Department of Human Services folds into Services Australia

The new department is also tasked with government IT procurement.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

As one of the machinery of government changes announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday, the Department of Human Services has been renamed to Services Australia.

Services Australia, mapped on the New South Wales initiative Service NSW, is aimed at "lifting and improving service delivery for all Australians".

"I want to see some congestion-busting not on our roads ... but when it comes to bureaucratic bottlenecks and regulatory bottlenecks so Australians can get access to those services in a more timely and efficient way," the prime minister said at the weekend.

"Making better use of technology and better integrating service delivery across different portfolios."

Morrison has handed the portfolio over to Stuart Robert, who in October was found to have spent 20 times more than other MPs on his home internet, according to reports, clocking up more than AU$2,000 a month. He blamed "connectivity issues" for the high costs.

Robert is now the Minister for Government Services in Cabinet.

As part of swallowing the Department of Human Services, Services Australia will assume responsibility for the design, development, delivery, co-ordination, and monitoring of government services, social security, child support, students, families, aged care and health programs, and Australian Hearing Services, according to the Administrative Arrangements Order [PDF] that was made this morning while Morrison's new ministry was sworn in. 

It also takes on whole-of-government service delivery policy; whole-of-government information and communications technology; and information and communications technology procurement policy and services, which was a function held previously by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The previous department was in the process of undertaking what former Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan had called one of the world's largest business-led IT system transformations.

The Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program is a billion-dollar project to overhaul Australia's 30-year-old payment system, which processes over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments each year.

WPIT is expected to take seven years to complete.

Human Services also recently provided updated information regarding its online compliance intervention (OCI) program, disclosing that from 1 July 2016 to 31 March 2019, 31,160 debts had been fully-waived.

In 2016, the department kicked off the data-matching program of work that saw the automatic issuing of debt notices to those in receipt of welfare payments through the country's Centrelink scheme.

The OCI program automatically compares the income declared to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) against income declared to Centrelink, resulting in debt notices -- along with a 10% recovery fee -- being issued when a disparity in government data is detected.

One large error in the system was that it incorrectly calculated a recipient's income, basing fortnightly pay on their annual salary rather than taking a cumulative 26-week snapshot of what an individual was paid.

SEE ALSO: The Australian government and the loose definition of IT projects 'working well'

According to a report from The Guardian, Centrelink staff have allegedly continued to issue welfare debts they know could be incorrect under pressure to meet performance targets.

The now renamed department was also last week found to have spent AU$135 million on a failed child support replacement system.

Other changes to the government announced on Wednesday include the Department of Jobs and Small Business being renamed to the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business; the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities renamed to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development; and Department of Education dropping "training" from its title.

Also this week, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Husic, who had campaigned for the introduction of a blockchain academy and a reformation of Australia's encryption laws ahead of the federal election, announced he would be stepping down.

"While I've loved being a Shadow Minister, I won't be running for re-election to that role today. Instead I'll be backing my great friend Kristina Keneally for that spot. We need to ensure someone of Kristina's enormous talents has the opportunity to make a powerful contribution on the frontline, in the Senate," Husic wrote in a Facebook post.


Editorial standards