Australia’s geekiest politician

NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello lays claim to being the nation’s geekiest politician.

He has made digital drivers license available through the Service NSW smartphone app and birth certificates will soon follow. COVID vaccination certificates are on the cards, as are children’s vaccinations and an education passport detailing qualifications. He acknowledged much of this will need to be worked out with the federal government.

This month, he’ll pilot the Dine & Discover NSW where Service NSW app users will receive two $25 vouchers for eating out, and another two $25 vouchers for entertainment and recreation. The general rollout will be late this month, early March. This is a business stimulus measure.

The app is becoming a Swiss Army knife for service by the NSW government.

However, his greatest success could be his QR code check-in system during the pandemic. Most states and territories have promoted QR code check-ins at shops, offices, pubs and other places where people mingle.

While some states use a hotchpotch of privately developed QR code check-in apps, Mr Dominello has mandated that all venues use Service NSW check-ins, and businesses face fines if they don’t comply.

Our inner larrikin might resile against compulsory measures, but businesses and customers alike have fallen into line behind Service NSW app check-in.

“We’re in a wartime situation. We need more control, more discipline,” he told The Australian, adding that once the pandemic is over, QR code check-in will end promptly. “I’ll get rid of it the second after we get to a point where the pandemic is either over or under control.”

Until then such measures were a necessity. “I wake up in the middle of the night and I see what’s happening in Germany, I see what’s happening in London, in Ireland, even in South Korea. Pretty much everywhere in the northern hemisphere, they are locking down. If you want to destroy business and destroy business confidence, let the virus get out of control.”

NSW, Australia has had success with QR code contact tracing using the Service NSW app that feeds check-in data into a unified contact tracing system. A check-in involving scanning the code and verifying user identity typically takes three clicks with no repetitive typing of names and personal details.

The app has recorded more than 60 million check-ins so far, about 2.4 million daily, and it has been downloaded 3.6 million times. Mr Dominello said it’s used by the majority of NSW’s five million citizens with phones.

The Service NSW app pushed health notifications to the NSW Northern Beaches (128,655 notifications) and Sydney northern suburbs (99,813) during outbreaks, asking people to monitor symptoms and take a test.

You enter your personal details when you install the app, so you don’t need to type out your details at each venue. You line up the QR code and check-in with a single click. Later, you check out. He said check-in data was deleted when it was 28 days old.

He said more functionality was about to be rolled out. Users will be able to view their check-in history, and they’ll be notified if they forget to check-out. “We’ve got five or six things in the pipeline.”

When you check-in, the data is uploaded to the NSW Government servers in real time and is ready to be used by contact tracers.

Mr Dominello monitors the thumbs up, thumbs down reactions and customer comments. He showed me comments entered in the app a minute beforehand. He said the app had received feedback 2.5 million times with a 94.3 per cent positive rating.

Mr Dominello’s phone also displays a live graph of the system’s performance – something like an app ECG. He says if the graph dips, he’s on the phone straight away. The system has been developed in partnership with VMware which has worked with product managers, engineers and designers.

Mr Dominello said he was over “parasitic relationships” where “dumb government” throws money at a vendor for a computer solution. The partnership with VMware had been “a really powerful collaboration”.

The system’s biggest benefit is its real time capability and that there’s a unified contact tracing database across the state. Mr Dominello said when someone tested positive, the system generated a list of people across NSW who had been at venues where the infected person was when they were estimated to be contagious.

A notice pushed by the Service NSW app to Sydney's northern suburbs.

In theory, the system could send SMS notifications to those contacts in moments, however NSW Health preferred to manage the follow up process.

The Australian has been in contact with people notified to test and isolate due to them checking in with the app.

He said the database could be searched to help work out where that infected person contracted COVID-19. Genomic sequencing could be used to validate any connection.

He accepted that QR code check-in only covered people’s interactions at venues, that the virus could be contracted anywhere. However outbreaks tended to be around people attending specific venues such as the Crossroads Hotel and BWS Liquor store in NSW.

“It’s all about risk. The highest risk is not me going to the beach or walking in the park. The highest risk is an indoor setting, poor ventilation, people drinking, singing, laughing, dancing in close quarters, mixed with alcohol, guards dropped, and that’s seen all around the world.”

One headache for the Minister is the March 2020 Service NSW hack made possible by data transfers using insecure email. It has been the subject of a NSW parliamentary inquiry this week. Up to 30,000 people could be unaware their data had been compromised.

However, he is moving ahead with his next plan, a vaccination certificate. He said the federal government would obviously control the COVID vaccination register, but he believed NSW citizens should be allowed to download a vaccination certificate to the Service NSW platform as a secure asset.

The same could apply for children’s vaccinations. He was also looking at the app hosting an education passport that showed HSC and diploma details, and bookings for parent-teacher interviews, or meeting with Fair Trading.

“In my perfect world, you would make the appointment to get the vaccine.” You would get a notification to renew it as you do with your driver’s license or registration.

Posted in Features.

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