Services Australia says AU$1.6 billion WPIT program has saved AU$278 million

With AU$542 million still to be spent on the welfare payment system, the agency is sticking to its AU$312 million per annum figure for projected savings from 2024-25 onward.

The Department of Human Services, now Services Australia, over five years ago kicked off the program of work to basically replace the then-30-year-old Income Security Integrated System (ISIS) that is used to distribute welfare to Australians.

The project, known as the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program, was slated to cost around AU$1.5 billion and run from 2015 to 2022.

In response to questions on notice taken during Senate Estimates in October, Services Australia said the program has been allocated a total of AU$1.6 billion to "deliver program outcomes, which excludes savings that have been applied to Services Australia's budget".

To 30 June 2020, AU$1 billion has been expended on program outcomes.

The program has been broken up into four tranches, with the first costing AU$230 million, the second AU$286 million, the third AU$525 million, and the final tranche, which will see money spent over 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23, to cost a total of AU$542 million spent.

The agency was also asked to provide a breakdown of the total amount saved by the government through the WPIT program to date. In response, Services Australia said the total amount saved by the government from 2015-16 to the end of 2019-20 is AU$277.6 million.

In further questioning, Services Australia was asked if the "ongoing returns" estimate of AU$312 million per annum still stood.

"The ongoing returns to government from 2024-25 have not changed," it wrote.

See also: Australian Senate passes two-year extension for 'racist' welfare quarantining system

In a report prepared by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in October, ANAO found the former department, and now Services Australia, had "largely appropriate arrangements" in many areas, but was lacking on the cyber and cost monitoring fronts.

"We would agree with the ANAO report at that time that there were components of the system that have not been accredited, we have an approved program of work that is going through that accreditation program now," Services Australia general manager cyber services Tim Spackman said shortly after.

"I think it's worth noting that there is a number of components to that system and even small changes require re-accreditation throughout that process -- it's not a set and forget scenario."

Services Australia agreed to all of the recommendations made by ANAO, but facing questioning from Senators, the auditors could not provide a status of their implementation.

Services Australia is currently in tranche four of the project.

The AU$542 million is expected to fund the delivery of five key priorities. Deputy CEO for transformation projects Charles McHardie in November expanded on the first two: Reusable technology and an entitlement calculation engine, which he has called the "heart of the ISIS system".

It is expected Services Australia will use the technology for aged care reform and veteran-centric reform too.

The agency will then be implementing automation, claim transformation, circumstance updates, and a "data and enabling capability".

Elsewhere, on the contentious Cashless Debit Card (CDC) that passed through Parliament in the last week of sitting before the Christmas break, the Department of Social Services provided a response to the whereabouts of an overdue report from Adelaide University.

The scheme labelled by Senators as "racist" during debate on its overarching legislation in December was given the nod by Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston before she read a AU$2.5 million report from the university, which evaluated whether the card actually worked efficiently in the trial sites.

In its response, the department simply said "Publication of reports is a decision for government".

The passage of legislation will see "participants" in the CDC have 80% of their entitlements quarantined for another two years and have it rolled out to further communities in the Northern Territory and Cape York. The CDC governs how those in receipt of welfare spend their money, with the idea being to both prevent the sale of alcohol, cigarettes, and some gift cards and block the funds from being used on activities such as gambling.

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