Chris Ellison takes over Access Card reins

Justice and Customs minister Chris Ellison moves into the Human Services portfolio but some critics claim his handling of the Customs IT debacle raises questions over his ability to manage large-scale projects.

update Justice and Customs minister Chris Ellison has been moved to the Human Services portfolio to replace Ian Campbell, Prime Minister John Howard announced today.

Ellison will oversee the introduction of the government's AU$1.09 billion health and social services Access Card following Campbell's resignation.

The card will replace 17 health and social services cards, including the popular Medicare card, and will hold a person's name, address, date of birth, Medicare number and concessional status.

Chris Ellison takes over Access Card reins

Ellison (right) is the third government minister to oversee the Access Card in the life of the project.

Campbell resigned from his post on the weekend following revelations he met with disgraced former WA premier Brian Burke last year.

Burke, a convicted criminal and former premier of Western Australia, is currently at the centre of a corruption probe in the state.

Campbell has overseen Access Card developments since January, when he took over from Joe Hockey in a Howard government reshuffle.

According to the Prime Minister, West Australian David Johnston will replace Ellison as Justice and Customs minister.

Back to the future
Critics of the government, however, have swooped on the Ellison appointment, claiming his responsibility for the Australian Customs Service's Cargo Management Re-engineering (CMR) debacle raised questions about his ability to manage large-scale projects.

The botched introduction of the system for importers and customs brokers in late 2005 caused cargo to pile up at ports around the country as brokers struggled to gain clearances.

Customs later had to pay compensation to brokers affected by the system and was roundly criticised for its handling of the project in a report released this year by the federal government's official auditor.

That report stated Customs had no overall project or financial management plan for CMR, along with no budget and no proper assessment of the potential risks.

The Labor Party's Shadow Customs and Justice Minister Joe Ludwig told ZDNet Australia today that Ellison's oversight of the CMR project raised questions about his ability to administer the Access Card project.

"There's been an incredible reluctance it seems, at least on his part, to acknowledge what went wrong, so that you can have confidence that he's actually learnt from his mistakes," Ludwig said, referring to Ellison's performances when questioned about the Customs debacle.

"Now hopefully they won't be repeating those mistakes with Access Card, given its size, but the signal it sends when you're putting a minister with this sort of record in the area isn't a good one," he said.

The Australian Democrats have also stepped into the fray following Ellison's appointment, once again calling for the federal government's Access Card bill to be scrapped.

"The Government wants the bill through the Senate before March 29, yet this portfolio is about to gain its third Minister in as many months," the party's Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said in a statement. "Surely this is a sign this bill must be scrapped."

"This is one of the most ambitious government spends on infrastructure in recent years. We have to get it right or taxpayers may face blowouts."


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