Cover Story: State of the Nation

There's nothing like a serving of panic to concentrate the mind. After an extremely slow start, Australian State and Territory governments are making up lost ground when it comes to addressing Y2KWith just nine months to go, most now seem to have a reasonably good handle on the cost of achieving Y2K compliance, and responsible ministers are without exception expressing confidence their State or Territory will sail into the new century without major glitches.

But there's no room for complacency, with at least one consultant warning that while a number of senior politicians have made strong commitments to address the issue, middle management is still failing to pay it the attention it demands.

In July 1997 Computerworld issued a progress report on State and Territory preparedness for Y2K. The results made dismal reading. None had any idea how many lines of code were going to need fixing, few had as much as an inventory of computer-based systems and software, some had barely begun global planning, and most were still waiting on responses from agencies to risk assessment surveys.

Things have come a long way since then, according to Millennium Taskforce Steering Committee head Graeme Inchley, although his remarks come with the proviso that since none of the States has yet fully disclosed its progress, it is very difficult for anyone to make a realistic assessment.

"There is no doubt at all that 12 months on from when we started, everyone, and especially governments, are taking this very, very seriously. There is really a lot of work being done."

But Unisys Y2K director Phil Dodd warns that while numbers of senior politicians now understand the issue, and are absolutely committed to minimising the impact, middle managers and workers are still failing to address Y2K sufficiently seriously.

The Federal Government is believed to be planning a "State of the Nation" address on Y2K readiness of essential services, while the April 9 ministerial council meeting should agree a common reporting format for State governments on Y2K readiness.

In the meantime, Dodd has no hesitation in crowning Victoria the leader on Y2K readiness so far.

"My observations are that the Victorians are doing the bellwether job. I believe they're well focused and they have senior backing and more importantly, senior understanding. And that is critical. I would put them right at the top.

"The others are catching up to Victoria in my view," Dodd said.


The NSW Government expects to spend more than $400 million across the public sector, and Cabinet has already approved the release of additional funding if required.

The Government has made agency CEOs directly accountable and says most agencies have completed detailed risk assessment using the Government's well regarded business risk analysis methodology, and are well down the track on contingency planning. By January this year rectification progress across the NSW public sector was between 50 and 60 per cent complete.

Key NSW Government utilities including electricity and water are 60 per cent complete, while a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report found the NSW electricity industry to be well advanced in addressing the problem.

NSW Health, approaching the halfway point in its efforts, has assessed more than 20,000 items of medical equipment and the rectification of state-wide legacy systems is close to completion.

The Government says there is every confidence key parts of the NSW public sector will complete Y2K rectification by the target date of 15 October 1999. On the other hand supply of electricity could fall victim to unforeseen fluctuations in demand that the millennium bug might cause, according to Electricity Association of NSW executive manager Michael Sinclair. He told a recent Y2K conference sudden fluctuations in demand for electricity have the capacity to trip protective switches, taking NSW generation plants offline.


Freely admitting that far from having all the answers the Victorian Government is still searching for the questions, Finance Minister Roger Hallam says a "concerning number" of Victorian agencies are currently at risk.

But that doesn't make for any cause for alarm, if you listen to Hallam, because a policy of being very tough on agencies and an insistence on full public reporting are combining to act as a disciplinary tool to hurry agencies along.

Victoria has allocated something like $400 million for Y2K work through the standard budgetary process, and has recently signed off on an additional $90 million for agencies bidding for extra compliance costs.

And it has introduced an innovative and sophisticated audit tool to 1200 individual agency levels across the public sector which required operators at the coal face to give commitments in respect to key deliverables. That finishes up at the Cabinet table every month then in prŽcis form on the Premier's desk.

Without wanting to lull anyone into a false sense of security, Hallam insists all agencies will be compliant in time or he will want to know why.

He said Premier Jeff Kennett had made it clear all ministers should be at their workplaces on January 1 to manage any risks as they emerge.


South Australia stands out as the only State to have a minister dedicated to Year 2000 Compliance, in the person of Wayne Mathew.

Mathew says the cost of all Y2K work across the government sector will be between $104.2 and $104.5 million, although there's a contingency for overall cost of $112.7 million should there be blowouts in some areas. Health, housing and family services alone will cost $32.7 million.

Cabinet ministers receive a comprehensive monthly report including detailed coloured charts showing progress of agencies against critical deadlines.

For the purposes of Y2K reporting the State's 10 agencies have been broken into 40 reporting units, of which just four are showing signs of not reaching total compliance -- completion of rectification and testing -- by 30th June. While he won't specify which units are in trouble, he insists they are not in the most critical agencies.

"I think the important thing is that the only delays that are occurring of significance in SA at the moment are componentry delays for some of our more critical systems," Mathew said. "For example our traffic management system requires componentry which we will obtain, but not until a little later this year, and that's delaying us getting those systems complete in the time we'd prefer."

Mathew, who claims his State has put in the most intensive effort in Australia, is as confident as "humanly possible" that everything will work properly on January 1, but he and his staff will be at work as the clocks roll over just in case.

The Government's worse case scenario includes no electricity for two weeks from 1/1/2000 and a 10 per cent reduction in employment extending from that date until February 2000.


According to the Labor Government, when it won the State election last August it found the previous Liberal Government's Y2K efforts had been disjointed, to say the least, despite concerns raised by the Auditor-General earlier in the year about the Government's state of preparedness. In November Labor adopted and implemented a whole-of-government approach to co-ordinate Tasmania's approach. It also established a Y2K project team in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier Steve Kons it is the new Government's challenge to make up for lost time and work with all sectors of the community to ensure Tasmania was prepared.

For the rest, Y2K project officer Peter Barnett said he was forbidden to reveal any more until after the April 9 Ministerial Council meeting.


According to Queensland's minister for Communication and Information, Terry Mackenroth, his State estimates it will spend about $280 million in total on making government agencies compliant and he is satisfied with the progress they are making.

Most have completed more than 60 per cent of their assessment and rectification work and each department and agency is required to report back to State Cabinet on a monthly basis.

Queensland is monitoring the electricity industry, government owned corporations and the local governments with responsibility for water and sewerage. It is gathering information for a report on the effectiveness of initiatives undertaken so far in the electricity industry to delivered to State Cabinet in April/May.

Similar reports on utilities such as water and sewerage are also expected at around the same time.


The WA Government says quarterly surveys of the State public sector by the Office of Information and Communications in the Department of Commerce and Trade trace steady progress towards the December 31, 1999 deadline.

A December 1998 survey of 100 agencies showed more than 72 per cent expect to have completed remedial action for their computing systems by September 1999, 65 per cent for embedded systems and 62 per cent for supply chains. Some 85 per cent estimates their risk exposure is moderate or minor.

The agencies reported they had spent $52 million of an estimated total of more than $110 million required to address the problem. More than 50 per cent have been independently audited.

A sample of 10 key agencies covering police and health services, energy and water supply and transport systems showed all expected to have completed remedial action by September 30, 1999 and that seven of them had been independently audited.

Estimates of "major" risk exposure among these agencies was as high as 50 per cent in their computing systems.

OIC estimated the preparedness of these agencies at 57 per cent compared to an all of government figure of 64 per cent. Progress in State government agency preparedness will soon be recorded on the Y2K Web site at


Communications, Science and Advanced Technology minister Daryl Manzie has full confidence that by June the Territory will only have a "couple of completions" on the agenda for the second half of 1999.

Most agencies have about 70 per cent completed compliance testing, and five are already fully compliant.

"Right across the Territory we are over 80 per cent compliant," Manzie said. "The advice I receive is that we will have full compliance before January 1, 2000. We have had a few dates that slipped. We put some deadlines in for November 1998 and some of those we didn't make, but only with a small number of items, and we have identified those and we have got programs in place to deliver the goods there," he said.

The Government believes its total expenditure will be around $21 million. Northern Territory has looked at 7500 embedded chips and found just 55 with problems.

And Manzie says the utility sector is in excellent shape, with 100 per cent compliance on both the Channel Island power station and Hudson Creek system control centre, and dummy runs completed to prove the power will keep flowing.

So will Manzie be at work on January 1, 2000? "I definitely will not be travelling in an aircraft or a lift but there will be a fair bit of interest in making sure we will be aware of all the little hitches that may occur," he said.


While the ACT's progress appears to be lagging behind the other States and Territories, Chief Minister Kate Carnell claims that of the ACT's five agencies the major portion of critical systems are expected to have either been tested or declared Y2K-ready by the end of June.

Although a lot more work remained to be carried out before the end of the year, Carnell said she was confident agencies were on track to achieve Y2K readiness for critical systems.

"The Government has allocated more than $80 million as part of a modernisation program that will not only address the Y2K problem but also ensure that agencies can provide the most efficient services to all their clients.

"We will be issuing further readiness reports later in the year to let Canberrans know what we are doing to address this serious issue," she said.

According to the Office of Information Technology and Multimedia, by June 30, 90 per cent of critical IT and embedded systems in the Departments of Education and Community Services and Justice and Safety but only 17 per cent of those in the Chief Minister's Department will be ready. Some 76 per cent of systems in the Community Care agency and 60 per cent in the Department of Health and Community Care should be ready by the same time.

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More about Australian Bureau of StatisticsCritical SystemsDepartment of HealthIslandNSW GovernmentNSW HealthOffice of Information TechnologyUnisys Australia

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