Empowering people, improving lives with data: Top tips from NSW Minister for Digital Government Victor Dominello

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How can governments lead a cultural ‘digitisation’ drive across agencies, enable innovation in the private sector, and use data to inform decisions and empower citizens?

This is front of mind for Victor Dominello, the Minister for Customer Service & Digital Government in New South Wales. He spoke with KWM Partner Annabel Griffin about the rare opportunity and privilege of being a member of Parliament and a minister. You can watch the engaging, wide-ranging & honest discussion here.

After 11 years as an elected representative, he’s on a mission: “to use data, digital tech, to reduce suffering and improve quality of life”.

Here are our top takeaways from their KWM Digital Future Summit chat, including the quotable quotes – from setting aside egos in order to foster collaboration, to taking people on a journey by being brutally honest. Dominello’s insights are also applicable to the private sector as businesses navigate an increasingly digital and data-driven world.

1    Current data is essential to informing decisions

For Dominello, the ‘epiphany’ on the need to modernise government service delivery came when he was Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011, visiting remote communities.

“We needed to get that mud map of the community, as it were, in real-time. The best I could get were reports that were six months old. And I realised then… this is horrendous, we need to make surgical decisions. Right now. It’s like being in an operating theatre, and relying on X-rays that are six months old. Things have to change.”

   Covid-19 was the catalyst for more widespread digitisation

As part of the crisis cabinet, Victor helped drive the data architecture needed to track real time information across agencies including health, education, transport.

“Every morning, we got all the data leads from all the major agencies created a dashboard first time ever in New South Wales. That started the journey.”

3    Real-time feedback is a must

And the experiences of “the Sacha Baron-Cohens” show it.

“My classic example was when we rolled out the digital driver’s licence. We’re in the control centre, we’re there with our pizzas, you know, just watching the real-time feedback come in. And all of a sudden, we saw this pattern evolving around double-barrelled names. So the Sacha Baron-Cohen’s were having trouble getting their digital driver’s licence. Sure enough, that sequence kept repeating itself. We shut it down at about one o’clock in the morning, the engineers fixed it and by five o’clock, Sacha had his digital driver’s licence. But if we didn’t get that real time feedback, I’d probably be fixing it up in a month’s time.

4    The issue with cyber hacks isn’t digitisation – it’s ensuring security and the right settings

The Australian Cyber Security Centre now has the ‘Essential Eight’ – eight baseline mitigation strategies to help prevent hacks.

“But what’s beyond? We’ve worked with academia and industry about ‘how do we take this to another level’? Because we can build any digital product we’d like – if it’s not based on privacy and security and some of the trust settings, no-one’s going to use them.”

5    Governments need to treat people like customers, rather than units or fractions of a service

The world’s largest ever government survey, the NSW Government’s CSX, was triggered by a visit to Uber’s office and will help to deliver quality services.

“The feedback that [Uber is] getting from their customers is so impressive – real-time and dynamic rather than static. That’s what we’re going to start building in NSW. Understanding the pain points of customers in real-time. You get some great ideas from people experiencing challenges. We need to harness those ideas.”

6    Be up front with people and take them on the journey

This approach was applied when Covid-19 emerged, when there was “no time for pilots”. The rollout of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for services is the most recent example.

“It’s not perfect… but at least you’re upfront about it. And if you respect people by telling them, warts and all, I think people come on the journey with you, because they know that you’re trying to move the game forward.”

“I think if you respect people, to give them that level of transparency, they give you that licence to innovate through the pilots.”

7    The importance of cultural change

Accepting accountability from the top can help.

“I’m sure we’re going to create some new laws in relation to digital identity, for example, but most of the impediments are around culture. And I know that first-hand, because as a minister, I can actually do the deep dive I need to. And sure enough, if I go into middle management meetings, I find out that the cultural things move away pretty fast.”

“I’ll make the call on this, this will be my decision, and therefore you don’t need to worry about, just do it because I’ll take the risk.” 

8    Lifting people Australia-wide by putting collaboration between States & the Commonwealth in the front seat

“I [told] my Births, Deaths & Marriages Agency… digital identities is your number one priority, and I want it done yesterday. Now to the agency’s credit, they didn’t do it yesterday – it took them a couple of years. But the reason for the delay is they went to every other jurisdiction and they made sure they got the taxonomy right. So that’s a great example of how you can use the Federation to build a model where one state can go a little bit ahead, but everybody has joined because it’s the same taxonomy.”

9    Leadership is important

In a government context, that means having national frameworks, not just at the State level (although the States can take it further).

That national ecosystem is absolutely critical. So at the moment you’ve got MyGov, it’s doing digital ID [as part of the Trusted Digital Framework]. The difference is we’ll also do credentials. So it’s not just who you are, it’s what you can do. So I’m Victor. And I can drive a car on Victor and I can work with kids on Victor, and I can be an electrician. What we will roll out is going to be world leading.”

10  Democracy is the ‘golden thread’ in digitisation

Digitisation provides a path to giving people the power. Legal changes requiring petrol stations to share petrol prices did exactly this – by creating market transparency that empowered customers.

“The single unit of our democracy is the individual in a digital world. How do we empower that individual in the data age, essentially, where we give them more control of their personal information, their data? The problem with the centralisation of data is you create a honeypot. You have understandable ‘Big Brother’ concerns… But we’ve now got technology that enables us to decentralise. So you put more power in the individual to control his or her information. And that’s the world that we’re moving towards in New South Wales.”

“We did some reforms in relation to petrol about five or six years ago. At the time I was the Minister for Fair Trading, which regulated petrol stations right across New South Wales. And I’ll never forget, I said to the agency, ‘how many petrol stations do we have?’ And they said, ‘ah, we think there’s about 2000?’ I said, ‘Do we not know this, exactly?’ They literally had to, like divine art from a series of data sets, [work out] how many petrol stations they thought existed in New South Wales. I thought, this is crazy. Long story short, we legislated, to require people to do it. All I’m going to require [petrol stations] to do is, in addition [to displaying the price on the road], give it to me in the cloud, because that way people can see in advance where they’re going to shop. That changed the paradigm.”

11  The need for one digital platform across regulators

Instead of one regulator to rule the world.

“[For E-commerce] we had this great idea, this great dream about having one commerce regulator to rule the world. But that would have required crunching all these regulators [with deep expertise] together. What we need to do is create a digital platform up the top. We’ve started that journey already in New South Wales. We have a platform, Fair Trading is now using it, we’ll bring Safe Work onto it… the Pets Registry… there is that synergy. It brings sharing of information. And that means a far better customer experience.”

12  Governments as innovation enablers

The high-end economy to come is in the digital world.

“There are great examples in in our in our backyard, look at Atlassian… there’s tonnes of opportunity here, we just need to make sure that government doesn’t get in the way. [That] it actually enables that innovation ecosystem to flourish. The real, high-end service delivery will be in that data digital world and that’s where we really need to play. That really will frame our world in the next decade or two and beyond.”

Watch the session in full here.


Annabel specialises in complex, strategic projects and is passionate about providing robust and tailored legal advice that helps clients to achieve their objectives: laying the legal groundwork on which everything else is built, in a safe, efficient and effective way.

Annabel is closely involved with the start-up eco-system in the ACT and around Australia and works with a number of government and private sector clients. Her work includes strategically critical government projects.

Innovation, whether in the legal technology used at our desks or in the satellites orbiting outer space, drives her. Annabel is a board member of the Canberra Innovation Network, a not-for-profit seeking to empower entrepreneurs for the benefit of us all.

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