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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 3071


Ms PLIBERSEK (Minister for Human Services and Minister for Social Inclusion) (4:31 PM) —I want to thank the member for Blair for his acknowledgement of the fine work that the staff of the Department of Human Services did in response to the floods. He has, I know, got a very good relationship with his local Centrelink office and workers but he makes a very important point. It relates to this Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. There were Centrelink staff coming from around the country, there were Medicare staff there, there were staff from other parts of the Department of Human Services, there were even staff from the ATO and others that came to help on the phones to answer calls from people who were affected by the natural disasters in Queensland and in other parts of Australia.

One of the very important reasons for this legislation that we have been debating is to make that ability for staff to be moved to where the need is greatest much easier and more streamlined. I want to thank the member particularly, though, for taking the time to acknowledge the enormous effort of those people who came from across Australia, and the people who were already in Queensland—many of whom, as the member for Blair said, were flood affected themselves in their own homes and in their families. To acknowledge their work is very worth while.

I have heard a lot of terrific stories from those people who were wearing the green T-shirts about the way they were received by Queenslanders in particular who were stopping in the street to congratulate them on their work. One story included one of the green shirts going to the supermarket to buy cold drinks for people who were working in the heat and humidity at one of the recovery centres. The green shirt did not have quite enough money to buy the number of drinks that she wanted and the young woman working on the supermarket checkout said, ‘You take that drink, I’ll pay for that out of my pocket.’ She insisted on showing her support and her thanks for the work of Centrelink and other Human Services staff who worked so hard in the recovery.

I also want to take a moment to thank the shadow minister for his support for this legislation. This bill is a very important bill and relates to the reform of government service delivery. The whole purpose of the legislation is to deliver better services for Australians. The bill continues a broader program of reform that commenced in 2004 when the Department of Human Services was first created to place greater emphasis on the way government delivers services to Australians. The continued reform of service delivery will make life easier for Australians and will lead to improved policy outcomes for government, particularly in areas like economic and social participation, education, child care and health.

There are a number of customer benefits that will come from this integration including a most recent example of being able to claim Medicare rebates online, but also things like extending services by co-locating more Medicare Australia, Centrelink and Child Support Agency services under one roof, offering more one-stop-shop services whether in those shopfronts, over the phone or online. The collocation of offices will make it easier for people to access Medicare Australia and Centrelink services by offering them from one location, under one roof. The collocation program extends the reach of the Medicare program by more than doubling the number of offices where face-to-face Medicare services will be available—from 240 today to around 500. Already we are seeing the difference in collocated offices, where staff can help customers and then refer them directly to a colleague from another agency. Through broader service delivery reform improvements, people will have the ability to update some of their personal details across the portfolio—if they choose to have their information shared across the portfolio—through a tell-us-once approach. That means if you change your address or your income details, for example, you can tell the department once and your records will be updated in a number of different places—if you agree. This will save people having to contact multiple agencies for the same purpose.

Maintaining customer privacy is a key focus as we merge the portfolio into a single department. Information will only be shared where that sharing is authorised by law or where the customer consents. Customer databases will not be merged. There will continue to be separate databases, although those databases will be able to talk to each other. Clinical health information is excluded from service delivery reform—that is a specific exclusion. The current program secrecy provisions, which apply strict rules about the handling of customer information, will continue to apply. The Privacy Act will also apply to protect customer information. My department continues to work closely with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner about the impact of these reforms.

Service delivery reform will free up staff to provide better support and assistance to the people who need it. It will provide them with improved career opportunities and more diverse work. Front-line service delivery networks will be brought together into a single integrated customer-facing network. Staff will receive more training, have the tools to deliver better services and be able to deliver tailored services at a local level. My portfolio is working closely with the Australian Public Service Commission, the Community and Public Sector Union and other relevant unions to prepare for the new enterprise agreement which is being developed for the integrated portfolio. The integration of Medicare Australia and Centrelink into the Department of Human Services will not only improve services to customers and assist staff to provide better outcomes for customers, but also provide efficiencies and better services for lower cost. The government is proud of this significant reform which will deliver significant benefits for all Australians.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.