AI in public services will require empathy, accountability – Australian Government

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

The Australian Government has released a cross-cutting analysis on the key values needed to nurture trustworthy AI in public services, following consultations with community organisations, public service staff, industry, and academia.

Australia's first Long Term Insights Briefing found that values such as integrity and empathy will be critical to the trustworthy use of AI in government. Image: Canva

The Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has released the first of its Long Term Insights Briefing, which focuses on how the Government can integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into public services while maintaining the trustworthiness of public service delivery.


Public servants need to remain accountable and transparent with their use of AI, continue to demonstrate empathy for the people they serve, use AI to better meet people’s needs, and build AI literacy amongst the Australian public, the report stated.


The report also cited a forthcoming study that found that Australian residents with a deeper understanding of AI are more likely to trust the Government’s use of AI in service delivery. However,more than half of survey respondents reported having little knowledge of AI.

Key takeaways


The report aims to supplement current policy work on how AI can be best governed in the public service to realise its benefits while maintaining public trust.


In the longer term, the Australian Government aims to use AI to deliver personalised services to its citizens, deliver services more efficiently and conveniently, and achieve a higher standard of care for its ageing population.


AI can help public servants achieve these goals through automating processes, improving service processing and response time, and providing AI-enabled interfaces which users can engage with, such as chatbots and virtual assistants.


However, AI can also lead to unfair or unintended outcomes due to bias in training data or hallucinations, the report noted.


According to the report, the trustworthy use of AI will require public servants to:

  1. Demonstrate integrity by remaining accountable for AI outcomes and transparent about AI use
  2. Demonstrate empathy by offering face-to-face services for those with greater vulnerabilities 
  3. Use AI in ways that improve service delivery for end-users
  4. Build internal skills and systems to implement AI, while educating the public on the impact of AI

The Australian Taxation Office currently uses AI to identify high-risk business activity statements to determine whether refunds can be issued or if further review is required, noted the report. Taxpayers can appeal the decision if staff decide to deny refunds.

How the briefing was conducted


The report drew on insights from survey responses, community engagement workshops, and inputs from AI and service delivery experts.


First, the researchers collected over 5000 responses to a ‘Survey of Trust in Australian Democracy’ and 135 responses to a public consultation. Then, they ran workshops to understand how different communities perceive AI use in public service delivery and how they evaluate trustworthiness in public services. 


They engaged with 15 community organisations, including Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, National Employment Services Association, Women with Disabilities Australia, the Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association, and nine organisations representing academia, industry, and youth.


They also engaged in scenario-based workshops with community representatives, AI experts, and public service delivery staff to explore how AI may be deployed within public services in the future and identify key trends, potential outcomes, and possible consequences.


The Long Term Insights Briefing is a new initiative announced by the Australian Public Service (APS) Reform Agenda to evaluate the impact of significant, cross-cutting and complex policy-issues on Australians in the future.


Such briefings aim to bring together the public service to understand the implications of long term challenges, build institutional capacity for long-term thinking, and inform future policy thinking. 


You can learn more about the report here.