Health | Ageing

Governments must build on digital gains of COVID-19 and invest in better human services: CEDA

Australia must build on the rapid digitisation of human services brought on by COVID-19 to help at-risk and vulnerable people during the recovery from the recession and deliver better services to the broader community, according to a new CEDA report out today.

In releasing Digitising human services, CEDA Chief Economist, Jarrod Ball said governments have no choice now but to use this moment to drive permanent changes to embed technology and data into human services.

“Timely and convenient access to human services will be critical as we recover from a crisis that will entrench and exacerbate existing disadvantage and vulnerability for many in the community,” Mr Ball said.

The pandemic has brought fundamental shifts in the delivery of human services in Australia. As just one example, the rapid expansion and uptake of telehealth demonstrated that technology is readily available to deliver greater convenience and access to services.

“This shows that we can change, and        CEDA’s report highlights areas of low-hanging fruit that can and should be used to build change momentum and secure further gains.”

But Mr Ball said services must meet community expectations of quality, and there must be trust in the technology and data underpinning them.

“The starting point must be more convenient and accessible human services for all in the community, complementing and enhancing the ‘human touch’ rather than replacing it,” he said.

This report looks at five key human services: health; mental health, disability; housing and homelessness; and justice. Combined, they made up more than $150 billion of government spending last year.

“This expenditure should be seen as an investment in delivering human services that are constantly improving and delivering the best value for the community,” Mr Ball said.

A survey commissioned by NBN Co. found almost half of Australians who visited their GP in the early phase of the pandemic did so virtually via telehealth services, and almost two thirds of respondents they would continue using telehealth into the future. This shows that expectations have shifted, and there is now no going back.

But Mr Ball said the broader benefits of digitisation would only be felt if the service meets these expectations and needs.

“A relentless focus on budget savings or regulatory compliance rather than opportunity for genuine service improvement and efficacy often sees government digitisation efforts fail, making the community sceptical and eroding trust,” he said.

The report finds more must be done to ensure the community reaps the benefits of the digitisation of key services:
  • There must be more sophisticated collection, storage, sharing and use of data.
  • Digital inclusion remains problematic for Australia. Financial and technical support must be integrated into our policy settings.
  • We need better knowledge sharing and coordination across jurisdictions and sectors of human services, to create better services and avoid mistakes that prove costly for taxpayers.
  • We need to invest in and grow the human services sector. As CEDA’s 2018 Community Pulse survey found, government delivery of critical services and support in health and aged care were among the top priorities for Australians. Human services can also play an important role in Australia’s jobs recovery as we emerge from the pandemic-induced recession.
Each contribution to this report outlines how digitisation can deliver better human services in the most convenient setting at the right time.

The report includes papers by:
  • Dr Rob Grenfell, Director, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity
  • Tim Kelsey, Senior Vice President, Analytics International HIMSS
  • Professor Mary Foley, Managing Director, Telstra Health
  • Jordan O’Reilly, Chief Executive and Co-founder, Hireup
  • David Spriggs, Chief Executive, Infoxchange
  • Sarah Kaur, Chief Operating Officer, Portable
To access the full report, click here.

CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball is available for further comment and interviews.

For more information, please contact:
Justine Parker, Media Manager and Content Specialist
Mobile: 0436 379 688 | Email:
Roxanne Punton, Director, Communications                               
Mobile: 0409 532 287 | Email:

About CEDA

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, membership-based think tank.   

CEDA’s purpose is to identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future and pursue solutions that deliver better economic and social outcomes for the greater good. 
CEDA has almost 700 members including leading Australian businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. Our cross-sector membership spans every state and territory. 

CEDA was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland. His legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues to drive our work today

About CEDA

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation.

We identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future. We work to drive policies that deliver better economic, social and environmental outcomes for Australia. We deliver on our purpose by: Leveraging insights from our members to identify and understand the most important issues Australia faces. Facilitating collaboration and idea sharing to invoke imaginative, innovative and progressive policy solutions. Providing a platform to stimulate thinking, raise new ideas and debate critical and challenging issues. Influencing decision makers in government, business and the community by delivering objective information and expert analysis and advocating in support of our positions. CEDA's membership spans every state and territory and includes Australia's leading businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions. The organisation was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland, and his legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues as we celebrate 60 years of influence, reform and impact across the nation.;