It just can't be that hard to keep your government websites going - Radio Transcript















SUBJECT/S: ATO website failure

LEON BYNER: How on earth has this happened? I've got two people today – one the Adelaide tech guy in the studio and we'll talk to him in a moment, Richard Pascoe –  the other is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Andrew, Merry Christmas. What's your understanding of what's happened here?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks Leon and Merry Christmas to you and your listeners as well. My understanding is that the government's looking for everyone to blame but themselves. It's a bit like – as you said – the census debacle a couple of months ago when the ABS website went down on Census Night. Meaning that millions of Australians lost millions of hours of their time trying to fill in the census forms. We were told that we would have the techspert-in-charge in Malcolm Turnbull, but yet we seem to see website stuff-up after website stuff-up. The census website going down. Now the Tax Office website going down at a time when small businesses are completely under the pump. If you are a small business in retail you just want to be out there serving your customers, not fighting the ATO website.

BYNER: Richard Pascoe, there's an issue here about money. Tell the Assistant Treasurer exactly what the deal is here in terms of you can't get financial information.

RICHARD PASCOE: I talked to a large accountancy firm this morning. They've just been able to get back online but they actually can't access any tax debts this morning! If they can't, there should be a lot of people around the country that are struggling to do this.

BYNER: So at the moment the computer system is not showing money monies owed to the Tax Office?

PASCOE: That's right.

LEIGH: It must be incredibly frustrating for people, Richard. Certainly we've been contacted by small businesses who are finding this frustrating but from a tax agent's side it must be incredibly annoying too. A lot of people often try to finalise their affairs before the end of the year and if a tax agent can't deal with that then they're going to be understandably frustrated. And yet I haven’t seen anything from the Minister, who seems to be just out and about spruiking how she going to get cash off the streets. 

BYNER: I've got the CPSU regional secretary, Liz Temple. Liz, good morning Merry Christmas. Have you got any information you can share with us on this today?

LIZ TEMPLE, CPSU REGIONAL SECRETARYLeon, we don't have a lot more information than what your other guests would know. Basically because the Tax Office has shared very, very little with their own staff about this. Members were sent home for two days. This is unprecedented. It's never occurred before. But they're getting very little information themselves.

BYNER: Andrew Leigh, might it not be another inquiry in the Senate about this?

LEIGH: I'm sure we'll be asking questions as soon as the Senate's back, Leon. We've got Senate Estimates but we've also got a range of other channels through which we need to pursue it. It just can't be that hard to keep your government websites going. This isn't innovation, it's not reform, it's not change, it's just the basic business of good government, to make sure that the websites are operational. This isn't a case of an outage for an hour or two, this is days that these websites are going down.

BYNER:  Would you like to know what the Tax Office says about this?

LEIGH: “Very little” so far I think is the answer and even less from the Minister but what have you got?

BYNER: "We understand this is the first time this problem has been encountered anywhere in the world, and we are working with our partners at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise to determine the underlying cause." Hey listen, Richard Pascoe, you've got something on this?

PASCOE: Yes I do. They bought what's called an HP SAN. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing it. Now what happened is that has got corrupted. The way that it was designed was – once the data is all corrupted – there is supposed to be a back-up solution in progress. However, the corrupted data went to the back-up as well. To go along and blame HP – you can use the analogy to say, “I had a car accident, I'm going to blame Lexus for my car accident even though I was driving along on bald tyres.” Andrew, I would say you talked about the website as well, but it's the data that actually feeds the website that people should be concerned about. Yes, the website's there but it's the backroom data that we need back.

LEIGH: That's a good point Richard, yes.

PASCOE: People will go and say, "What's a petabyte of data, Leon?" The petabyte of data is equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text. That will give people some idea-

BYNER: A petabyte is a?

PASCOE: Is a thousand terabytes.

LEIGHSounds like a badly behaved dog, doesn't it?

PASCOE: It does. 

BYNER: So, where to from here? The Tax Office will say whatever they think is to placate the public. That we don't want to alarm anybody. But it seems to me from all the data we're getting today there is a major problem.

LEIGH: This is absolutely serious stuff. We need an explanation from the Minister. We need to know what the Minister is doing and not that Minister's planning a holiday but actually that the Minister is willing to stand-up, take responsibility and get this fixed. If something goes well with this government, they're always happy to take the credit for the hard work of public servants, for the work of Liz's members. But when something goes badly, they're always looking for a public servant to point the finger at. That's not how ministerial responsibility works in our system.

BYNER: Richard?

PASCOE: We look at things that the government's involved in and the NDIS portal – I was told last night – is having trouble processing invoices that are sent to it. So organisations out there are trying to get the invoices processed and they're just going off into the ether and nothing's happened to them. So a lot of organisations have actually given up on the NDIS portal as well. 

BYNER: Is that right. Who operates that?

PASCOE: The government.

BYNER: Which part of the government?

PASCOE: Whoever's in charge of disabilities.

BYNER: Steve Georganas – member for Hindmarsh – you've got more on this. What can you tell us? 

STEVE GEORGANAS, MEMBER FOR HINDMARSHGood Morning Leon. This is a serious, serious, issue. We've just gotten over the census data losses and the problems we had with IBM and now we're having another massive meltdown in our computer systems. We've spent over $700 million dollars in the last few years in outsourcing IT to different multinational companies. I think the Australian taxpayer has every right to know whether the information that they have outsourced to these multinationals is secure enough?  I think this absolutely waters down any confidence we have in IT data.

BYNER: You've been told something by an insider. What have you been told?

GEORGANAS: I've heard that there's other agencies that are jeopardised at the moment. I believe that Centrelink is another one that is having massive problems with cross-checking their information in their computer systems since early this week and are getting nowhere with their system, and other agencies as well. Does this mean pension payouts will be compromised?

BYNER: We'll try and clarify this. Andrew Leigh, thank-you. And thanks Steve Georganas and also the CPSU regional secretary whose members got sent home for a couple of days.



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.