New Zealand launches public inquiry into COVID response; Australia rolls out long-awaited myGov app: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 08/12/2022 | Updated on 08/12/2022
A Covid test in use

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New Zealand announces public inquiry into COVID-19 response

New Zealand is preparing to launch an inquiry into its COVID-19 response with the aim of enabling successive governments to better tackle future pandemics.

At a media briefing, Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister, said that a royal commission, which she called the “the highest form of public inquiry” would interrogate the achievements and mistakes made in dealing with what she called “the most significant threat to the health of New Zealanders and our economy since world war two”.

“It had been over 100 years since we experienced a pandemic of this scale, so it’s critical we compile what worked and what we can learn from it should it ever happen again,” she added.

The inquiry will begin in February 2023 and is expected to be completed in mid-2024. It will be chaired by professor Tony Blakely, a prominent epidemiologist, along with former cabinet minister Hekia Parata and former treasury secretary John Whitehead.

Read more: Inside New Zealand’s ‘what works, when’ approach to joined up government

Australia launches myGov app after eight year wait

Australia’s services minister Bill Shorten has launched the country’s long-awaited myGov mobile app, which includes electronic wallet capabilities aimed at integrating digital services across government agencies.

The myGov platform is the federal government’s largest authenticated digital platform. It includes 25 million linked accounts and records more than a million sign-ins every day. It was depended upon heavily during Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The associated app, which took eight years to develop, was launched at the Sydney Opera House. Shorten said that Australians had “at long last” access to a portal that would make government services simpler and more accessible.

The app uses common biometric tests, such as facial recognition, fingerprints and six-digit numbers, giving citizens access to 15 different services directly from their devices.

Shorten said the launch of the app meant “no more annoying myGov inbox announcements that send you somewhere else to go somewhere else”.

He added that while the rollout “shouldn’t be revolutionary news” in the broader context of digital services worldwide, myGov marked “a quantum leap forward [for Australia]”.

The app will include the Healthcare Card and Seniors Healthcare Card, with a Medicare Card due in March 2023 and would also incorporate a QR code function to enable people to prove their identity.

Read more: Major review of Australia’s government service platform launched

European Commission to strengthen cross-border cooperation in public services

The European Commission has approved plans to strengthen cross-border interoperability and public sector cooperation between EU member states through shared data and approaches to transformation.

The Interoperable Europe Act, funded primarily through the Digital Europe Programme, aims to quicken the pace of digital transformation across EU members’ public sectors. One of its core goals is to forge a network of digital public administrations that are expected to exchange data and strike common ground on shared digital solutions, including open-source software and IT tools, as well as guidelines, checklists, and frameworks.

The Commission said that interoperability is “essential for building the digital single market” and would help EU member states achieve better public services, based on a common set of standards and protocols. It added that interoperability “positively affects public values [including] trust from citizens in their governments”.

“The fight against COVID-19 serves as a great example of effective interoperability. Thanks to interoperability, the creation of the EU Digital COVID Certificate facilitated cross-border travel in the EU during the pandemic,” it said.

Read more: European Commission consults on digital finance and retail payments

Whitehall probing whether civil servants in Scotland should be allowed to work on independence plans

Senior officials in London are working to establish whether civil servants in Scotland should be allowed to continue working on plans for a second independence referendum, after the Supreme Court ruled that Scottish parliament could not hold a vote without Westminster’s approval.

Simon Case and Sue Gray, the cabinet secretary and second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office respectively, are among those understood to be examining whether officials in Scotland could do work related to the referendum.

Alister Jack, the secretary of state for Scotland, said that following the Supreme Court’s decision “they’re working again on what that means for the role of the civil service in Scotland so we’ll have to see where that takes us”.

Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party (SNP) has long campaigned for Scotland to become independent from the UK. The first independence referendum took place in 2014, when 55.3% of voters said they wished to remain part of the UK. SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is pushing for a second poll, largely due to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

She said that the popular vote cast for pro-independence parties in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election would be taken as a mandate to begin talks on a vote to leave the Union.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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