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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2383

NATIONAL BENEFITS SYSTEM

The Auditor-General's 1980-81 report referred to an in-depth audit of the National benefits system undertaken during the period from October 1980 to January 1981. As a result of the investigations, the Auditor-General reported that he considered that the development of the National Benefits System was not adequately controlled and, to some extent, did not proceed in accordance with generally accepted practice. The Committee considers that the NBS project was inadequately controlled and recommends that the Department should in future ensure that adequate records are kept to ensure proper assessment of the cost effectiveness of such projects. The Committee also recommends that the management and implementation of large automatic data processing projects such as the national benefits system be under the overall control of one individual senior officer, to be designated as the project manager, with sufficient delegated authority to ensure the project's success; in addition, that for all future pilot projects the Department develop an integrated pre-implementation testing procedure covering ADP system logic, support machinery and staff training. The Committee will continue to monitor the overall operational effectiveness of the national benefits system.

ASSISTANCE FOR HOMELESS PERSONS

In his report of 30 March 1981 the Auditor-General referred to an in-depth audit of capital assistance grants, under the Homeless Persons Assistance Act 1974, to two organisations for the construction of homeless persons centres. The assertion was made that one of these projects appeared to represent significantly less value for money as a homeless persons centre than the other. Identified as the most significant contributing factor to this situation was the failure of the Department of Social Security to promulgate standards and guidelines for use by organisations in establishing and constructing such projects with capital assistance provided under the Act. Subsequent matters raised by the Auditor-General were mainly related to the future administration of the homeless persons assistance program.

The Committee considered that a direct comparison of average costs per bed is not an entirely valid guide to 'value for money' as a homeless persons centre. The Committee concludes that emphasis on a cost per head basis ignores the other important functions that are provided by homeless persons projects and suggests that for cost comparison purposes, where multipurpose complexes are involved, a formula be developed on the basis of weighted averages between overnight accommodation and other facilities, and services provided. The Committee approves of detailed departmental standards and guidelines which organisations and their architects are required to observe when planning, designing and constructing homeless persons facilities as a guide to the nature and extent of Commonwealth financial assistance.

The Committee recommends that detailed departmental standards and guidelines be incorporated along with physical building standards and guidelines into a comprehensive program manual. The Committee does not suggest that there should be complete standardisation in the facilities or design of homeless persons centres but rather that the Department draw on experience with both homeless persons and nursing home programs to develop a program manual. The Committee considers that a program manual would be of immeasurable assistance and guidance both to organisations embarking on homeless persons projects and to the departmental staff evaluating and administering the program, without sacrificing the necessary degree of flexibility required for the successful development and administration of community welfare projects.

The Committee also recommends that the Department of Housing and Construction provide a design service to organisations embarking on a homeless persons project. The design services would include evaluation of the architectural design plan in terms of compliance with the program manual. I commend the report to honourable members.