ScoMo’s expensive, epic Covid fail revealed

The staggering cost to taxpayers of a barely used Covid app has come under fire, as it was revealed just how useless it was.

An all but abandoned mobile phone app that was once hailed as the “ticket” to life free of restrictions has again come under fire for its cost.

A parliamentary inquiry has heard the government’s COVIDSafe app has now cost taxpayers more than $9m despite being rarely used to assist contract tracers in their efforts.

The app was developed in the early stages of the pandemic as a tool to assist contract tracers and has attracted criticism for its cost and effectiveness.

In July, a Department of Health report found just 779 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Australia had the app and consented for their data to be shared for contract tracing.

It only identified 17 close contacts that were not already found by contract tracers.

It comes amid concerns there will be no national consistency across check-in apps across the country.

A Senate Covid-19 committee on Thursday heard Australia could end up in a situation where each state had their own check in app, with no possibility of a national app.

Currently, if you are a resident of the ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland or Tasmania, you can use your home state app across each jurisdiction as each app uses the same back end code developed by the ACT government.

But if you’re a resident of Victoria, Western Australia and NSW, and visit another state, you must download their app.

Services Australia’s Jarrod Howard told the committee that states not on the ACT platform were looking at how to “streamline” the process, but he said ultimately it was up to the states.

“It will be led by the states and territories because you know, at the end of the day they’re responsible for the public health orders,” he said.

“Those states that are not part of that conglomerate are looking at how … we might be able to streamline some of those activities to make it a better customer experience.”

Deputy chief executive Charles McHardie told the committee Services Australia was working with the states to ensure check-in apps had the capacity to include proof of vaccination status.

“That testing is underway. Whether the jurisdictions actually take up that functionality and turn it on will be up to them,” he said.

Services Australia also revealed proof-of-vaccination technology that would allow Australians to travel overseas would be finalised within weeks.

The visible digital seal project would verify Australians’ vaccination status with Home Affairs, which would then create a digital record for travel.

“What they will then do is take that data, make sure it’s all correct, and then they will put what they call a visible digital seal onto a certificate that they will then send back to us,” Mr McHardie said.

“And that certificate will then appear straight away in your Medicare Express Plus app and then you can download it to your phone.

“That can be used at … departure gates, et cetera – wherever it may be used as the borders start to open up.”

But the department was adamant the technology was not akin to a vaccine passport.

“There is not a vaccine passport being developed or delivered by Services Australia,” chief executive Rebecca Skinner said.

“A passport is a permission to leave a border. There isn’t any role for us to create a vaccine passport.”

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