The current imbroglio over the Commonwealth’s buy back of water from a company formerly associated with a government minister has dominated the news now for some days. Amongst the commentary I have been left wondering about some assertions concerning the water entitlements at the heart of the deal.
Water regulation is an extremely complicated field at the intersection of science, conservation, policy, the market, and politics – and I don’t pretend to be an expert. However, in this very lawyerly post, I try to work out the general operation of the regulatory framework that underpins the drama, to try to isolate the legal questions.
The Australian government’s harassment of tax payers through its Centrelink data matching system is now well-documented. (See eg my own posts, here, here and here.) Yet today the Minister, Alan Tudge, again came out in defence of the system saying that ‘it is working and we will continue with that system’.
Accepting widespread criticism of the Centrelink robo-debt program, the question is whether it is a clever application of technologies to prosecute an ideological agenda, or further evidence that government does not cyber very well.
Centrelink is the latest government IT-dependent scheme to miss the target
Over the last couple of months, #Centrelinkfail has gained momentum as a news story. We knew from reports in 2016 that the Department of Human Services was introducing a data matching system that would check social security payments against tax records. But over Christmas, what began as a trickle of reports of incorrect allegations of debt, debt collectors, and tales of personal crisis turned into a flood.
Meanwhile, the government continues to defend the system, ‘confident’ in its operation.
Today, the former head of the government’s Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, has commented on the government’s succession of IT failures – including #censusfail and Centrelink – describing them as
“cataclysmic” and “not a crisis of IT” but a “crisis of government”.
The Centrelink debacle – in particular when viewed together with the government’s other ill-conceived attempts at implementing digital services – demands an urgent and radical rethink about the nature of process of the exercise of state power in the face of pervasive digital technologies.
The new Turnbull cabinet announced on Sunday afternoon brings to five the number of women in cabinet. This has largely been celebrated as a significant increase in the number of women in the Abbott cabinet – notably in terms of the number of women now holding senior portfolios. That is to say, there is now a group of women who wield significant power in Australian government.
At the same time however, there has been discussion about which women have been appointed. Many have noted, for example, that Senator Cash says that she is not a feminist; and Senator Cash is the Minister for Women. The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop has likewise brushed aside questions of whether or not she is feminist.
For those committed to the feminist project this may not represent the ideal pathway to structural change in government policy, but I maintain that more women at the table is important regardless.