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Speech: Launch of the Government 2.0 Taskforce

2009 June 22
by Lindsay Tanner

Government 2.0 Public Sphere, Parliament House
Monday 22 June 2009


Senator Kate Lundy, Co-Ordinator of the Government 2.0 Public Sphere, and our host today;

The Honourable Senator Joe Ludwig, Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary;

And Dr Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics.

I acknowledge the First Australians on whose land we meet, and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

While we gather here in the nation’s Parliament, extraordinary events are unfolding on the other side of the world.

In Iran, a democratic movement has arisen to challenge the result of that country’s national election.

Alarmed, the Iranian government has cracked down on media coverage of the protests, revoking the credentials of foreign journalists, arresting local journalists and trying to block websites.

The regime does not want this story told – and yet it is being told.

We might ask – why?

Because, simply, the world is changing before our eyes.

Protestors are using a range of new media – including websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – to tell the world, in words and images, about what is happening in Iran.

If I were a ruler in North Korea or Burma, I would look at these seismic events and feel very worried indeed.

Worried because one of the great truths of our time is that people want to be free, and information can help them to be free.

But for most governments, the breathtaking pace of change in information technology should not be a threat but a marvellous opportunity.

And that is why we are here today – to talk about how the Australian Government plans to harness the power of the World Wide Web to advance open, transparent government; and to work towards government that makes the best use of the skills and knowledge of its citizenry.

Because the same forces that we see at work in Iran – the power of new technology, the thirst for information and its capacity to enrich human lives – are also changing Australia.

This Government was elected with a commitment to introduce a new way of governing.

One that directly engages business, the not for profit sector, local communities and individuals.

One that does not believe all good ideas reside in Canberra, but instead seeks to tap into and learn from the opinions, experience and intelligence of ordinary Australians.

That is why we brought together 1000 Australians to discuss ideas for the nation’s future at the Australia 2020 Summit in April last year.

Why we have held 12 Community Cabinet meetings across Australia, attended by nearly 6000 people.

Why we have proposed to make it easier to obtain documents under Freedom of Information laws.

And why we have committed to creating an Information Commissioner and a Freedom of Information Commissioner to ensure that citizens enjoy the maximum practicable access to public information, and at the same time are guaranteed that their individual privacy is protected.

We have made these changes, among many others, because we believe the old top-down model of government no longer works.

Today’s citizens are too informed, too smart, too able to access and use information to be simply directed by a centralised government.

And politicians and public servants have to realise that information that is not sensitive for the operations of government or does not breach the privacy of individuals has to be shared.

And that if it is shared, the outcome will be a more engaged populace and a richer public life.

Let us imagine a scenario to illustrate the point.

You are thinking of buying a house.

You go online and using mapping data you access the suburb you are thinking of moving into.

With just a few clicks you are able to access information about schools, parks, child care centres and aged care facilities in the area.

You are able to see whether crime is rising or falling in the area, how fast the local public transport services will take you to work, and how congested the roads are at 8am on a weekday morning.

With a few more clicks you are able to join an online forum about the quality of the local schools, and about the pros and cons of living in the area.

Then, after you have moved in, you are able to go online to tell your local councillor, MP or government agency that a nearby road is full of potholes and dangerous to drive on.

This scenario is not far-fetched. We are moving toward it by the day.

Last year, for the first time, the Internet replaced contact in person as the most common way people last made contact with government.

This year an average of 800,000 visitors are using the main Government website – – each month. Just four years ago the figure was 250,000 visitors a month.

But those statistics merely describe the infancy of information technology in so far as it relates to government.

Today, most online users are still passive receivers of information.

In other words, their most common online activity is to look at text and images on websites.

But that is changing under the suite of innovations that go under the term, Web 2.0.

In its initial manifestation — which we can now with hindsight call Web 1.0 — the Internet was a technology that enabled governments and businesses to broadcast information to citizens and to harvest limited amounts of information from them: by filling in forms, for example.

As you all know, Web 2.0 has turned the Internet from a broadcast medium into a platform for collaboration. And that collaboration can occur between large firms and small, between individuals and firms and it should also occur between citizens and their government.

Citizens are no longer passive users of the Web but instead use it to meet, discuss, argue, build communities and access the precise information they need to manage their lives.

They are able to do so because, with dizzying speed, technology is making information accessible, easy and cheap to assemble, and to provide in people-friendly formats.

Technology is also driving a new focus on transparency — as citizens rightly expect to benefit from public information created using their money.

And technology is bringing people together so that the essentials of public life — including debate, activism and other forms of citizen engagement — are increasingly taking place online.

This poses huge challenges and opportunities for Government, in two major ways.

One, greater access to cheaper information is producing innovation, much of which has public benefit.

During the recent Victorian bushfires a company created a mashup – a website that combines data from a range of sources – to track the location of fires on a map in real time, reducing the demand on emergency information services.

To give another example, the National Archives has created a remarkable website that enables users to not only track Australia’s Anzacs through an online map of Australia but to add photos, documents or comments about them — thereby enhancing our knowledge of the 375,000 Australians who enlisted in World War One.

The second important development is that Web 2.0 enables citizens to bring their knowledge, perspectives, resources and collaborative efforts inside the tent of government.

Through online tools like blogs and wikis governments can use the wisdom of the crowd to continuously improve their laws, policies and services.

And as technology draws the general community back closer to government, it enhances citizens’ understanding that government is much bigger than its parliamentarians and bureaucrats.

That is why people are calling the reform agenda produced by these developments: Government 2.0.

It is an agenda that both enables and requires government and citizens to think about government in new and innovative ways.

Overseas, President Obama made online engagement a theme of his election campaign.

Since his election he has given his new Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, licence to refashion the way US government agencies make data available online.

In the United Kingdom the Brown Government’s Power of Information Taskforce has recommended sweeping reforms to how the civil service publishes, manages and engages with information. There are similar developments elsewhere.

The Australian Government has not been idle in this area either.

Since the Australian Bureau of Statistics made its information free and freely available in 2005 it has seen a huge increase in public use of its data.

And my department has already conducted three trials of online consultation, the results of which will be published in the near future.

Today, to advance the Government’s agenda for online engagement, I am pleased to announce, the creation of the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

The Taskforce is made up of 15 policy and technical experts and entrepreneurs from government, business, academia, and cultural institutions.

It will be chaired by Dr Nicholas Gruen, the CEO of Lateral Economics, and an economist with wide experience in the public and private sectors.

Dr Gruen is also an extremely well-known writer and blogger on issues relating to Web 2.0, new technology and government regulation.

All of which makes him an excellent choice to chair this Taskforce.

The Taskforce will advise the Government on how to:

  • make government information more accessible and usable;
  • establish a pro-disclosure culture around non-sensitive public sector information;
  • maximise the extent to which government utilises the views, knowledge and resources of the general community; and
  • build a culture of online innovation within Government to ensure that it is open to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies, and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates.

Importantly, the Taskforce will not just provide advice to Government.

It will be able to fund initiatives and incentives that will show how the Government can achieve its 2.0 objectives.

In the near future, it will release details of one such initiative – a public competition to show how public sector data can be most creatively assembled and released online.

I can also announce a small portent of what I’m hoping will be a growing trend. Instead of sending it off to a commercial designer, the Taskforce is getting going today a modest online competition to design the banner and logo of the taskforce.

Please get the word out to people you might know that this could be their chance to draw their talents to the attention of a wider audience.

It is a small example of what you can do once you decide to exploit the genius of the Internet.

Certainly, there are challenges for government in advancing this agenda.

First, we need to compile Information Asset Registers so we simply know what information we possess.

Work also needs to be done to ensure that information is searchable across government agencies, not locked up in individual websites.

And searchable by subject matter, or by region or suburb, not by department or agency.

After all, citizens don’t care where information comes from. They just want to be user-friendly.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for government — and for this Taskforce — is build a new culture of openness, a presumption of openness.

Indeed the Taskforce will play a pivotal role in the Government’s ambitious FOI reform agenda.

It will help to drive a change in the way the bureaucracy has traditionally understood FOI from a ‘pull model’, where government information is only disclosed in response to FOI requests, to a ‘push model’ whereby government information is routinely and proactively made available in anticipation of demand.

Both politicians and public servants have to overcome an old and reflexive mistrust regarding the release of information.

We have to accept that in this new world, we won’t always know how information will be used.

Citizens will assemble and combine it, or mash it, in ways that we can’t fully appreciate.

We also have to accept that when we open ourselves further to public discussion, through chat rooms, blogs and online forums, we won’t always like what we hear.

But if the new technologies and ways of using them mean that government is in closer and deeper contact with citizens it serves, and is harnessing their best ideas, the government will only benefit.

And so, too, will Australian democracy.

14 Responses
  1. 2009 June 23

    Do we really need a taskforce? Why dont you just open up data, set up a social media policy that applies to all fed govt departments, unban all the social media tools in your own departments and get on with it.

    Alternatively take a wild web 2.0 approach look at suggestions on and get cranking.

  2. 2009 June 23

    I delivered a presentation on government 2.0 — the inevitable path in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia this month.

    My presentation slides and my thoughts are here at:

  3. 2009 June 23

    A culture of openness is essential. Our first Government blog ( hit the internet three years ago amidst bureaucrats and policy boffins running around thinking that the sky would fall in and the end of the world was nigh. Three years later not a single concern expressed then has been realised and we have shared a great deal of knowledge with the people on whose behalf we work.

    When I think of the dollars spent on IT systems in the intervening years, the fear that has stopped us embracing web 2.0 and what this technology makes possible, I shudder to think of the opportunity cost and the extra value we could have been providing those we serve.

  4. 2009 June 25
    John Denham permalink

    I have to applaud the sentiments expressed, but is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? The sentiments expressed in this release are completely at odds with this same government’s planned internet censorship, which is advocated using almost identical language to that being used in China to justify their latest tightening of censorship.

  5. 2009 June 26
    Jo McRae permalink

    Let’s hope that this task force is balanced, providing a good mix of people with expertise in all areas influenced by and contributing to the Internet. Unlike the pulp mill taskforce.

  6. 2009 June 29
    Jonathan permalink

    Great initiative me thinks – yes there will be many challenges but they will not be identified unless one starts. Though an ability to learn quickly and adapt will be critical.

    In April Lindsey Tanner and Maxine McKew established and promoted an online forum to solicit feedback/share information on the Governments Early Years Learning Framework initiative. There were discussion boards, blogs and forums and as a first attempt it looked pretty good.

    The challenge it faced, and in some sense all such efforts may initially encounter, is its target audience of primarily professionals in the Early Childhood Educations sector did not know of the forums existence. Three weeks after going live I counted approximately 20 contributors to the various forums – considering there are over 80,000 people in this sector not a particularly high response rate. I am sure activity improved before the period of consultation ended – but when I spoke to ECE professionals only a handful even knew of this Forums existence. So a great concept but there needs to be an effective way to create awareness and also to motivate participation once awareness is achieved !

    The desire for Government to engage in a “direct conversation” with its constituents is laudable. These days communities are so diverse and fragmented they are looking for effective channels to express their voice – though direct advocacy does raise the issue of too much noise from the masses. When solving one problem one does not want to create another 

  7. 2009 July 2
    mark permalink

    Terrific that this Task Force has been assembled.

    I have had a look briefly at the caliber of people working on the Task Force and I am sure that this group of people will gather and formulate innovative and sensible suggestions.

    Nevertheless, it is a concern that good ideas will come to naught. I thought the Australia 2020 summit was also a good idea. And even in 48 hours, there were some really creative ideas.

    But the result of 2020 seems to have been…well…..nothing. Nothing has happened.

    How can we make sure that this Government 2.0 Task Force will be more successful in continuing any momentum after it is disbanded in six months?

  8. 2009 October 9
    Bill Caelli permalink

    BUT Government 2 makes the assumption that all citizens can participate with equal and fair access. In Australia we are far away from that in a rapidly changing Internet-centric environment. This message, for example, from a major regional centre, the Gold Coast, is coming to you at 40Kbits/sec – yes – dial-up speed because of the massive deployment of “pair-gain” / RIM and allied limiting telecoms systems in South East Queensland. No Gov 2.0 for us – no YouTube, no Flash videos – yes, even the Government 2 website itself assumes we can use such technology. That is blatant discrimination against dial-up limited people!

    The NBN will come BUT it is a long way off – meanwhile, Government 2 has the massive potential for inequity and disruption on the basis of the long discussed “digital divide”, as that great Australian thinker, Barry Jones, discussed eloquently many years ago! Now Gov 2 could easily cause a “participation divide”; those with some form of broadband and those without.

    Remember, in what must be the most ridiculous statement of any modern Government, our own Australian Government Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy states on its website that an equivalent broadband speed to that available in the major cities for regional and remote Australia is – wait for it – and then laugh –

    QUOTE: Under the Australian Broadband Guarantee, a metro-comparable broadband service is defined as any service that offers a minimum 512kbps download and 128kbps upload data speed, 3GB per month data usage at a total cost of $2500 GST inclusive over three years (including installation and connection fees).

    Compare that nonsense to the current commercial offerings in cities like Sydney and Melbourne with ADSL2+ at 20Mbits/sec and 50Gbyte download etc for $80 a month (Optus) or even better from others.

    Right now – to be serious, and to show that Government 2 has the interests of ALL AUSTRALIANS in mind, the website MUST offer a TEXT ONLY facility.
    THEN – talk to our leaders and convince them that in places like Queensland – where it has been reported that the enforced use of dial-up is still widespread – they must FIRST AND FOREMOST get broadband to the people – yes, the Web 2 part of Government 2 – at prices equivalent to the cities – and soon! NOT in five years time – a lifetime on the Internet. ( Just look at the map from the Gold Coast Bulletin of a few weeks ago to show the unbelievable extent of “black spots”, really “black regions”!)

    Without this basic technological need, Government 2 becomes discriminatory and exclusive – and thus totally undemocratic.

  9. 2009 June 23
    Gordon permalink

    These resources might be of assistance:

    Online Consultation Guidelines (Australian Government Information Management Office)
    Interim protocols for online media participation (Australian Public Service Commission)

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