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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2369

(Question No. 5005)


Mr Hodges asked the Minister for Community Services, upon notice, on 18 February 1987:

(1) What wordprocessing or computer equipment has been introduced into the Minister's Department and statutory authorities responsible to the Minister since 1982.

(2) Why was the equipment purchased and were any specific targets set in terms of time or cost savings and improved efficiencies.

(3) What has been the cost of purchasing the equipment.

(4) Has the introduction of the equipment necessitated the purchase of new office equipment; if so, what have been the costs of the additional purchases.

(5) Has the introduction of the equipment led to changes in work practices; if so, what has been the nature of the changes.

(6) What has been the incidence of repetition strain injury (RSI) in the Minister's Department since 1982.

(7) How many lost working days have been caused by RSI related illnesses since 1982.

(8) How many persons have been forced to retire from the Minister's Department or statutory authorities responsible to the minister as a result of RSI and what have been the compensation costs of this early retirement.

(9) Has introduction of the equipment (a) saved money and (b) improved efficiency in the Minister's Department or the statutory authorities responsible to the Minister.


Mr Hurford —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Department of Community Services was created in December 1984 out of functional units of the Departments of Social Security and Health to give effect to the Government's decision to place the development and delivery of community services in a single Department. The Department currently maintains two major and several minor systems operating on equipment managed by those Departments. This service is provided on a bureau basis.

The current systems do not satisfy the Department's information needs and approval has been given for the release of a Request for Tender (RFT) for the acquisition by the Department of its own computing facilities. It is proposed that phased installation of the new equipment and systems will commence towards the end of this calendar year.

In the interim, the Department considered it necessary to install some Wang mini-computers and terminals, to provide basic word processing facilities and to support the development and implementation of a Human Resource Management system. Action was also taken to replace all Raytheon brand terminals, used to access systems which are continuing to run on the mainframes at the Departments of Social Security and Health. These terminals were the subject of an industrial dispute at the Department of Health in 1984 and a commitment was given by that Department to staff associations for the replacement of these terminals with more ergonomically acceptable equipment. The Department of Community Services considered it was also obliged to abide by that commitment. In addition, the Department has purchased a limited number of personal computers to provide some basic computer processing facilities.

(2) The equipment was purchased to provide basic word and data processing facilities to support the new organisation and enable it to become operational as quickly as possible. The purchases were made as an interim measure pending a full study of the Department's needs and implementation of its ADP Strategic Plan.

Wang mini-computers were already in use in the Department of Social Security when the Department of Community Services was created. Given the reliance on Wang word processing at that time and the existence of trained and experienced operators, Wang products were purchased to meet the urgent and immediate word processing needs of the new Department. As a result, relatively little disruption was experienced by staff and minimal training was required in the use of the new equipment.

(3) The total cost of purchasing the equipment was $3,231,000, spent over three financial years as follows:

1984-85: $ 60,000

1985-86: $2,477,000

1986-87: $ 694,000 (estimate)

(4) Following the creation of the Department, it was necessary to make extensive purchases of the general office equipment needed to establish it; however no separate purchases were required specifically as a result of the introduction of the new computer equipment.

(5) The equipment and systems used were mainly in place when the Department was created. Amendments to existing systems and current development of new systems have not had a significant impact on work practices.

(6) As the Department of Community Services was created in December 1984, figures are only available from that time. These figures show that 74 people have been treated for RSI since then; 43 people in 1985 and 31 people in 1986. These cases are not necessarily associated with the introduction of new equipment.

(7) In 1985 and 1986, the Department lost 3866 working days through RSI related illnesses. This figure has two elements as follows:

(i) 2972 Lost Working Days (Whole Days)

(ii) 894 Short Working Days (Part Days)

(8) Three people have retired from the Department through Invalidity Retirement as a result of RSI. These retirements occurred in three separate States. Compensation costs total $47,257.22 since the claims were first approved by the Commissioner for Commonwealth Employees' Compensation.

(9) The equipment was introduced essentially to provide facilities to continue services which already existed in the Departments of Social Security and Health. With this equipment the Department has been able to provide an efficient service to clients. Without the expenditure the Department would not have been able to support the Commonwealth programs for which it is responsible.