The Morrison government will expand the use of digital identity checks when businesses and individuals access services online, as part of an $800m package in next week’s budget to increase the take-up of new technologies.
As the government puts the finishing touches on its delayed budget, which is expected to foreshadow a deficit north of $200bn and ongoing high unemployment, the Coalition is rolling out a series of announcements that it says are designed to get the economy moving again.
But the government is coming under pressure for reducing the rate of jobkeeper and jobseeker payments over the past few days, with Labor accusing Scott Morrison of “mishandling this worst recession in almost a century” by cutting economic support “without a proper jobs plan to replace it”.
The biggest chunk of new funding in the “digital business plan” to be announced on Tuesday is $420m towards ensuring businesses can “quickly view, update and maintain their business registry data in one location”.
The next-biggest plank of the package is $257m to expand the rollout of a digital identity program, promoted as a way of simplifying and reducing the cost of interacting with government.
It is understood about 1.6 million Australians and 1.16m businesses already can access up to 70 government services through the digital identity program. The expanded funding will allow for face verification capabilities and finalise the scheme’s integration with the MyGov website.
The government also plans to draw up legislation to expand the use of this digital identity system in the private sector – but in a bid to allay privacy concerns, it will maintain that it is an opt-in system.
The package also includes about $25m to support small and medium enterprises expand their digital capability, and $7m for two industry-led pilots to test how blockchain could be used to reduce regulatory compliance costs.
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said enabling businesses to adopt digital technologies would “help our economy recover from Covid-19 and deliver a more productive and competitive economy in the future”.
The government is also poised to announce a Treasury-led review of the regulatory architecture of Australia’s payments system “to ensure it is fit-for-purpose, given rapid changes in technology” – separate from the Reserve Bank’s existing but delayed review.
The government will launch a consultation on potentially making permanent the pandemic-triggered changes to the Corporations Act, which allowed companies to hold virtual meetings and sign documents electronically.
Other elements of the plan include requiring federal government agencies to adopt electronic-based invoicing by mid-2022 at the latest, with the largest agencies having to do so at least a year earlier.
Morrison said many businesses moved online quickly when the pandemic hit and the new package provided “significant backing to continue that digital push”.
“The plan supports Australia’s economic recovery by removing out-dated regulatory barriers, boosting the capability of small businesses and backs the uptake of technology across the economy,” Morrison said.
Morrison said trust and security were essential to businesses and individuals operating online, so the new package was “underpinned” by the $1.67bn cyber security strategy announced in August.
In the lead up to the budget, the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, travelled to the tourism-dependent city of Cairns on Monday to criticise the government for “pulling support out prematurely from this community and this local economy”.
The social services minister, Anne Ruston, stopped short of committing to maintain the current rate of jobseeker if unemployment remained high past 31 December, but told the ABC: “If those ongoing supports are required and at the elevated level post 1 January, that’s what will happen.”
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