The legislative framework for the Victorian Government’s new digital customer service platform, Service Victoria, is awaiting debate in the Legislative Council when Parliament resumes in February 2018.

If the Service Victoria Bill 2017 survives Victoria’s divided upper house, it will add a new dimension to the regulatory and enforcement functions of government agencies who regularly transact with the Victorian public.

The Bill will enable Service Victoria to formally merge multiple services into a ‘one-stop-online-shop’ for transacting with the Victorian Government. According to the Special Minister of State, Gavin Jennings MLC, Service Victoria will:

modernise the delivery of the highest volume government transactions, such as car registration, to ensure that members of the community can more easily access these services in one place. The Bill itself will allow the new agency to be able to process and handle high volume Government transactions such as car registration, birth certificates, fishing licences and many others as Service Victoria grows.[1]

The Bill enables users to register for a Service Victoria account in order to enable access to multiple services, or to simply transact as a one-off guest. The relevant service agency will still make the ultimate decision to approve or refuse each transaction.

Main element of the Service Victoria Bill 2017

The Bill’s main elements are:

  • Establishing Service Victoria – Service Victoria will be an Administrative Office established under the Public Administration Act 2004. The CEO of Service Victoria will be the head of the body and, other than the Minister, will hold all of the body’s powers, duties and functions under the Act.
  • Enabling customer service functions to be transferred to Service Victoria – The Bill enables customer service functions to be transferred from existing service agencies to Service Victoria in the form of regulations, with the agreement of the relevant Ministers.
  • Creating centralised identification verification standards – The Bill enables identity verification functions currently performed by service agencies to be performed by the CEO of Service Victoria, through the concept of an ‘electronic identity credential’. An individual’s electronic credential can, if the individual consents, be reused in future transactions with Government performed through the Service Victoria platform.
  • Establishing standards and safeguards to protect customer information and maintain privacy when transacting with Service Victoria – Users can choose to transact on a one-off basis with Service Victoria. The Bill prohibits Service Victoria from using information it obtains from a guest-user for any other purpose.

Regulatory and Enforcement Issues

For regulators and service agencies, the Bill, and the establishment of Service Victoria, will represent a fundamental change to some of those agencies’ regulatory functions.

Relinquishing customer service responsibilities and deferring identity verification functions to Service Victoria should both ease the burden on service agencies, but also impose a whole new layer of regulation, legislative instruments, policy and stakeholders to navigate when administering their respective schemes.

Much will turn on the success of Service Victoria’s identity verification standards, which must be able to integrate with potentially hundreds of different transactions where individuals must provide proof of their identity to government. The standards will also need to work with the national identity verification service, known as ‘Govpass’, which is being developed by the Commonwealth Digital Transformation Agency.[2]

Where disputes arise between service agencies and individuals that concern identity issues, agencies will need a clear understanding of who is responsible for resolving the dispute, and the processes they should follow.

The Bill allows users of Service Victoria’s system to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for external review if the CEO of Service Victoria refuses to issue an identity credential, cancels an electronic identity credential, refuses to renew a credential or refuses to increase the level of assurance of a credential.

Similarly, service agencies will need to understand how Service Victoria’s functions will impact on their enforcement processes and procedures, particularly where identity (or identity documentation) is an issue. The Bill suggests that Service Victoria will be subject to strict privacy and data-sharing restrictions, which may change the way agencies obtain identity information about certain users. On the other hand, interesting questions are likely to arise about the contribution that Service Victoria’s information database could – or should – make to regulatory and compliance activities across government.

The Bill also creates new offences for misusing Service Victoria’s platform, including:

  • where Service Victoria improperly issues an electronic identity
  • making a false or misleading statement in an application for an electronic credential
  • unauthorised access to, use of, or disclosure of data, or information held by Service Victoria (separate to any offence or breach of existing privacy laws)
  • deliberate or reckless access, use or disclosure of data or information that may be used to endanger a person, commit an indictable offence, or interfere with the administration of justice.

Parliament is due to resume sitting on 6 February 2018.