Centrelink's mainframe due for costly update

Ahead of release of budget 2014-15, Treasurer Joe Hockey has noted that the federal government will need to spend "billions" in order to update the aging Centrelink mainframe.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

It's expected to cost the Australian government "billions" in order update the aging mainframe that supports Australia's welfare payment agency, Centrelink, according to Treasurer Joe Hockey.

Hockey, who served as the Minister for Human Services as part of the former Howard government, said in an interview with 3AW last Thursday ahead of the release of the federal budget 2014-15 on 13 May 2014, that the Centrelink mainframe — the income support integrated system — is "aging" and is in "bad shape".

"Centrelink and the Pentagon in the United States are the only two customers in the world of this one company that maintains the Centrelink mainframe, which is extraordinary," he said.

"But it is an indication that the infrastructure has been run down."

Hockey said the approximate waiting time for a current phone call to Centrelink is 17.5 minutes, which he believes is "not good enough", and suggested there was deterioration to how the former Labor government handled Centrelink's services in comparison to his time overseeing the agency, where he had calling times down to "6 minutes if not, less".

He said the current system undermines productivity and is inhibiting on the government's capacity to rollout policies that addresses the problems in the economy.

While the overhaul of the system is expected to be costly, Hockey said: "We have to. We have got no choice. The question is how we do it and how we try and ensure we have better service delivery into the future."

Hockey said, referring to Australian taxpayers, that "those who can afford to make more of a contribution will be doing so" in order to see the Centrelink mainframe be updated.

"The two most important computers arguably in the Government are the mainframe for the Australian Taxation Office and the mainframe for Centrelink," Hockey said.

The need for an update was first noted in 2013-14 budget when the government indicated it was going to invest AU$16.2 million over two years from 1 July 2013 for the Department of Human Services to develop a business case by 2015 outlining options to replace or upgrade its major Centrelink IT system.

The federal government has long been playing catch-up when it comes to updating its IT systems. The former Gillard government last May unveiled a national cloud strategy that would require government agencies to begin shifting their websites into the public cloud.

"We see the opportunity for cloud. We think it's got enormous potential to give us not just savings but the kind of agility that will be really valuable for agencies," said the then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

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