The government's $7 million COVIDSafe app is costing the public purse at least $100,000 a month to stay switched on despite only identifying less than 20 previously unknown contacts in the 11 months since it was first launched, a Senate estimates committee has heard.
The Digital Transformation Agency has said the COVIDSafe app, which it built and released in April 2020, is costing the government around $100,000 per month on infrastructure costs on despite only assisting in the detection of a handful of Australia's nearly 30,000 coronavirus cases.
Chief executive Randall Brugeaud said the app had cost the government $6,745,322 as of January 31 with the development costing nearly $6 million alone.
The app was now in a "business as usual" state with the Department of Health and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee holding the decision over whether to continue the app's usage, he said.
"COVIDSafe has moved into what we call a business as usual state and so we apply very small amounts of maintenance," Mr Brugeaud said on Thursday evening.
"We've made a provision for about $200,000 per month to allow us to make future changes.
"That isn't money that must be ... spent but we've estimated about $200,000 a month for future feature changes that may be required by the Department of Health."
Since its release, the controversial contact tracing tool has been used sparingly by state health teams with New South Wales authorities confirming it had been used to identify 81 close contacts.
Of that figure, 17 would not have been identified otherwise.
Labor senator Nita Green asked why the government sold the app as a magic solution only for it to provide little use for contact tracing teams during major outbreaks.
"When it was being rolled out, we really were sold this app as if it was a bit of a magic bullet," Senator Green said.
"It was the thing that was going to, you know, make sure that we could reopen, that we could avoid lockdowns, people could keep going with their jobs, we could get to economic recovery quicker, but it hasn't really done that.
"We've actually found more tracing more contacts through other means."
Social Services Minister Senator Anne Ruston defended the app, stating it had provided some value over its 11-month lifespan.
"I think that the app was designed at a time when perhaps we thought there were going to be a lot more cases," Senator Ruston said.
"I think, you know, in hindsight it was a decision that was taken that has provided some value."
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