“Criminal neglect”:
Qld Govt IT fixes to cost up to $6 billion


news Queensland’s new IT Minister Ros Bates said this week it would cost the state between $3.7 billion and $6 billion replace the “mess of mismatched, miscellaneous and duplicated [ICT] systems” which the previous Labor administration had left the state with.

Over the past several years, a number of major technology projects being conducted by a number of Queensland departments and agencies have gone off the rails. A KMPG audit into Queensland Health’s payroll disaster published in June, for example, found the project had already cost $417 million and will need some $837 million to fix over the next five years. Similar widespread problems have been found in areas such as IT shared services. In another example in early July, the state’s new LNP administration categorically dumped the state’s troubled colossal whole of government email project.

In a media release stemming from her attendance at a parliamentary Estimates hearing this week, Bates said that an interim audit of the state’s ICT systems had found more than half – about 53 percent – were out-dated, and that it would cost between $3.7 billion and $6 billion to replace them.

“An interim ICT audit has uncovered a mess of mismatched, miscellaneous and duplicated systems that in many cases have been patched beyond proper repair,” Bate said. “About 10 per cent of the network was in such poor technical condition that it required urgent replacement at a cost of approximately $196 million.”

“What I’ve uncovered since being appointed as the first Minister responsible for whole of Government ICT, is a case of almost criminal neglect of the state’s network. It has become clear that the former Labor Government gave little or no thought whatsoever to ICT, despite the fact that an efficient and effective ICT system is crucial to proper government.”

“This was a Government which presided over the $1.25 billion Health payroll debacle and which spent more than $200 million on an email system that ended up costing taxpayers $22,000 per email. However the really telling indictment is that despite making these points over and over again in the six months I’ve been in office, Labor has not been able to rebut a single statement I’ve made.”

Bates said the new LNP administration’s interim ICT audit also discovered that 17 per cent of technologies within the Queensland Government were either on extended support or were currently unsupported. For example, Bates said the Department of Community Safety Payroll system, which moved out of vendor support four years ago, was now supported by Queensland Shared Services on a best effort basis.

“Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the workforce supporting this archaic system have specialised knowledge, but many of these people are now at retirement age,” the Minister said.
The audit also found a very high level of duplication of investment; uncovering for example that there were 128 Case Management Systems, 190 Financial Management Systems and 109 Document and Record Management systems. The estimated cost of operating these systems alone was more than $80 million annually, according to Bates.

The new LNP Government has already taken a number of steps as part of what is likely to be a long-term journey for the state. In July, for example, it chopped a failed whole of government email project. Hundreds of IT contracting staff have been shown the door in an effort to cut costs, while a sizable payroll consolidation project has been kicked off in Bates’ own department, which currently uses eight separate government-run payroll systems. More complex plans have been put in place to deal with the Queensland Health issue. And a broader ICT audit is still in the works; with Bates only having detailed the interim version so far.

Bates’ comments come as state governments all around Australia currently appear to be experiencing a systemic inability to deliver major IT projects, and in some cases, basic IT services.

In November last year, for example Victoria’s Ombudsman handed down one of the most damning assessments of public sector IT project governance in Australia’s history, noting total cost over-runs of $1.44 billion, extensive delays and a general failure to actually deliver on stated aims in 10 major IT projects carried out by the state over the past half-decade.

Like Queensland, Western Australia has broadly walked away from its unsuccessful IT shared services plan, and in New South Wales in mid-August, a landmark report into the management of the NSW Public Sector commissioned by the state’s new Coalition Government described how dozens of overlapping and competing systems and services providers have created “chaos” when it comes to the state’s current IT shared services paradigm.

However, all of the major eastern seaboard states – Queensland, NSW and Victoria – are currently aware of the issue and attempting to address it through the development and implementation of wide-ranging IT strategic plans. Of the three, NSW currently appears most advanced with its plan; and the state is known to have suffered the least catastrophic IT projects of the three.

The best thing Ros Bates could do right now, in my opinion, is catch a plane to Sydney and spend a day or so with the state’s Coalition Government. Alone out of the three major east coast states, New South Wales’ political administration really appears to understand the challenges it is facing with respect to IT project and service delivery, as well as IT industry development. Bates’ understanding of her portfolio appears to be growing daily, but the Queensland Government has too much of a tendency to rail against the previous Labor administration and not enough of a focus on fixing things.

I’m sure it will get over this within six months, as the Coalition in NSW did, but right now it’s a bit repetitive. There is no need to beat Labor over the head in Queensland, after all; it’s virtually already dead. This is the kind of pointless Labor-bashing media release which some LNP figures in Queensland, such as Bates, continue to engage in.

What Bates needs to realise is that she and the rest of the Newman administration in Queensland have what their compatriots in NSW and Victoria may not have – the likelihood of several additional terms in government to really bed in long-term solutions to the IT issues which they’re facing. We can expect the Coalition to hold power in NSW and Victoria for quite a while yet, but neither state parliament experienced the absolute wipe-out which Labor suffered in Queensland. It may take a generation to get technology in government right in Queensland.

The good news is that the LNP, if it starts now, may be in power for that entire generation.
My advice to Minister Bates is: Think long-term and put the groundwork in place for slow, but ambitious reforms. Take the time to understand what you’re dealing with here. If you do, Queenslanders will thank you for it in 7-10 years, when their State Government truly has the technology nous to lead the rest of Australia.


  1. Renai, was it here I read a couple of articles from time to time that were tongue in cheek/satirical? I just think this whole issue is ripe for parody…

    Example, headlines:

    annnd so on :P

  2. Maybe I’m getting old, but do some of these costs just seem unbelievable.
    ‘$1.25 billion Health payroll debacle’
    ‘$200 million on an email system that ended up costing taxpayers $22,000 per email’
    There’s only about 200,000 public servants in QLD, how could it cost 200 million.

    I’ve never worked in a corporate environment, I’m a work from home programmer which I’ve been doing for a long time. I know I’m probably out of touch but does anyone else think these amounts are ridiculous.

    One of my friends wrote a Dos payroll system for Telstra (then the PMG I think). I doubt he got enough to pay for a very modest car.

    • I suspect they are just making up numbers to dfiscredit their predescessor, its easy to do with I.T. because the avergae bloke in the street doesntunderstand.

      If your right is the 200k public servents in QLD, then this 6 Bill fix equates to $30,000 per employee.

      How can the QLD liberal party say ALP was bad if they are considering spending $30 thousand dollars per employee on IT.

      • “I suspect they are just making up numbers to dfiscredit their predescessor,”. This payroll bill is over 5 years. So they are looking at $200 million a year (including previous years) which seems to match historical data. This is a mess and there are lots of jobs just wasted keeping it running and then repairing the data history. The figure also does not allow for a replacement system – which is inevitable.

        So, rather than worry about that audit, perhaps the audit undertaken by the Bligh government could be argued to have been deliberately under-estimated. These auditors also then had the job of “fixing the issue” after that report was produced. Clearly there was nothing dubious about that whole process.

      • @Glenn

        I suspect they are just making up numbers to dfiscredit their predescessor, its easy to do with I.T. because the avergae bloke in the street doesnt understand.

        ^This. Sure, I’m certain there are major issues with the system and I’m sure it’s been poorly handled. Fact is, if they just stopped complaining about it and did something, as Renai has said…..there wouldn’t be so much to complain about. Every government in the world has out of date software and extended support software. That’s normal. But of course, complaining about it and making a big deal scores political points.

        $6.2 Billion? Sure, over how many years? 5? 10? Doesn’t seem quite so big then, does it?

        As I said, I’m sure there are issues and I’m not downplaying them. But the fact is, IT itself has ALWAYS been a major issue for governments. Historically, they get it hopelessly wrong. Move on, stop complaining and fix it.

        Leave the political blame game for Federal politics. After all, they do enough of it for 10 governments/oppositions…..

        • Donut politics at work.

          Donut = $6b
          Hole = over 10 years

          Donut = duplicated systems
          Hole = because they all use Office

          Donut = mismatched systems
          Hole = because a system used for Health will be useless for Parks & Wildlife

          Donut = dumping Whole Of Govt email system
          Hole = because nobody thought of putting everyone on Gmail

          Its trash talking the opposition to make themselves look better when reality is vastly different. I just hope the public realises that.

          Working in the ATO I saw the debacle of our Change Program being implemented, yet its now hailed as a major success. Despite costing twice what was planned.

  3. The NBN will cost to $36 Bil to build (and has a planned 7% profit p.a) QLD population is about 20%.

    So QLD’s part of the NBN will cost $7.2Bil (and make a 7% profit), and they are saying they are prepared to spend upto $6 Bil just on public servents I.T. and i bet that doesnt evne include Fiber to the Building.

    Libs r dumb

  4. The problem is and always will be the bad management structure in government. What the minister will have to do is stamp out the politics and empire building found by done petty public servants promoted into Management because no one wants them. The minister will have to take ownership and treat the fix of the State ICT like a business and not like every other failed Shared Service program out there.

    • The Minister is often apart of the Bad managerial system due to political expediencies

      Best things they can do is Hire Quality IT and Management people sack all IT Consultancies and only allow ministers to have a Yes or No say

  5. Time for an Space X Prize for Government IT projects 1 Billion dollar prize for the group that comes up with the best whole of government payroll solution in 18 months (open source of course)

    Criteria would include setting up development team and offices in Queensland to kick start silicon valley type industry, Cloud enable, universities could participate

    Would any Government in Oz have the courage and vision to implement this is the big question

    • Haha! That’ll be the day. Imagine the minister taking that to the cabinet…

      “I have a cunning plan”

      But yes, it would work if there was ever a complete elimination of risk management from the government.

      Weiging in on the email saga, $200m at $22k per email means that either the whole system only ever had 9k emails processed (ours does that daily, and then some) or they only got 9k users out of some 200k switched over before it was kyboshed.

      Here’s a plan – switch to multiple *nix SMTP servers per department (e.g. Qld Health, EQ, etc.), hand off all processed and filtered mail traffic to localised *nix IMAP servers for each workgroup (e.g. per school, per business unit, per hospital, etc.), and serve them all a single LDAP service with the whole of government listed employees. The LDAP service would have multpile levels of management and admin rights (or even better, tie it to payroll as it’s the first thing updated when people start/finish a job) so as to keep it up to date with distributed management. – Cost? About $50m, inc. all the time to configure and deploy. Oh, and ongong licenses, $nil!

  6. It would be interesting to have published who has benefited from the expenditure of considerable tax payer’s funds for these projects during the last decade. SAP would be one major benefitory. And potentially will continue to be. Both from QLD Gov Shared Services more broadly, as well as the QH payroll. The blow out in recent years re QH Payroll has to do with the unfetted customisation of the system to meet existing QH processes. The big consulting houses such as PWC have also grown substantially in brisbane due to its large foot print in QH and else where. The poor QLD tax payer is the one who has missed out on any discernable value.

  7. “What I’ve uncovered since being appointed as the first Minister responsible for whole of Government ICT, is a case of almost criminal neglect of the state’s network. It has become clear that the former Labor Government gave little or no thought whatsoever to ICT, despite the fact that an efficient and effective ICT system is crucial to proper government.”

    Do tell Ros!? She’ll be a fan of the NBN if she keeps talking that way ;o)

    But seriously, who cares why QLD I.T. is broken or who broke it ( considering how well the LNP did in the election, I’d suggest Queenslanders already know who broke things), what we really want to know is what is the _current_ government doing to make things better…

  8. I am not sure if this audit was caused by my letter to the minster. Saying alot of mismanagement and poor funding have prevented upgrades

    Also how they was huge wholes in software and systems

    • Alternatively you have a department using a business critical application which no longer supported by the developer or made by employee whom now left the job.

      We need to upgrade to new. What you know this doesn’t work with the new OS and we can’t fix this business crucial application

      • Hi Adam, are you referring to previous ESP/ LATTICE system or the current SAP HR /WORKBRAIN platform stating that SAP HR and WORKBRAIN are unsupported post implementation?

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