion and accessibility, there are some concerns that the government’s continued push towards more digital interactions for all government services will mean it is difficult, if not impossible, for those who suffer from disabilities or issues with comprehension, are illiterate or innumerate or are not tech savvy. A case study of this can be seen with the use of QR codes and the Service Victoria app during the COVID-19 pandemic, which I have already touched on in my contribution. During the pandemic and the scanning of QR codes, many Victorians were unable to access venues et cetera or were required to fill out additional paperwork due to a lack of ability to utilise modern technology, or in some cases a reluctance to use the service.
In addition, further concerns have been raised with the bill surrounding the continuing digitisation pathway that are not specifically addressed in the bill. Many ethnic communities especially across my electorate may suffer from reduced service delivery from the government due to a lack of adequate translations online. Whilst the level of English used is very low and easy to comprehend, it is still difficult for those whose first language is not English. The government have proposed to address this issue as they continue to expand the platform itself. However, it has offered no framework to ease the online switch for these communities, which is of great concern.
Whilst there are some concerns with the broader approach to Service Victoria and digitisation as a whole and the impacts and inclusivity of these changes, the bill in and of itself is largely technical and non-controversial in nature, aligning back-end systems more closely with other legislation, ensuring continuity and compliance. Further, the bill also allows Service Victoria more flexibility to futureproof and make any necessary changes that technological advances will bring. I thank and note the lead speaker of the opposition for his contribution. We will not be opposing this bill.