Innovation Aus

Digital Identity Legislation in Australia Missing in Action

Australia’s digital identity scheme is unlikely to be legislated before the election after the federal government missed its own deadline to introduce a bill rolling out privacy protections and expanding the program to the private sector.

This is despite the digital identity scheme having been in the works for more than six years at an expected cost of $450 million, and the Coalition beginning consultations on the legislation to underpin it in late 2020. It had planned to introduce the bill during the Spring sittings last year but did not do so.

The government also failed to introduce or debate the digital identity legislation in Parliament this week. There are now only three sitting days left before the likely May election, and these are set aside to deal with the Budget.

Despite these setbacks and delays, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which is leading the development of the legislation, was recently appointed as chair of a global working group on digital identity.

The digital identity scheme is a whole-of-government federal program aiming to provide identity verification across a range of government services and private sector offerings. It has cost more than $450 million over six years.

The digital identity legislation expands the scheme to the private sector and state and territory governments, as well as legislating privacy and consumer protections and establishing permanent governance arrangements and a regulatory regime.

The DTA opened consultations on the plan in late 2020, with draft legislation unveiled in October last year, followed by another period of consultation.

A spokesperson for employment minister Stuart Robert declined to comment on whether the bill would be introduced or passed during the Budget sittings in late March.

“The government intends to progress the Digital Identity legislation within the context of the government’s broader legislative priorities,”

the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

The government’s digital identity scheme will now likely remain in limbo for several months until after the election.

While private companies have begun to be accredited under the scheme, these firms cannot start offering digital identity services until the legislation passes Parliament.

Late last year the DTA called for expressions of interest from the private sector for companies looking to obtain accreditation and participate in the digital identity scheme. This EOI is still open and will close at the start of next month.

“By registering their interest, businesses will open a direct pathway into the government’s digital identity program – enabling them to find out how the system might benefit their business and customers, how and when they can participate in the system, and how they can contribute to the governance and operation of the system,”

Mr Robert said in December last year.

The Coalition set aside a further $250 million to the digital identity scheme in the 2020 budget, bringing its total funding to more than $450 million.

The Australian National Audit Office has listed the development and delivering of digital identity reforms as a potential audit in this financial year, covering the DTA, the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia.