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Community Affairs Legislation Committee
11/02/2016
Estimates
SOCIAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO
Department of Human Services

Department of Human Services

[20:04]

Senator SIEWERT: We are doing the whole-of-corporate matters. Is this where we ask about computer systems?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Ms Campbell : I am sure the applicable deputies are on their way.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: I am just asking the departments I appear before about your breastfeeding policy. Does the Department of Human Services have a breastfeeding policy? I just thought you might not need your officers to help you with that.

Ms Campbell : We have a policy. It is actually corporate. We need—

Senator MOORE: I am happy for the IT one to go first. I just thought that was one that could be knocked over before the IT.

Ms Campbell : Someone will find the details while we are doing the ICT issues, but we have a lactation policy.

Senator MOORE: Good. Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT: I will go to some of the most recent incidents of computer glitches and computer outages. The first one is the one that occurred in January, where 73,000 families were told to repay their family tax benefits.

Ms Campbell : Yes, we can talk about that. They were not told that they had to repay it. There was a glitch that appeared on their electronic records for a couple of days, which said that there was a debt. We stopped the letters going out once we realised that there was an issue with the system, but—and I am sure the gentleman to my right will talk more about it—when we did No Jab, No Pay measure, we had to cut across two systems, both the Centrelink system and the Medicare immunisation system. Both of them are very old systems, and connecting up we had an error, which produced that glitch for that 73,000. As soon as we found out about it, we shut down any correspondence going out from there and rectified it as quickly as possible. But, yes, there was an error.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Thank you. When you said that you cut it, 73,000 families got the letter before you realised it?

Ms Campbell : No. For the 73,000, it went on their electronic statements. We do not know how many people viewed those statements.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. They are myGov statements.

Ms Campbell : It could have been much less than that, but we were open in disclosing what had occurred and very quick to tell people that we were rectifying that issue.

Senator SIEWERT: So they said they had a debt?

Ms Campbell : Yes, and then we reversed that debt.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. So nobody had got to the point where they were repaying that debt?

Ms Campbell : It was only a few days, and when we realised it we fixed it straightaway.

Senator SIEWERT: Had anybody—

Ms Campbell : I will check with Mr Learmonth whether there is anyone who repaid that debt, but we do not generally find people that prompt in being able to repay those debts.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Ms Campbell : In fact, on most occasions, people do not get to see those statements when we bring that to their attention.

Senator SIEWERT: That gets me to myGov, but—

Ms Campbell : We are happy to talk about myGov.

Mr Learmonth : I am not aware that anybody actually paid. We were quick to close things down and to inform customers that they did not actually have a debt.

Senator SIEWERT: How did you tell them they did not actually have a debt? Did you send them another email?

Mr Learmonth : People got letters. People were informed.

Ms Campbell : They did not get a message the first time, I think. They just—

Mr Learmonth : It was a very small number of letters that went out, and they were followed up very quickly, so people understood there was no debt.

Senator SIEWERT: So they got a message through their myGov service?

Ms Campbell : It was on their statement; that is my understanding.

Mr Learmonth : It was their online account.

Senator SIEWERT: It was on their online account, so they would have had a message saying that they actually have—

Mr Learmonth : That there was a debt. That was addressed quickly and no-one is out of pocket.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, and some people got hard copies?

Mr Learmonth : A very small number of people would have had a letter generated, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. I have an enormous number of emails and messages from people who have had problems with using reporting online. Maybe we should first go to where you are up to in term of the errors that occur in the process. I understand that you have a process where you look at your IT error rates. Is that correct?

Ms Campbell : I might let Mr Sterrenberg try to answer that and see whether his answer is going to satisfy your question.

Mr Sterrenberg : I have some information that may be helpful, but I probably need to context it with a broader explanation if you do not mind, because it may give some light on it. In sheer raw numbers—and these are technology, as opposed to applications or NTN transactions—in September last year we did 138 million transactions on the myGov platform. In December that increased to 234 million transactions. So there was an incredible growth in the transaction rate. And the error rate across that number is 0.13 per cent.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you tell me what constitutes an error in that respect?

Mr Sterrenberg : There are a number of them, of course. But the ones that are more obvious are when the resource is not available; I think some people refer to it as the 500 error. The customer gets a notice saying the resource is no longer available and they have to log on again. In this case you push the F2 button and it logs you in again.

Senator SIEWERT: You call that a resource error or a 500 error. You gave me numbers and then you said the error rate is 0.13 per cent. What is that in terms of numbers? When you give me the other ones, can you give them to me in the same format. I note you are trying to make it sound smaller by saying 0.13 per cent, but that is still a number of errors.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes, it is.

Ms Campbell : Senator, would this be an opportunity for us to talk about some of the issues that people are experiencing with myGov? Would that be a helpful way to take this forward?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I was going to go there. I have just got a couple more questions around this. You can talk about numbers all you like, but these are real human beings who are getting extremely frustrated about the process. So priority 1 errors are where you had 0.13 per cent?

Mr Sterrenberg : No, we have only had one priority 1 error this year, and that was related to an outage around myGov in July. In the first week of July we had a routing error. I think you may be aware that we have been in the process of geographically relocating two separate data centres to give us high availability. In moving half of the data centre to our new tier 1 data centre in Fyshwick, we had some routing errors and that made the myGov platform unavailable for a period of time.

Senator SIEWERT: How long was that?

Mr Sterrenberg : I would need to come back with a definitive answer on that.

Senator SIEWERT: Did it not go out for two days in December as well?

Mr Sterrenberg : No. One of the issues we have is that obviously it is the face of what people see. MyGov, in its native form, is an authentication engine: you put in a password and you get a yes/no answer, and that is the end of myGov if you will. People who are trying to access it online—whether it is Centrelink, Medicare or tax—will just see it as myGov. So they may present it as a myGov issue where in fact it could be something else. In September—if you don't mind me saying, it was more like the end of October—we did some significant engineering to the myGov platform. What has been important for us is to separate myGov into two production lines that are completely separate so that we can run the volumes across either one should we lose capacity. Within the production lines, we have laid the architecture through the firewalls, the gateways, the load balances, the application services and the database . So it is layered architecture and at each point we have redundancy. In architecting that outcome, we had some firmware issues with what is known as the federated identity manager. What that does is keep a synchronicity between the two centres. So if you lose a connection it seeks an alternative pathway. IBM had an issue with the synchronicity and they had to put a fix in that allowed us to increase the time out, which meant that the two production lines could stay in sync.

Mr Shepherd : In simple language, we benchmark myGov regularly against other industry capabilities. From July through to December last year, we ran at 99.3 per cent availability in July—that is, uptime, where people can use it. That was where we have the issue that Mr Sterrenberg was talking about. We had availability of 100 per cent in August, 100 per cent in September, 99.9 per cent in October, 99.7 per cent in November and 99.8 per cent in December. To give you an idea of when the service is up and people can use it, those are the uptime percentages.

Senator SIEWERT: When people talk about myGov, they talk about it generally rather than the specific sites—and I am guilty of this too. Having spent quite a bit of time on myGov recently, I share people's frustration. Some people talk about the myGov site but then they talk about the Centrelink site. So the detail that you just gave me was for the myGov site?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: And then you go to the Centrelink site.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: What I have been told is that the Centrelink site was down in December.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes, we had intermittent issues. I will give you the broad numbers. In the Centrelink online space, for the first quarter of the financial year, which is July to October, we had 14 intermittent issues. As we referred to, there were no high priority ones, no P1s as we call them, but there were 14 P2s.

Senator SIEWERT: What is a P2?

Mr Sterrenberg : A P2 is an intermittent disruption to a customer. And we had 14 between September and December. So, in total, we had 28.

Senator SIEWERT: So the first lot was when?

Mr Sterrenberg : July to September was the first quarter, and in the second quarter we had a similar amount. There were different errors; it is not one set of errors that we have been seeing. We had issues relating to CPU board failures. We had IO card failures. A hardware failure would have an impact of 'intermittent'. The importance of the discussion that I want to bring on is that 'intermittent' means there is a partial disruption. In our Centrelink onlines, similar to myGov, we have two separated production lines. Within a production line we have six servers, each of which has two nodes attached. That is effectively 200 worker threads per node, which means significant capability. When a CPU board crashes, what happens is effectively that those people who have submitted at that time will be disrupted. But any traffic where a person is just waiting to input, or whatever it might be, will just be routed to an alternative board and an alternative thread. That is why some people will experience a difficulty. In that case, they would get the 500 error that I mentioned. In other cases, it will be just like a short stutter.

Senator SIEWERT: You said that only occurred 14 times.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes, in a quarter.

Senator SIEWERT: There must have been a hell of a lot of people on at the same time then.

Ms Campbell : And sometimes that was the case. In December, there were double lodgement periods when we were leading up to the public holidays. A lot of people were trying to report their earnings because there were going to be public holidays in the following week.

Mr Sterrenberg : There is additional information that I would like to provide. We have seen an unusually high level of authentication errors, where people enter their passwords incorrectly. A citizen will have the experience of not being able to get in. When I look across the platforms, what I see is that what people experience is less about a system error but more about a system they cannot access. With the myGov platform at the moment, we have around 14 per cent where people are attempting to access but for whatever reason are using the wrong user id or password. In some cases, I have data that suggests that they are using their telephone number. Or they may be using what is sometimes referred to as the CRN, the Centrelink reference number. So there is some confusion that we need to sort out going forward.

Ms Campbell : And that is a usability issue that I was going to talk about. You are wanting me to wait until you are ready to hear that?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. I am just about with you in terms of wanting to go there. Could we split this up into the issues around Centrelink reporting and the issues around the myGov site?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, let's go to usability.

Ms Campbell : Most people—and I think you have already touched on this—see myGov in different ways, with Centrelink, Medicare, tax or some other initiative. So I am going to focus my comments on the myGov authentication issue. Mr Sterrenberg has just touched on the issue of people logging on. I think all of us, when we log onto a commercial data base, use our email, our phone number or something we can recognise. When we started with myGov we used an MBUN, a 'meaningless but unique number'—and because it is meaningless some people struggle to actually remember it. And that is why we have failure rates of about 15 per cent in people logging on whereas the banks probably see a failure rate of two per cent. So we have been working with the minister on how we can try and improve this quickly to get some improvements for the customer experience. That is probably the first one. I will let Mr Shepherd and Mr Sterrenberg talk about some others. But we know it is complex for people to have to remember those numbers and we need to keep pace with where other digital services have gone and improve that usability for the customer.

Mr Sterrenberg : And four years ago we were using multi-credential authentication as our security. It was layers of passwords: you know your MBUN, which is unique to you; you know your password, which is unique to you; and you know your secret question and answer, which are unique to you. So it was a multi-credential way to protect our systems. Clearly over time the market and the industry have moved to two-factor authentication, which is where we have gone with the myGov site. When we reflect back, the MBUN was a good idea and it was needed four years ago. But in having two-factor authentication the logon no longer needs to be unique. You can consider using things like Google and others, who use an email address.

Senator SIEWERT: Fourteen per cent is a pretty high failure rate. Some people will have problems. Even at Centrelink offices they have had problems getting on line.

Ms Campbell : And we can tell, because we can actually see what they are typing in, but we cannot tell them what they are doing wrong because that itself is a security issue. So they have to be able to remember their MBUN.

Mr Shepherd : I conducted the focus testing with consumers to look at this issue. One of the issues with the MBUN is that it is long, so we all struggle to remember it. But you do not necessarily use it as often as you would your banking number, which is about that long too. You regularly go into your bank. But many Australians only go to myGov once a year to do their tax return or Medicare.

Senator SIEWERT: And you make up your own number for the bank.

Mr Shepherd : But if they are reporting to Centrelink, they will probably remember the number because they use it more regularly. I benchmarked what we were doing against the banks. The only real difference is the regularity. Banks use the number too, and you remember it because you go in there every fortnight.

Senator SIEWERT: Your PAN number is on your card and then you have made your own password!

Mr Shepherd : That's right. As Mr Sterrenberg and the secretary outlined, what we will do is move ourselves far closer to the likes of PayPal, where they give you a choice about what you can use, including your email address. I do not know how many things you log on to, Senator. I generally use my personal email account as my username and customers will be able to do that.

The other issue—and you would probably have had constituents writing to you about this—is being locked out of your accounts What that means is that if you cannot remember your user name and your password, if you keep trying to enter the wrong details, we will lock you out for 12 hours and ask you to contact the helpdesk to reset your login details. This was advice we received two years ago as an appropriate security feature.

Two years later the technology has moved on. Our experience has moved on. As a result of feedback from customers, we are about to reduce the period significantly. We are also about to—and you may have experienced this in other online systems—make it so that you can reset yourself. You are asked a series of questions and go through a series of processes. It is fairly common. In banking, when you reset yourself online you go through an online process. We will have something very similar to that.

The other issue—and, Senator, I do not know how long you have spent on myGov—is that if you go to myGov and then go off to Centrelink, Medicare or the ATO when you come back you will find you have been locked out. It has been really frustrating for people. They say, 'I have already told you who I am. Why can't I just keep using those services?' So we are going to take up that issue and look at resolving it.

Mr Sterrenberg : It is fair to say that that was a security feature. Obviously you do not want to have a session left open. So what a lot of the technologies do is use a reverse ping to keep the session alive. It is something that we are looking at now to make sure that we do not reduce the security but improve the usability.

Senator SIEWERT: Going to the Centrelink site then, what people talk about is when they can report data and what level of access they have and have not got. They talk about the experience of having to go to a Centrelink office and the Centrelink office having to then verify their ID. There are a number of issues there. The Centrelink office may not then do whatever they need them to do and so when they go home because they were told they could not complete their transaction they go back on a computer system to do it and it has not been done. Or they may find that there is still something else that has gone wrong and the system will not accept the information they put in. They can get halfway through and the machine has a P2 intermittent failure and the data will be lost. They are finding that extremely frustrating. They are finding it frustrating that they are told to go into a Centrelink office and the Centrelink office will verify their ID but then will not allow them to finish entering the rest of their data. They have to go away and do it again. One person said that then that did not work and they had to go back again. So it seems to me that we still have these problems with the computer system. People are being driven to online reporting and they are having very frustrating experiences.

Mr Shepherd : One of the issues across the Australian government is that we are all striving for a common ID framework so that how you prove who you are happens in a consistent way across all agencies. DHS, as you will recall, is an amalgamation of three agencies. The processes for how you identify yourself were different at all of three of those agencies. So we have been working overtime to improve the situation you just described so that people have a consistent way to identify themselves.

We are also working and taking the lead on a whole-of-government project called Digital ID so that people are able to prove who they are in a digital way through online checking with the Document Verification Service and are able to establish their credentials with an organisation and then use those credentials across all of our services. We hear the same issues at our front-of-house. We hear those issues in our call centres. We are doing something about it, but it is a whole-of-government issue that we are working on.

Mr Sterrenberg : The service you referred to is reported earnings and income. Our data suggests that it is one of our biggest successes in terms of the take-up by constituents. In December we had the largest ever take up of digital services. I believe that part of the success is due to the fact that we have made it available on the mobile channel as well as online. I believe it also available on our IVR channel. We know it is an important process for citizens. We have gone out of our way to make sure that, where there are inconsistencies in the system, there is a receipt given so that the citizen is well aware of whether their information has been accepted by the system.

Ms Campbell : Senator, you talked about what happens online. We ensure that we keep the mobile channel up so that, were there to be a P2 error online, there would be an alternative option for people to be able to report their earnings.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you mean an app?

Ms Campbell : Yes, a mobile app. They can also ring on the IVR on the phone. They can talk and enter their earnings by talking into the phone.

Mr Shepherd : To give you a data point, as Mr Sterrenberg, said this year the traffic through smart phones increased by 69 per cent.

Senator SIEWERT: For reporting earnings?

Mr Shepherd : Yes. It was a massive increase. The point Mr Sterrenberg was making was that a number of people are using a mobile phone to update their income. The convenience of mobiles is very important. These are people reporting their earning incomes and participation in work. The last thing they want to have to do is walk into an office and tell us what their income is, so it is not surprising there has been such an increase.

Ms Campbell : They do not even have to log into a computer. They can do it on their phone.

Senator SIEWERT: Not everyone has phones that can do that.

Ms Campbell : That is why the IVR channel remains very important—so people can ring up.

Senator SIEWERT: I have some more questions that I will need to put on notice. I want to make sure we have time to go to phone lines and problems with the DSP process.

Senator CAMERON: I have similar issues to Senator Siewert. I think most of my questions would be in the cross-portfolio area. I want to start with a question about the scoping study for possible outsourcing of the Medicare payment system. Which payment systems are under consideration in the scoping study?

Ms Campbell : The scoping study, as the health minister has indicated, is looking at all the payments in the health and aged-care space. I think it is known as the 'Medicare payment system'. Mr Sterrenberg can talk to you in detail about that system.

Senator CAMERON: Thank you. I put some questions on notice and you came back with some figures for the number of people employed in that area. I think in the Medicare area it was about 1,400.

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: Does that include aged care, DVA and PBS?

Ms Campbell : It includes those payments as well as a corporate ICT overhead type area. It is in the order of 1,400.

Mr Sterrenberg : I will just offer some clarification on the Medicare system. There are around 100 to 200 applications that make up what people refer to as the Medicare system. The ones that are most commonly referred to are the MBS and the PBS.

Ms Campbell : That is the Medicare Benefits Schedule payments and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme payments. I think Mr Sterrenberg is about to outline that this is something that has grown over 30 years, so it is hard to categorise it as one system. In fact, Mr Sterrenberg has a chart that is very large which illustrates this.

Senator CAMERON: I remember Senator Payne having this huge chart when she was minister.

Ms Campbell : It is very useful.

Senator CAMERON: Did that cover all the parameters or just one system?

Ms Campbell : We have many charts.

Senator CAMERON: Mr Sterrenberg, can we have a chart that outlines the IT areas that are covered by the scoping study?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Ms Campbell : We will take that on notice.

Senator CAMERON: Mr Sterrenberg is saying 'yes'; you are saying 'take it on notice'.

Ms Campbell : We will take it on notice.

Senator CAMERON: That is good. It should not be too hard. It is just the payment system that is being looked at. Are there any assessment or other functions that are being looked at that are you aware of?

Ms Campbell : The scoping study was looking at the payment system.

Senator CAMERON: Just payments. So assessments and other functions will be separate. Do you believe that you are capable of handling with this IT system, Mr Sterrenberg, what you are saying is 100 to 200 applications. I remember asking you about ISIS, and you said, 'That is an old warhorse; it will still do the job.' What about the MPS system. Is that the same?

Mr Sterrenberg : Very similar. I think the Australian public can be confident that we will continue to deliver reliable payments through that system.

Ms Campbell : But it does lack flexibility. It is very difficult to change when governments want to change the policy parameters. Just like ISIS, it is a very old system that is very complex. I would suggest that this one has had less done to it than ISIS because of the static nature of the policy over many years, whereas ISIS and Centrelink payments have changed regularly and have had changes. This one has been quite static.

Senator CAMERON: Have you made any assessment about the replacement cost of the system?

Ms Campbell : I do not think we have finalised our business case. We have looked at it, and it would be quite a lot of work. Have we done a number on it?

Mr Sterrenberg : It was a long time ago, and I think the number is not worth putting out there because it did not have the right rigor around it. But we were looking at it in comparison to the size of—

Senator CAMERON: How does it compare to ISIS?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is best to compare it to—it is like—the Westpac retail bank. If you took their system, it is equivalent to that. ISIS is another—

Senator CAMERON: Another planet—universe!

Mr Sterrenberg : Everything is small compared to the social welfare system.

Senator CAMERON: So this is a small system compared to ISIS. But for the ISIS system, the only estimate I have really seen was I think about $1.3 billion, $1.5 billion from the Commission of Audit.

Ms Campbell : That was the number in the Commission of Audit.

Senator CAMERON: Is there any other figure that you have seen?

Ms Campbell : Not in the public domain.

Senator CAMERON: Currently the MPS system is handling about 600 million transactions a year?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: About 20 per cent of the volume of DHS?

Mr Sterrenberg : Roughly, yes.

Ms Campbell : About that.

Senator CAMERON: Roughly. I am not asking for it. So about $21 billion in payments. Is that the figure? $10 billion for PBS.

Ms Campbell : Closer to about $40 billion.

Senator CAMERON: $40 billion for Medicare?

Ms Campbell : And those associated payments.

Senator CAMERON: Does that include aged care and DVA?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: So about $40 billion all up. Has the department had a briefing—or, what engagement have you had?—with the group that has been established to look at the scoping study? What are they called?

Ms Campbell : Task force. Mr Jackson is representing us on this matter.

Mr Jackson : We have had two discussions with the Department of Health—both after Christmas—with regard to the terms of reference and the task force they have set up. These discussions have been information sessions for us. The department is currently in the process of establishing the membership of the committee that we will be on and providing us terms of reference, which we have not yet seen.

Senator CAMERON: Mr Sterrenberg, how many IT professionals are linked to the MPS?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is difficult to give you that because a lot of our staff have multiple skills. In a lot of ways we are a shared service. The MBS—it is 'MBS' system—

Senator CAMERON: I thought it was the Medicare 'payment' system?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is referred to as different things by a number of different people, but it is—

Senator CAMERON: What should I call it so that you recognise what I am talking about?

Mr Sterrenberg : MBS.

Senator CAMERON: But you did say 'MPS'.

Ms Campbell : Isn't it a subset of the Medicare—

Senator CAMERON: So what is it? The Medicare—?

Mr Sterrenberg : Benefits Schedule.

Senator CAMERON: 'Benefits' system.

Ms Campbell : That is one element. Then there is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which is why I refer to it as a Medicare 'payments' system to try and wrap up all of those—the collection.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: So you guys have different names for it; that is fine. It is either the Medicare benefits system, or, if you talk to the secretary, it is the Medicare payments system.

Ms Campbell : I would say that the Medicare 'benefits' system is a subset of the Medicare 'payments' system.

Senator CAMERON: Right—and you are going to try and give us a schematic of that, so we can be clear.

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: So you have had two meetings with the task force, Mr Jackson?

Mr Jackson : That is correct, yes.

Senator CAMERON: Secretary, when was the last time you met with the minister?

Ms Campbell : Today.

Senator CAMERON: He was not making his farewells, was he?

Ms Campbell : We were doing business-as-usual activities.

Senator CAMERON: I want to come back to this issue of the number of IT professionals. I will call it the Medicare payments system. I will defer to the secretary on this. We know we are talking about the broader system. You say you cannot identify how many technical professionals are looking after it because they do work all over?

Mr Sterrenberg : And I can give you an example—

Senator CAMERON: No, that is okay. I do not need an example. But if this Medicare payments system went out of the system and the outcome was that you do not have it any more, would you have to make some of these IT professionals redundant?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is a difficult question—not knowing what parts of it may or may not go.

Senator CAMERON: But we can make an assumption that we are talking about the whole Medicare payments system. That is the scoping study.

Ms Campbell : I think we have discussed before that in the Department of Human Services our general policy is that if a piece of work concludes—and we often have pieces of work, tasks or projects that are no longer going on—we look to redeploy staff in the first instance.

Senator CAMERON: But this is 1,400 staff that we are talking about.

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: You are saying they would be redeployed?

Ms Campbell : I am saying that in the past—for example, when the CRS function ceased—we sought, over a period of time, to redeploy those staff throughout the department.

Senator CAMERON: The sort of impression you get, if you read the press—and I am not accusing the department of this—is that you have outdated technology; you are a behind-the-eight-ball department; public service—lack of flexibility; public service—not very innovative; you cannot keep up with the banks. That is why we have to do a scoping study. What is the problem here?

Ms Campbell : I think it is true to say that the hardware and software of this payments system are out of date. It is some 30 years old. We also know that other entities in the private sector invest, probably, more often in this sort of software and hardware than governments, mainly because they are looking for a competitive advantage and they are constantly seeking that advantage. That is why, often, the offerings that they have are more up-to-date than what we have—and they have, sometimes, more money to invest in those things.

Senator CAMERON: Have you made submissions over the years for significant upgrades to this system?

Ms Campbell : The government announced in the 2014 budget that they were looking at market testing this function, so we are working with the Department of Health on that market testing.

Senator CAMERON: So you are still one of the victims of the 2014 budget?

Ms Campbell : I do not think we are a victim at all.

Mr Sterrenberg : I think sometimes we may not market what we are doing very well. In terms of the base infrastructure and some of the mobile platforms we put out, it may not sound like it now but myGov is one of the first in the world. Most people across some of the bigger countries look at us with envy in terms of what has been achieved. We were the first department to launch a mobile phone method of payments transaction in the world. We are one of the first departments to roll out Windows 10, certainly in Australia if not in the southern hemisphere. But it is not for us to stand up and publicly make those assertions. I do think that, as a relatively new member to the Public Service, I have seen a willingness to see some investment and things like that but it just takes time in something as big as this.

Senator CAMERON: But you are not sure how much investment would be needed to bring this up. You have got $60 million over the next four years to work on WPIT.

Ms Campbell : We have got $60 million at the moment for the first tranche. We will link back to government with the second tranche, which includes the procurement. If government is satisfied with the work that we do, I expect we will get more money to then go into tranche 2. So it is not really true to say that the $60 million is just—

Senator CAMERON: The $60 million is in the forward estimates. I understand what you are saying—you make the case; you go back. So when will you be making the case to government for more funding?

Ms Campbell : Later this year.

Senator CAMERON: When you say 'later'—

Ms Campbell : It will be in November, I expect.

Senator CAMERON: That is late in the year.

Ms Campbell : We are going through tranche 1, which is the procurement phase, to make sure that we have appropriate dollar costings and numbers. We go to the market so the government can be assured—

Senator CAMERON: So that is only for the hardware and the software applications for WPIT?

Ms Campbell : That is for the software WPIT; that is right.

Senator CAMERON: The ideal thing surely would be that you do WPIT and the MPS system at the same time because they have got to talk to each other eventually, have they not?

Ms Campbell : I suppose it is about priorities and who can actually deliver those systems. When it comes to WPIT, there are not very many other entities that have a social welfare system that has the unique features that we do, so we really do need to build that and work with system integrators ourselves.

With a payment transaction system, it is a bit more straightforward. For example, with Medicare, there is eligibility or non-eligibility and then the payments are made to either providers or citizens. It is a much more simple transaction. There are providers in the market who have these payments structures, so government is testing to see what they are.

Senator CAMERON: That is fine but we have a clear view and we like to keep these payments in government hands. We do have confidence regardless of the problems that we get and we are always the first to raise the problems. I have to say that I have always found DHS to be a hardworking, effective operation given the complexity of the work that you do. I am just worried, if you start unpicking parts of DHS, that by the time WPIT is up and running—we have got to look really long-term on this—you will not be able to get the Medicare payment system up and running to meet it and that will just be another reason to send it to the private sector. Is that a reasonable concern about the technological disconnect between these two systems?

Ms Campbell : There is a connection around identity between the two systems and sometimes eligibility, particularly in the aged care space, on earnings and income. But the government is reviewing to determine what is the future for the payment systems and that is viable as well.

Senator CAMERON: I gather by your answer earlier, the government has not asked you for an estimate of replacement cost to modernise the MPS system?

Ms Campbell : As Mr Jackson said, there have been two preliminary meetings. The task force terms of reference are being developed, and we will be on that task force, so we are working through those processes with the Department of Health.

Senator CAMERON: So you are on the task force?

Senator Payne: Are you on the task force?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: Given that you will be a competitor to keep this work, I am wondering why you would be on the task force.

Ms Campbell : We deliver it now, so we have insights into how it works.

Senator CAMERON: Yes. You are the experts.

Ms Campbell : And we need to provide that expertise to the Department of Health.

Senator CAMERON: So you may be in there committing suicide?

Senator Payne: That is an unfortunate turn of phrase I think.

Senator CAMERON: Metaphorically.

Ms Campbell : Our role is to provide services to the Australian people as decided by the Australian government.

Senator CAMERON: Yes. I understand that.

Ms Campbell : We have to be open to the fact that the best way to do it may not be us, and so we should work with the Department of Health to determine whether that is the case.

Senator CAMERON: Are you aware of any other countries where there is private sector delivery of such a big chunk of government services? I have had a look. I cannot find it. But you are the experts. If you can tell me, I would like to have a look at it, but I cannot find it. I think there are some smaller states in the US, but nowhere else.

Ms Campbell : We can take that on notice. I do not have that sort of literature with me at this stage.

Senator CAMERON: And the other issue is that for all the problems in that commission of audit, it did raise the spectre of competition. But in terms of DHS, they did say that we had to be extremely careful, didn't they?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: They did, and they did point to the complexity of the system.

Ms Campbell : I do not have the commission of audit in front of me, but I think that related a lot to the ISIS and Centrelink payments. The Medicare payments are much simpler than the Centrelink payments to administer.

Senator CAMERON: And you just carve that out and privatise that?

Ms Campbell : The scoping study is commencing. We will work with the Department of Health, but I think it is too early, and the government has not made a decision; they have just called for proposals from consultants to assist with that process.

Senator CAMERON: Given that there are 100 to 200 applications on the MPS system—and you will need to call it MPS now, Mr Sterrenberg. I think you are gone—

Senator Payne: It is on the Hansard now. We are stuck with it!

Senator CAMERON: You are outvoted on this. Given that there are 100 to 200 applications, and it is an ageing system, and there is some lack of flexibility, how long can it still do the job for?

Mr Sterrenberg : In my professional opinion, I believe we have a four-year window. The point I did not make before, which I should have, is that it does become harder every year to do what needs to be done. That is a simple technical thing, whereas the new releases of the operating systems on the machines come out, the old software cannot fully run with them and there are incompatibility issues. So I think we have four years, and my advice would be that something needs to be done within that four-year period.

Ms Campbell : And we are already sometimes limiting policy options because of the nature of the IT system.

Senator CAMERON: So that has budget implications for the department?

Ms Campbell : Going for the next four years?

Senator CAMERON: Four years, yes.

Ms Campbell : We have money in our recurrent budget to maintain it, but Mr Sterrenberg often brings forward proposals about maintaining it, and some upgrades to the system. We work that amongst the other ICT systems in our suite and how we prioritise the fund.

Senator CAMERON: I know this is speculation, but we have to think—you cannot ignore this, as a professional IT person—that if it went then some of your IT personnel would go. They would either go to the private sector or they would be reallocated somewhere, but surely with this being 20 per cent of the volume of your IT, you would lose some IT people, wouldn't you?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is difficult to assess, and I would love to be able to give you a definitive answer, yes or no. I would believe that if we had specialist skills that were best placed with the person or persons taking over—I am sure these people are worth their weight in gold—they would be snapped up by the private sector.

Senator CAMERON: So your people are worth their weight in gold?

Mr Sterrenberg : Those with these specialist skills.

Senator CAMERON: Yes. These are the innovative people within the public service?

Mr Sterrenberg : I am very proud of the people that work in the public service—

Senator CAMERON: They are innovative, and they are very highly skilled. Are they flexible in the work that they do?

Mr Sterrenberg : They are a credit to the public service.

Senator Payne: I think they are darn innovative, actually, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: So these are exactly the type of people that we hear so much rhetoric about from some politicians. We should try to keep hold of them, shouldn't we?

Ms Campbell : We often take on new tasks and new responsibilities, and staff will end doing something and start doing something else. For example, Mr Sterrenberg is doing some work on the NDIA system. People who may previously have been involved with one system may move to another system. We do value our workforce and make sure that they are applied to the priorities of the department. It is a large department and there are plenty of priorities.

Senator CAMERON: So the child support system replacement has been one of your projects?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: How has that gone?

Mr Sterrenberg : It is doing reasonably well. Obviously, it is a very complex piece of work. Because of the nature of the particular project we want to be very, very careful that we engineer this correctly.

Senator CAMERON: And given that we are doing WPIT—and I have lots of questions on WPIT—and that it is the bulk of the IT delivery framework for government, I think I have asked you before if we are starting to look at compatibility issues in other departments, with WPIT?

Ms Campbell : Yes we are. Payments for other agencies are an example. We are working very closely with—I think Mr Shepherd can come up—a wide range of other departments, such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs, so that they can take advantage of this platform in order that the government is efficient and effective in how it uses its resources. So 'build once, use many times' is a piece within this.

Senator CAMERON: So you are doing that with other departments and their IT, but are you doing that within your own department with the MPS?

Ms Campbell : MPS was never in scope for the WPIT process. WPIT is generally looking at citizens—their nature and circumstances and the like—to determine eligibility for certain payments. It is quite complex. The Medicare Payment System is generally about if eligibility is there then the payment is made, depending on whether it is Medicare or pharmaceutical—

Senator CAMERON: Yes, so it could be a simple bolt-on to WPIT, couldn't it? Is that an option, technically?

Ms Campbell : I think everything is an option, but it is whether that is the best way to do it or whether there are other ways which would be quicker and deliver a better service faster for citizens.

Senator CAMERON: I have asked on a number of occasions for the business plan for WPIT. Is that still a secret document?

Ms Campbell : I think it is a deliberative document of the cabinet.

Senator CAMERON: Has the department had any discussions with any of the banks, or with the private health system or anyone in the finance sector about how this MPS could be sold off?

Ms Campbell : This is starting the work that is being spoken about this week, and that is the task force work that Mr Jackson has been talking about. There have been two meetings, but I do not think we have had any direct discussions on this system.

Mr Jackson : No, we have not.

Senator CAMERON: Do you intend to put in a submission to government to maintain the MPS system within government?

Ms Campbell : We intend to work with the Department of Health through this scoping study. It is a scoping study; there is no determined outcome and no decisions have been taken. So we will work with the Department of Health on this process.

Senator CAMERON: The question I am asking is not whether you will work with the scoping study. I am asking: if the determination is made that there will be a competitive tender, would you be in a position to tender?

Ms Campbell : That is hypothetical, and I think that is down the track. I do not think I can answer that at this time.

Senator CAMERON: Let me ask you another question: how long is the scoping study taking, Mr Jackson?

Mr Jackson : Given that we do not have the terms of reference and the full time frame yet, we are not sure. The actual time frame has been set by the Department of Health, as the responsible agency, to then respond to government with options.

Senator CAMERON: When?

Mr Jackson : They have not given us a—

Senator CAMERON: So there is no timescale, but the longer it goes on the more difficult it is to get the MPS system up to speed and to be competitive—isn't that right, Mr Sterrenberg? Is that not the implication of your previous answer?

Ms Campbell : I do not think the MPS would be an answer for the long-term in any shape or form. It is too old to be fixed.

Senator CAMERON: So the government really has to make a decision to outsource or to fund a replacement for the MPS. Is that the bottom line, Mr Sterrenberg?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Ms Campbell : And that is the work that will be done as part of this scoping study.

Senator CAMERON: We have not seen the terms of reference, so we do not even know if that is an option in the terms of reference.

Ms Campbell : We are working with the Department of Health on the terms of reference.

Mr Jackson : And the Department of Health is out for some advisers at the moment. I believe that closes shortly and I believe that part of those advisers' remit will be to determine options for consideration by the task force and then by the government in due course.

Senator CAMERON: Who are these advisers? Do you know?

Mr Jackson : No. We are not privy to that.

Ms Campbell : It is out for a tender. Is it a select tender?

Mr Jackson : It is a select tender.

Ms Campbell : It is a select tender process and there have not been decisions made yet.

Senator CAMERON: Okay. So this is really in its infancy?

Ms Campbell : It is.

Senator CAMERON: So it could be a long-term proposition, and the longer this goes the less chance you have of being able to compete. That is how I read it.

Ms Campbell : We do not see it that way. We will work closely with the Department of Health to make sure that government can deliver these payments to citizens.

Senator CAMERON: But if this scoping study goes ahead and they go to the market to seek the most cost-effective and best technical response, you cannot engage in that unless you have had the nod from the government to actually invest in competitive IT—can you?

Ms Campbell : I do not think that we have not even got to that stage yet. The Department of Health has gone out for a consultant to assist them with the scoping study process.

Senator CAMERON: But, Ms Campbell, you do not need to be a genius to see what is going on here. And really, I am just looking at this—a scoping study, calls for tenders and no commitment to pay to give any upgrade in your technical capacity—you have no hope. That is the reality.

Ms Campbell : Our focus still is to provide these payments to citizens.

Senator CAMERON: That is right. It is like committing suicide over the long term. Mr Sterrenberg, have you done any work on developing a replacement for MPS?

Mr Sterrenberg : No.

Senator CAMERON: So you have done nothing?

Mr Sterrenberg : What we are doing at the moment is making sure that we maintain a sustainable, reliable payment system.

Senator CAMERON: So you are 'nursing'—if I use the word—the current system? Yes?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: You are nursing the current system. It is outmoded, it needs an investment of new technology and you need to do that within the next four years. This scoping study needs to have an option to provide funding for you for a replacement MPS system, otherwise there is no chance of this work staying in government, is there?

Ms Campbell : That will be—

Senator CAMERON: There is not, is there?

Ms Campbell : That will be part of the scoping study.

Senator CAMERON: How do you know if you have not seen the terms of reference?

Ms Campbell : The scoping study will determine the way forward. The Department of Health is out looking for a consultant to assist them with the scoping study. Then, when they have expertise around payment systems and the like, we will work with both the consultant and the Department of Health about what the scoping study should involve and that next step.

Senator CAMERON: So these workers are dead ducks. There are 1,400 jobs going here—that is the reality—because you are not going to be in a position to competitively tender. If you do tender, you will be tendering with a system that is completely outdated and outmoded.

Senator Payne: Senator, I think you are engaging in commentary now, which you are perfectly entitled to do. But it is commentary and it is not a question you can expect the officers to answer. They are your opinions, and officers do not have to engage with your opinions.

Senator CAMERON: But I think that is the logic, Minister.

Senator Payne: I would disagree with you.

Senator CAMERON: Do you disagree with the logic of that?

Senator Payne: I do, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: How did it compete, then, with the MPS?

Senator Payne: I think you are pre-empting a process which is getting underway and, as I understand it, is no further advanced than that and one which the government intends to approach very responsibly.

Senator CAMERON: Can I just get a clarification, Mr Sterrenberg, about the ISIS system. In 2004 I think it was the former Treasurer and then Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, who signed the ongoing technical agreement for ISIS, didn't he? How long was that agreement for—10 years?

Ms Campbell : I think you might be talking about the contract with Rocket Software.

Senator CAMERON: Who was that?

Ms Campbell : It would have probably been the chief executive officer of the then Centrelink, but we can take that on notice and come back to you.

Senator CAMERON: The minister would have had to approve that.

Ms Campbell : We can take that on notice. I am not sure what the arrangements were in 2004.

Senator CAMERON: I think you might have given evidence on that before, actually. I think you did indicate that the contract was done under Joe Hockey.

Ms Campbell : It may have been when Mr Hockey was the Minister for Human Services.

Senator CAMERON: If you can just revisit that, I am pretty sure it was. I am pretty sure the evidence you gave last time—and it was Mr Sterrenberg who had all the details—was that in 2004 it was a 10-year contract.

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes, I believe so.

Senator CAMERON: So there was a 10-year contract signed under the Howard government that locked the current ISIS system in up to 2014. Correct?

Mr Sterrenberg : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: Yes. So that was the decision that locked that technology for 10 years under Joe Hockey. Was the MPS system part of that software contract, or was that separate and distinct?

Mr Sterrenberg : No, it was separate.

Senator CAMERON: So you just muddle along—no, I will not say 'muddle along' because that is wrong. You sort of patch this up as you go along to make sure that the MPS system continues to deliver.

Mr Sterrenberg : I will need to go on notice for the exact figures, but I think up until 2012 the MPS system was actually run—

Senator CAMERON: We got him, Secretary! We got him!

Mr Sterrenberg : It was run by an outsourced contractor with IBM. We moved it in-house after that date to get the scale advantages that we had on our mainframe.

Ms Campbell : I think we discovered in 2012 that there were some significant shortfalls in its capabilities because we had not been looking at it as closely.

CHAIR: We are past time for the break, so now is a good time to break. We will suspend now and come back at 9.25.

Proceedings suspended from 21 : 08 to 21 : 25

CHAIR: My question is to the secretary. It is a very left-field one, so bear with me. I do not know if you are aware of these light rail information displays that another department is doing. I know one of the Commonwealth government departments at the John Gorton Building is hosting them. I think it is the Department of the Environment.

Ms Campbell : Or Finance.

CHAIR: Or Finance, but I think it is the Department of the Environment—part of the John Gorton Building. Are you aware of whether the DHS had any sort of request from the ACT government to do any of those light rail information displays?

Ms Campbell : Not that I am aware of, but someone will be watching next door, and they will come and tell me, if I am unaware of it.

CHAIR: That would be wonderful. If that is the case, I will ask some more questions.

Ms Campbell : Chair, could I just put on the record about the lactation breaks? The agreement that we are currently operating and the proposed agreement both include paid lactation breaks. The agreement provides for staff members to access up to 10 per cent of their working time for breastfeeding or expressing milk. The policy goes on to talk about facilities, primarily clean, generally carers rooms to be made available for staff members.

Senator MOORE: Thanks, Ms Campbell. I am following this up across the public sector, because you know that there is some debate about enterprise bargains and policies and how it fits. In terms of your large network, how have you been able to ensure that, with the extremely large number of locations in which you operate, as you look at the demands of property, you are able to ensure you can always have—or at least work towards always having—those facilities? I take the point about the leave, and I think it is fabulous that that leave is there—I would expect nothing less than that from human services—but how have you been to ensure that kind of appropriate placement?

Ms Campbell : We have the standard fit-out requirement for all the offices that we lease, and sometimes we have people build on our behalf in some remote locations and they include those carer room facilities. I think it is fair to say that, in some of our former, smaller offices—predominantly the ones which were Medicare alone services—there was not always those facilities. One of the advantages of the collocation program bringing the Centrelink and the Medicare offices together, generally in larger premises, is that staff members can take advantage of tearooms, sick rooms, carers rooms and those types of facilities.

Senator MOORE: And they are not all the same place, which is an issue sometimes where one room is one size fits all for all those things. Thank you very much. Is your policy available on the website or something of that nature?

Ms Campbell : It looks like it is on the intranet.

Senator MOORE: That means I cannot be into it.

Ms Campbell : But I am sure we can provide it.

Senator MOORE: It would be lovely if we could get a copy on notice. Thank you.

Senator POLLEY: I am not sure if the officers are here. My question relates to the age pension. Are there people here that can answer?

Ms Campbell : I am sure there is someone. We will be able to try to answer your question.

Senator POLLEY: Excellent. Recently I was contacted because an application was made to get the age pension, but Centrelink would not accept a pre-1970 Tasmanian birth certificate as proof of identity, and that made it very difficult then for this particular gentleman to be able to prove his identity. Is this general practice? Is it something that you are aware of? There was no indication on the appropriate forms to suggest that there may be a problem with accepting pre-1970s birth certificates, and the statement was made that those records were corrupt.

Ms Campbell : I have had a number of officers join me at the table, and I am hoping that one of them knows more about pre-1970s Tasmanian birth certificates than I do. I will hand over to them, starting with Mr Withnell.

Mr Withnell : My understanding is we accept official Tasmanian birth certificates—not extracts—the ones that have the number from Births, Deaths and Marriages. If there is a problem there are also alternate proof of identity options that are available to people if they do not have a genuine birth certificate or they are unable to get one.

Senator POLLEY: This was a genuine birth certificate, but I was advised that the Tasmanian births and deaths records prior to 1950 are considered to be corrupt. But that is what he was advised and if that is the case then that should be on the appropriate form so people are prepared. Sometimes people do not have a drivers licence or things like that. I still really want to get to the bottom of: if the records are considered to be corrupt why has Centrelink made that decision?

Mr Withnell : I am happy to take that on notice and look into it for you.

Ms Campbell : We would be happy to do service recovery for that customer if he is still experiencing difficulties. If he is happy for you to release the information to us, then we are happy to follow that up.

Senator POLLEY: He has been assisted. We were able to help him there, but it was more a matter of making people aware that there may be a problem and, if that is the case, then I would really appreciate you taking that on notice.

Ms Campbell : Thanks for bringing that to our attention. I had not heard of that problem before.

Senator POLLEY: Neither had I. But I thought I might have been able to reduce my age, but never mind.

Ms Campbell : Chair, the staff inform me that we have no knowledge of any request from the ACT government with respect to light rail.

CHAIR: Light rail will never get down to DHS. I can tell you that!

Senator MOORE: I have questions in two other areas. One relates to the grandparent carers report and the government response to it, which came out two weeks ago. The government response mentioned the extension of the Department of Human Services-Centrelink grandparents advisers program, which received very positive commentary during the inquiry we were involved in. I have got a couple of questions that Senator Brown has put forward about this particular extension of service: can we get an idea about when the two new advisers will be put in place?

Mr Thiveos : Yes, the report did talk about the fact that we were going to have two new grandparent advisers. I do not have the date when those grandparent advisers will be with us. However, I am happy to take that one on notice for you.

Senator MOORE: That would be fine. Some of these might end up being a briefing note in response about the whole issue, but I will just read the questions into the record and we will go from there. Do you have any idea what the annualised funding allocation for the positions will be?

Ms Campbell : There are two staff and we generally do an approximation of about $100,000 per staff member as a broad guide.

Senator MOORE: Is there additional funding allocated for the additional outreach work to be undertaken by all of the grandparents advisers? We recommended that the network be extended because we heard such good things from consumers about how they felt the network supported their needs in such a difficult time. But we also felt that there was a role for an expanded outreach service—rather than just being on the end of a telephone, you could do more awareness and community work. My understanding is, and I have read it, that the government response said, 'Yes, the outreach focus would be enhanced by the extension.' Is that something that you have looked at yet?

Ms Campbell : I do not think we have looked at it to the level of detail yet.

Senator MOORE: One of the things we did find was that, whilst the personnel who were employed in the existing network were outstanding—the evidence that they gave and their knowledge was deeply impressive—we felt that perhaps the evaluation could be extended to their response. If we could get a little bit of information about the evaluation of how effective the network and its personnel were, as well as the out years of the funding for the extension. I will put those all on notice.

The other area of questioning is about the closure of the Kingston service centre. These have come again from Tasmania. A decision has been made to close the combined Centrelink-Medicare service centre in Kingston. Their service was only opened in 2013. Can you tell me about the background of the decision? Was that made by the agency or by the government?

Ms Campbell : This is part of our broader co-location program where we have co-located Medicare and Centrelink offices together. I think it is fair to say that the Kingston service centre had a Centrelink extension that was not a full Centrelink office.

Mr Maloney : That is right. It was a brief extension with a small-scale Centrelink service that was added back at that time.

Senator MOORE: It was originally a Medicare—

Mr Maloney : It was originally a Medicare site. With anything that was complex, as a lot of the Centrelink stuff was, people would have gone into the Hobart office or somewhere like that.

Ms Campbell : We have been running a program of co-location for some years now. That addressed the requirement for some efficiency dividends sought by a previous government. This is one of those co-locations that is part of that program.

Senator MOORE: As it is part of an ongoing strategy, what consultation was undertaken with the community stakeholders—local businesses, local council and public transport people—about ease for people who were used to going to Kingston, and about what would be the added process involved for them to now access their combined centre?

Mr Maloney : On each occasion when we do one of these things we take a long look at a whole range of issues. Normally, we start with lease expiry. That is where we have covered probably 210 sites that we have co-located since 2009. As that comes up we take a look at the service that is offered on the site. We look particularly at the usage of that service. As you would appreciate, say, in the case of an office that largely does Medicare, the numbers have dropped significantly in terms of people coming in because there are other options for people to get their rebates.

We look at the proximity of other service centres and the type of business that might move there and make a decision around that as to whether we believe co-location is warranted or not. We then put a recommendation to the minister. The minister makes a decision and engages in some consultation himself. We then talk to the community, which is what we have been doing in Kingston. There is a range of ways that we do that. Often, but not exclusively, we talk to local members—sometimes that is done by the minister and sometimes it is done by senior officers locally. We certainly attend and provide information inside our service centres and often advertise in the press locally about what we are planning to do.

Senator MOORE: Over what period of time has this process been operating in Kingston?

Mr Maloney : I think there was a decision by the minister just before Christmas.

Senator MOORE: So with the lag for the Christmas period it has really been about a month.

Mr Maloney : Yes.

Ms Campbell : It is also fair to say that some of these offices were very small. Some of them were in shopping centres where our staff did not have access to toilet facilities, so they would need to go to the shopping centre facilities and they were really not of a good standard.

Senator MOORE: There have always been issues about privacy with shopping centre locations. Are there any savings expected to the department through the relocation of this centre?

Ms Campbell : There are minor savings in relation to the rent and that is to contribute to the efficiency dividend from August 2013.

Senator MOORE: On notice, can we get some idea about how much that is in terms of the process?

Ms Campbell : We can.

Senator MOORE: In the letter to theKingborough Chronicle—I believe that must be the local paper—Minister Robert said that the closure of the Kingston service centre was due to visitation having reduced to 126 walk-in visitors each day. How does that compare to other regional centres in Tasmania, such as the Devonport or Burnie centres?

Ms Campbell : I do not have the numbers.

Senator MOORE: That could go on notice.

Ms Campbell : The Devonport and Burnie offices are actually co-located. Medicare has co-located with Centrelink in those cases.

Senator MOORE: Centrelink has the larger facility than it would in a smaller—I have been to several of those, but I have not been to any of the centres the other way around.

Ms Campbell : I think it is fair to say that most of the Medicare property did not lend itself to that.

Senator MOORE: Is it true that the reduction in visitations has occurred at least in part because a large number of visitors are being referred to the Hobart office already due to the lack of services available in Kingston?

Ms Campbell : All that might relate to Centrelink, which was always meant to be an extension for more simple claims, and many of the Centrelink claims that now occur in Centrelink offices are quite complex because the more simple can be done generally over the phone or on the net.

Senator MOORE: How far is the closest office to Kingston?

Ms Campbell : Ten kilometres.

Senator MOORE: I have to admit I am not familiar with this area—I am doing this on behalf of one of the Tasmanian senators. Has the government considered providing a better range of services in Kingston to increase usage rather than shutting the centre or providing prearranged appointments with specialist services in Kingston?

Ms Campbell : The Centrelink services were always an extension. It is quite difficult to balance staff across some of these sites. I think we take an officer from Hobart and they go out to Kingston for the day, and they may not have the broad range of skills that a walk-in asks for, particularly if it is across the Centrelink programs. If they were to go into Hobart, there are more people and more subject matter experts.

Senator MOORE: The Hobart office is a significant one.

Ms Campbell : It is—it is a large piece of real estate.

Senator MOORE: In the letter to the Kingborough Chronicle, Minister Robert also said that engagement with the 126 visitors on average per day is five minutes each. Can you provide details of this data and all other data regarding usage compared to 2013 and compared to your target for similar regional offices.

Ms Campbell : We will take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: Are you aware, as I am sure you are, that there is a community campaign and petition with more than 2,000 signatures on it to have this decision reversed prior to the closure date?

Ms Campbell : We are aware.

Senator MOORE: What is the proposed closure date?

Mr Maloney : It is 6 or 7 March.

Mr Egan : The last day of operation of the current Kingston service centre will be 4 March.

Senator MOORE: Are you aware that the Hobart service centre is not on any public transport route from Kingston or any of the southern Tasmanian communities?

Ms Campbell : I am not sure of the exact details of the transport routes.

Mr Maloney : We will have to take that on notice and get back to you.

Senator MOORE: Please do. What conditions would need to be met for the government to reconsider the closure of this centre?

Ms Campbell : I am happy to refer that to the minister.

Senator MOORE: Seeing as the minister has been in correspondence, I am sure he has been aware of the issues. So that has been referred to the minister, and we will put some of the detail on notice.

Mr Thiveos : Senator, I do have an answer to one of your questions, about the grandparent carers—the one about when we are expecting to have our two new grandparent carers appointed in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. We are looking at that happening by the end of this month.

Senator MOORE: Very good. Thank you very much. Does that bring it to seven?

Ms Campbell : Eight—we have six now, and two more.

Senator XENOPHON: I have previously raised concerns about the difference in cost between the AGS and a father in a particular case—the so-called test case that has been referred to. I asked question on notice No. 19 in February 2015. The father's costs were $71,459.92; the registrar's costs were $369,283.17. There is a substantial difference—

Ms Campbell : There is.

Senator XENOPHON: I asked you about the cost difference, and the department answered that the department was satisfied that the registrar's legal costs were appropriate and commensurate with the legal work performed. I am just trying to understand why there was a difference. I know that you are satisfied but I am not satisfied in terms of trying to understand the difference. As a suburban lawyer in a past life, I was always astounded as to how much the big end of town costs were in some cases compared to the costs for some other parties. Under the Model Litigant Rules, the Commonwealth have agreed to pay the father's legal costs but he was advised to obtain only one junior counsel and an instructing solicitor in that case. That is my understanding.

Mr Hutson : Perhaps we might start by talking about the reasons why the legal costs for the department were so much greater than those of the—

Senator XENOPHON: You might start, but you might have to finish by taking it on notice, because I only have another three minutes.

Ms Campbell : Do you want us to put that question you just asked on notice?

Senator XENOPHON: Would you give me a 30-second summary, please.

Mr Hutson : The 30-second summary is that there were a lot of complex legal and administrative issues, including issues about whether the registrar could use the information provided to the father and making arrangements for the payments. There were a number of very serious allegations made by the father in that case about the department's conduct and about whether or not we had complied with the model litigant rules. Those things all added up to a total bill which, as you say, was quite a large sum of money.

Senator XENOPHON: I am very happy for you to give me more information in respect of that on notice, but there are a couple of issues there. Presumably, the issues had to be considered by both parties. A legal team was offered, a junior counsel and a solicitor. You did not think it was appropriate to have the same level of representation? I think you would have had more lawyers involved.

Ms Musolino : I think, to understand this matter—if we talk about matter 1, which is also referred to as tranche 1, which was that first matter that the department initiated—it is important to understand that that was the department's application. The department had to put in lengthy submissions, had to make an application and had to gather evidence. There was a lot of preliminary work to meet its model litigant obligations and to make sure that it put all the information before the court. This was a matter that had broad consequences. If it would assist, I can quote from the judgement. I think that will set a nice context for what we were dealing with. The judge said: 'The issue before me arises after the Child Support Scheme has been in operation for 22 years. In all that time, the registrar has been receiving the type of information that the mother sent to the registrar in the circumstances of this case. So far as I know, nobody has ever asserted a breach of this obligation before now.' So this well and truly was a novel issue that had broad implications.

Senator XENOPHON: Very quickly, can I get details from you as to how big that legal team was in that particular case?

Ms Musolino : Certainly.

Senator XENOPHON: One argument is that each legal team was dealing with the same set of orders. Are you in a position to at least tender the invoices, with appropriate privacy—I do not need to know the names of the lawyers—to get an idea of the sort of work that was done in respect of that?

Ms Musolino : We can take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the phone lines—DSP and phone lines are the next biggest issues that people have raised; I will come back to DSP. Is the call-back service still available?

Ms Campbell : It is not available at the moment because we have been having some difficulties.

Senator SIEWERT: What are those difficulties?

Mr Maloney : We have had some considerable difficulties with the technology of the call-back system going back as far as July 2015. We found that the technology, which is probably reflected in the rest of our telecommunications technology, is well and truly out of date. As a consequence, when we are busy the technology that we are using at the moment for place-in-queue can actually block an enormous number of people getting into the system. In other words, it uses what I would describe almost as a primitive algorithm to work out when to ring a customer back, regardless of the situation that is going on inside the queue at the time. As a consequence, not only can it mean that the person is rung back and actually waits for a considerable amount of time to be answered but it can block a considerable number of people from getting in and, at times, it blocks the whole system. As a consequence, we took the decision to turn it off. As you probably know, we are putting a new telecommunications system in this calendar year, and that is a much more sophisticated system that will enable us to turn place-in-queue back on.

Senator SIEWERT: Place-in-queue and call-back?

Ms Campbell : It is the same system. We call you back when you have reached your place in queue, so it gets called place-in-queue or call-back, but it is the same thing.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. What time this year is the new system due?

Ms Campbell : We are doing testing on it at the moment. One of the things we are very careful of with the phones is to ensure that when we are doing the testing it is not at the busiest part of the year, and we are currently in that busy part of the year. So we are trying to get the February surge over before we do some more testing on it, but I think we are going to start testing in April. Is that when we expect to test?

Mr Maloney : That is correct. It is probably also worth pointing out that, just as ISIS is an incredibly complex ICT system, Centrelink's telephony is similarly complex, with a large number of lines. In some respects, there are many moving parts, and it is making sure that all of the new system—which is, again, state of the art but incredibly complex—work together so that they do not create issues in other parts of the network.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. Is that going to address some of the long wait times? We will come back to the other questions around saving time.

Ms Campbell : Wait time is also a function of resource, with the number of people ringing up and how long people stay on the phone for. I think our wait time average has been fairly static for a number of years, I think it is fair to say. I accept that most people consider it to be an exceptionally long time. I know that the average does not always reflect the experiences that some individuals will have, because 'average', by its very definition, means some will be less and some will be more. We do expect, with the new telephony system, to be able to—for want of a better term—route phone calls more broadly across our network and hopefully have some more resources available to deal with those calls.

Mr Maloney : If I could just add briefly to what the secretary has said, the new system does give us some opportunities to do a number of things that I think will help with the issue around wait times. For example, there will be a mechanism there for us to analyse much better why people are ringing, which is something that we lack at the moment. That would then enable us to take some pre-emptive action in terms of either putting messages into the IVR, putting messages on our website or using social media, for example, to advise people of the answers to the frequently asked questions. So I think that is a significant advantage.

As I said earlier, it gives us a much better place-in-queue. It will give us a much more accurate estimated wait time than we have had in the past. It also enables us to extend the reach of our smart centre operation beyond the locations where we are at the moment. As you probably know, we have 27 contact centres, or smart centres as we call them. The current technology that we have limits our incoming phone calls into those 27 places. When we put the new technology in, we will actually be able to route those calls virtually anywhere in the department, so our ability to respond to peaks or surges in workload, regardless of the cause, will be significantly enhanced.

Ms Campbell : We know one reason customers ring us up is that they want to know where their claim is up to. So, as part of WPIT tranche 1, we are building an application which will give people an insight into where we are up to with processing their claim, and that will, we hope, be able to take some volume out of the telephony to free up some operators if people know where their claim is up to.

Senator SIEWERT: How will they know where their claim is up to?

Ms Campbell : We describe it sometimes as being like the pizza wheel, where it says, 'The pizza's in the oven,' 'It's now being cut up,' or, 'Now it's on the delivery.' We could do something like that, or if we are waiting for documents for customers—and we do often wait for extra information. At the moment we do not stop the clock; we keep saying we are processing it. We write to them and say, 'Please provide this additional information.' If we can get that information to customers saying, 'We need something more from you more quickly,' that will be helpful as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. There are a number of people who have had very large phone bills from having to wait on the phone. Have you had that reported to you?

Ms Campbell : No, because generally we—

Senator SIEWERT: It was people ringing over and over again when they are trying to get through.

Mr Maloney : We are certainly aware of people trying to get through. I think at the last hearing Mr Tidswell might have talked to you about the applications that people can use on their phone at the moment which just continually ring. I understand why people do that but it does also add to the congestion in the system, which does cause problems not just for us but for our telecommunications provider as well.

I am not aware of the specific issues that you are talking about, which I think is around the cost of calls. A lot of our calls, particularly if made from a landline, as you know, come at the cost of a local call regardless of where you are ringing from and regardless of where it is answered. But I think there is an issue with people using mobile phones.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. Could you give me some stats on the first half of this year for the total number of calls that you have had—blocked calls and calls that have entered the network? And then I have another series, but maybe we can go to those first.

Mr Maloney : Certainly. The number of calls that have entered the network in the six months to the end of December is just over 19.5 million.

Senator SIEWERT: That was the first half of the financial year?

Mr Maloney : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: That was the total calls? You do not count the calls that get the busy signal though, do you?

Mr Maloney : We do count the calls that get the busy signal.

Senator SIEWERT: How do you know that?

Mr Maloney : Our telecommunication provider provides us with that information.

Senator SIEWERT: That is all of the ones that you may have got, including—

Mr Maloney : The 19.5 million are calls that actually entered the system; they have not received a busy signal, so they are calls that would go into our IVR.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry—the 19.5?

Mr Maloney : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: So 19.5 entered the system. How many total calls?

Ms Campbell : With the calls that we call 'blocked'—they have got the engaged signal—we will have a number for that, but we do not know if they are unique calls. I saw some of the material that you were putting in the Senate: a number of people just redial, redial, redial, redial, redial. So we are not sure that it is actually a valid number. We can tell you how many pings we get, but if you get people doing redial, redial, redial, then that is not an accurate reflection of the number of people trying to get into the system.

Senator SIEWERT: It is an accurate reflection of the frustration of the people trying to access the system. So, how many did you get?

Mr Maloney : Year to date, it was 12.9 million blocked calls.

Ms Campbell : I think we had a very busy July, for some reason.

Mr Maloney : Yes—if we compare it with last year, it is higher. Almost exclusively the increase occurred in July. The rest of the year has been pretty much on par, or in some cases actually slightly lower than it was last year. We had, I think—I do not have the exact figure with me—something like seven million of those blocked calls occurring in July.

Ms Campbell : We think that might be due, from anecdotal evidence from the network, to people being very keen to get their tax returns in as quickly as possible, because the tax office has sped up that process of doing tax returns. Customers were looking for statement of earnings much more quickly than they did in previous years and we will need to look at our business response to that.

The tax office, I think, did expedite the process, so we started to see, particularly through myGov, a real flow in volume going into the myTax space from midnight on 30 June. Therefore, customers were looking for payments such as family tax benefit supplements quickly; they wanted to get their tax done very quickly. Then they were able to give us their tax earnings, so then they were able to determine what their supplements were. That cycle, which usually was July, August and a bit of September, kind of shrunk into July. So we need to have a look at our business processing in order to take into account that change in the tax system.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, thank you. Are you able to give me the figures for the calls for the customers that use the IVR options, which then transfers them to the self-serve application?

Mr Maloney : I can give you the number of calls that shows the self-service application inside the IVR, and then finish. That was 2.4 million calls so far this year.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you have last financial year's?

Mr Maloney : Last financial year for the same period was 2.6 million.

Senator SIEWERT: That was for the whole of the year?

Mr Maloney : No, that was just for the six months. It is the same period—July to December.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, I was looking for 2014-15, for the whole of the year. I beg your pardon if I was not clear.

Mr Maloney : I am not sure that I have that.

Ms Campbell : We can take that on notice for you, Senator.

Senator SIEWERT: So I can compare like with like for the time being: the calls that entered the queue to speak to a service officer?

Mr Maloney : That was 11.6 million calls.

Senator SIEWERT: This financial year?

Mr Maloney : In the six months, this financial year.

Senator SIEWERT: How does that compare to last year?

Mr Maloney : It was 12.1 million last year.

Senator SIEWERT: Calls abandoned after being in a queue?

Mr Maloney : 3.2 million.

Ms Campbell : We do not know whether or not they got the information they were looking for.

Mr Maloney : This is a problematic area in some respects. As you probably know, when people go into the IVR, they get a series of messages or they get options to do self-service, and right at the end of the IVR they get a message about wait times. The largest single proportion of people who abandoned coming out of the IVR abandoned within the first minute or two. We do not know if that is because they have got the information they wanted out of the IVR or maybe have heard the wait time message and have decided they will ring back later. There are a few problematic issues around that.

Senator CAMERON: I understood there was a pain threshold of nine minutes that was identified as when people were giving up.

Mr Maloney : I think the average this year is just over 10 minutes.

Senator CAMERON: So it is not one minute, people are hanging up after 10 minutes?

Mr Maloney : That is the average.

Senator SIEWERT: How does that compare to the last six months of last year?

Mr Maloney : There were 3.6 million abandoned.

Senator SIEWERT: What about transferred calls?

Mr Maloney : Transferred calls this year is 2.2 million and in the same period last year it was 1.6 million.

Senator SIEWERT: Answered calls, customers who speak to a service officer?

Mr Maloney : This year it is 10.6 million and last year it was 10.1 million.

Senator SIEWERT: For carers that are calling in to ask about the carers payment for themselves, but sometimes they may be the nominee for somebody, can they deal with all that in one call?

Mr Maloney : Yes, they should be able to. It would depend on the nature. If it was all about themselves, for example—I am making this up—they might have been ringing about Newstart or the carer payment or something like that, and they said 'Now I want to ask a question about carers', it would depend on who they spoke to. It might be somebody who does not necessarily have the skills to be able to handle that second call, in which case they would be transferred. But, if it was purely on their record and they were a carer and they were receiving Newstart then it should just be the one phone call.

Senator SIEWERT: That has not been the experience of some people. They have had to ring back to deal with their second issue.

Mr Maloney : That certainly should not be the case.

Senator SIEWERT: If they are on a call and the line drops out, does the department ring them back?

Mr Maloney : We would not have visibility if that did happen. That would have been caused by our telecommunications provider. I did see in some of the press just recently about people believing that they had been hung up on and I am certainly not denying that does happen, but it is a telecommunications fault. One of the things we have looked at, that perhaps worries us a little bit, is, as you know, when people are on hold they get music. Some people like it, most people do not, but they get music that is provided by Telstra. There is a limit on the amount of on-hold music that Telstra can provide—again this comes back to our telecommunications system—but it is not just to us, it is to other people as well, and sometimes when they get to that limit, which might only be 20 or 30 minutes into the wait, I think some of our customers believe they have been hung up on.

Ms Campbell : When in fact the music has just stopped.

Mr Maloney : The music has just stopped. I understand that Telstra has a limit on the amount of on-hold music that can be played at any one time, and that is distributed not just to us but to a whole range of people who have large telecommunications operations—the banks et cetera. We get allocated part of that, and when it runs out the music stops.

CHAIR: Fair enough.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the average wait time?

Mr Maloney : The average wait time for social security and welfare for the current year to 31 December is 14 minutes and 17 seconds. By comparison with the same period in the previous financial year, it was 15 minutes and 36 seconds.

Senator SIEWERT: Which of those calls that we have been talking about do you use for the average?

Mr Maloney : That would be all of the social security and welfare, so the five large queues that we know about are for retirement et cetera, the Participation Solutions Team—virtually everything in the social security and welfare field. What it does exclude is the health public telephony and the health provider telephony.

Ms Campbell : And child support.

Mr Maloney : And child support.

Senator SIEWERT: How do they know that? How do they calculate the average time?

Mr Maloney : It is done inside the telecommunications system.

CHAIR: When you talk about that average, I know there was an ANAO report on smart centres and it has some stats on that. Is that like-for-like or are those two slightly different measures?

Ms Campbell : They are like-for-like in the ANAO report and against the PBS targets.

CHAIR: If you go back a few years, the ANAO report says that it was three minutes in 2010-11 and then it jumped to 11 minutes and 45 seconds in 2011-12. That obviously coincides with a couple of things. One was a very dramatic drop in the number of front-line staff answering calls. In 2010-11 there were 3,678 and in 2011-12 there were 2,978. Not surprisingly, it went from three minutes and five seconds to 11 minutes and 45 seconds. This is before my time, but this is not clear to me: was that a deliberate policy decision of government or was that the department getting an efficiency cut or something and then saying, 'We've got to save some money here' and therefore they made that decision?

Ms Campbell : Following the global financial crisis there was an expectation that unemployment levels would rise, and the then Centrelink was funded for a number of customers and customer expectations. I think it is fair to say that there was a build-up of staff in preparedness for the expected rise in unemployment. Thankfully, those numbers never rose to the expectations—

Senator CAMERON: It is called good economic management.

Ms Campbell : which meant that Centrelink was overstaffed. So I took up this position in March 2011 and I think we were overspending by a couple of hundred million dollars, and that was due to the fact that we had too many staff and we had to live within our budget. There were also other measures, including the service delivery reform initiatives and some efficiency dividends as well.

CHAIR: When you say you had to live within your budget, in the year 2010-11, was that a temporary lift in the budget for those staff or were those temporary staff who were taken away with the budget change?

Ms Campbell : I think there was a mix of both temporary and ongoing staff, but by the end of the year we were overstaffed by over 1,000 staff.

Senator SIEWERT: I was talking to DSS earlier about an issue with the assessment period—I think they call it the time line standard—

Ms Campbell : The key performance metric?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, the 49 days. They were not able to tell me on how many occasions you have met that assessment for DSP.

Ms Campbell : We might have some more people join us, but broadly speaking the target is 70 per cent. We are seeing quite a different profile this year, and our processing has dropped to 49 per cent. One of the reasons for that is that we are seeing a far greater reject rate of disability support pension. Last year it was about 62 per cent; it has risen to about 75 per cent. One of the provisions in place is that if a DSP claim is rejected the customer has 13 weeks in which to provide further information to have that claim reassessed. So you can see that a key performance indicator of seven weeks can be blown quite out if they then have another 13 weeks—and the clock does not stop. Customers can come back with more information, and we are seeing more customers come back with more information, to try and have their claim accepted. They then have a 13-week period in which to do that, which makes it very difficult to meet a seven-week KPI.

Senator SIEWERT: They have 13 weeks to come back to—

Ms Campbell : Provide further information. We need to talk to the Department of Social Services now that we are seeing this greater number of rejections from disability support pension. We are seeing many people try a number of times to be found suitable for DSP.

Senator SIEWERT: So there isn't a time period for the first assessment. The time period becomes seven weeks and 13 weeks. Is that what you are saying?

Ms Campbell : No. We target to get them done within seven weeks, then we measure how we have done overall. What we are finding is that when a customer is rejected they then have another 13 weeks, which some of them are taking advantage of. The clock starts when they first put in their claim and does not finish until the final decision. That includes when we ask them to go away and asked them to get documents—maybe they do not come back as quickly as they can. That is included in the measure, which is not the best way of assessing it. We will be doing something different in WPIT, which will be to stop the clock while the customer goes and gets information. At the moment we have a mix. Officers are looking in detail at this because we know people are very worried about how long it takes, but we do rely on the customer bringing us back information. The issue of having 13 weeks after rejection to bring back more information without the clock stopping has a bit of an impact.

Senator CAMERON: I want to come back to the issue of call wait-times. It must drive you mad. It certainly drives mad the public when they are using Centrelink and DHS services. I have been monitoring the wait-times. You indicated, Mr Maloney, that there was something people could listen to for a period of time, but the monitoring I have been doing is that on 4 January disability, families and job seekers were engaged—you could not get access to the call line—and the wait for older Australians was 50 minutes.

Ms Campbell : When phone lines are very busy, at capacity with our older telephony system, we can let only so many calls into the system. When it reaches its maximum point that is when the engaged signal goes on. We did notice that in one of your press releases you quite helpfully told us that the wait time was, I think, 75 minutes. We were all very surprised by that because we thought the maximum was 37 minutes that day.

Senator CAMERON: Some were 90 minutes.

Ms Campbell : Yes. We did discover at that time that we had a problem with the system telling customers how long they had to wait for. It was not actually accurate, and we had to take it down.

Senator CAMERON: Yes, we noticed that.

Ms Campbell : We did not get it back up for two days, because we discovered that people were being told—I think on the occasion you put the press release about 75 minutes or 90 minutes, when in fact it was 30, which is still not good. That had occurred as well, which it made it worse. We were very grateful for that help!

Senator CAMERON: I am sure you were! You didn't ring me and thank me.

Ms Campbell : I thought you might have been engaged.

Senator CAMERON: No, that is your side; not mine.

Senator Payne: There would have been a clamour of people wanting to speak to you, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: There are lots of people who want to speak to me. Especially about Badgerys Creek, about unemployment, about all the problems you have got.

Senator SIEWERT: You're interrupting your answer!

Senator CAMERON: She will come back.

Ms Campbell : We are very focused on this.

Senator CAMERON: Ms Campbell is very good on this.

Ms Campbell : We are focused every day. Mr Maloney and I talk frequently about this during the day, every day, about what we can do differently. We balance, particularly in the smart centres, how many people we have on processing claims versus how many people are on answering the phones and how we can get social media messages out so that people do not need to ring us up if there is a common question. We are trying a number of different strategies. We are very hopeful that the new telephony system will allow us to have a broader range of people answering calls, but we also need to look at why people are ringing us up. If people are ringing us up because they want to know where there claim is up to, can we somehow give them that information without their having to call up? It is a bit of a balance between that and doing more claims so that they do not ring up and then clog up the phone lines. That is how we balance work across the network.

Senator CAMERON: I have for 12 January, no wait-times given.

Ms Campbell : I think there was when you helped us identify that technical problem.

Senator CAMERON: For 13 January, no wait-times given for families.

Ms Campbell : Yes, that was it.

Senator CAMERON: For 14 January, no wait-times given right across disability, families, job seekers and older Australians; 15 January, no wait-times for disability, families and job seekers, and older Australians was engaged. On 18 January we were told a wait time of 30 minutes. I have a block, basically from 14 January right through to 27 January, when either no wait-times were given or it was engaged, and then we were told '30 minutes' wait time given for job seekers on 18 January. This is a massive block of time when you cannot access any services.

Ms Campbell : I don't think it is fair to say nobody could access those services, because—

Senator CAMERON: We could not access the service, and we were doing nothing special other than ringing your number.

Ms Campbell : If the phones were engaged—there were staff working; I know that—that meant that the system was at capacity and was answering calls.

Senator CAMERON: We got cut off on 21 January on disability. We got cut off on families on the same day. There was no wait-time given for job seekers, and we got cut off on older Australians on 21 January.

Ms Campbell : When you say 'cut off', do you mean the engaged—

Senator CAMERON: The phone just dropped out.

Ms Campbell : You waited on the phone?

Senator CAMERON: We waited on the phone and the phone just cut out.

Ms Campbell : Do we know whether the music stopped or it actually cut out.

Senator CAMERON: The music stopped for us, I'll tell you. The music definitely stopped.

Ms Campbell : Did it register the dial tone signal?

Senator CAMERON: I think the music has been going in this area for a long time! We got cut off; that is all I know. I must say, I did not ask my staff.

Ms Campbell : January is always an extraordinarily busy month.

Senator CAMERON: Let us look at February. January is extremely busy—

Ms Campbell : As is February.

Senator CAMERON: Busy for somebody ringing from the Blue Mountains, because this what they get. On 27—hopeless—engaged, and then we get a 30-minute time for families. We were told '30 minutes'. Then, apart from being engaged a range of times, from that block period 27 January to 10 February—surprise, surprise!—we got '30 minutes' every time we rang up. That was for disability, families and job seekers—'30 minutes'. That does not ring true to me. And for older Australians we got '30 minutes' on 1 February, 'engaged' on 2 February, '30 minutes' on 3 February, '25 minutes' on 4 February, 'engaged' on the next two days, and then into that block of '30 minutes'. So, if you look at the period between 27 January and 10 February, we were getting a standard '30 minutes', and that does not ring true. That was across every area.

Ms Campbell : I do not know whether we have the actual wait times. Have we got the actual wait times for those weeks?

Senator CAMERON: This is the actual wait time for somebody ringing in.

Ms Campbell : But that is the estimate that we give you, and I am just trying to see whether we have at the table the actual average wait time for those week periods.

Senator CAMERON: While you are looking for that, does it ring true to you that every one of these agencies has '30 minutes' in a block right across that period—either 'engaged' or '30 minutes'?

Ms Campbell : I think that, when we detected with our telecommunications provider that there was a bit of a problem around the accuracy of estimating times, we did ask them to be conservative in that space.

Mr Maloney : We did. Just for a little bit of clarification: sometimes when you get a 'no wait time' message, it is actually because the wait time is quite short.

Ms Campbell : It is less than five minutes sometimes.

Mr Maloney : The calculation—

Senator CAMERON: 'No wait time' was given mainly in that period from 12 January to 15 January, and I will tell you: they were not quick responses.

Ms Campbell : Did the officer who was doing this compare what was said with what actually happened?

Senator CAMERON: No, we were ringing up to see what the wait time was. I would have no staff doing anything, because they would be totally waiting for you, your people, to lift the phone up, and we would do nothing else.

Ms Campbell : Senator, I can assure you—

Senator CAMERON: I am happy if you want to give me some staff. I will do it.

Ms Campbell : Senator, our staff are answering the phones, and we are working closely, particularly with our staff, about enhancing productivity in call centres.

Senator CAMERON: Can I ask you this. How can we be confident that these wait times are accurate?

Ms Campbell : We will take on notice and give you the actual wait times for those periods.

Senator CAMERON: Okay. I am happy to table this if you want it.

Ms Campbell : That would be very helpful. We are working on the technical telecommunications system but also with our staff about how we can more productively use—what is the best, productive way of utilising—staff.

Senator CAMERON: I want to move on because I think Senator Siewert has covered a lot of the issues that I had. We are getting the same Facebook meltdowns on this and emails to the office—just awful. It is one of the areas that really are destroying your reputation. It is wrecking the reputation of Centrelink.

Ms Campbell : Mr Maloney and I look at the different periods each time—what was the wait time in the same period last year?—and there does not seem to be too much difference, but what has changed is customers' expectations.

Senator CAMERON: I have to say that I have rung Telstra and experienced very lengthy wait times. This is a First World problem, but the problem with DHS is that it is predominantly the poor, low-socioeconomic Australians who are ripping their hair out on this stuff. If you are rich, you do not need this. But these are poor people who are getting really—

Ms Campbell : We know that people complain, but a lot of people get through as well, and I think it is worth remembering that there are many millions of phone calls that we do answer. It is about capacity. But we do know that expectations have changed. Customers—

Senator CAMERON: When I was getting involved in best-practice programs and the like, one of the things I was told by some of the consultants was that, if one person is dissatisfied, it can lead to up to 12 people being dissatisfied because they get told about it.

Ms Campbell : Indeed.

Senator CAMERON: How many people are dissatisfied with Centrelink and DHS, with the phone services? Millions.

Ms Campbell : I think we did not have millions of complaints.

Senator CAMERON: No, you do not have millions of complaints; they just give up.

Senator Payne: In fairness, Senator, I think that one of the things that Ms Campbell has not perhaps had an opportunity to put on the table—and now might not be the time, in your view—is the actual volume that we are dealing with as well in terms of the contacts made, the customers dealt with and the solutions and responses provided, which is quite an extraordinary volume of work that is handled by this organisation. The government clearly have acknowledged over an extended period of time that we would prefer to be able to address these challenges, which you have identified and Senator Siewert has identified, more readily. I can promise you from my experience that the department spends an extraordinary amount of its time trying to do just that. At the same time though, and you were generous enough to say earlier that you think the organisation works extremely hard and takes a very diligent approach—

Senator CAMERON: I have never said anything else.

Senator Payne: Indeed. At the same time, there is a lot of contact with the Australian citizens who are trying to engage with the organisation being made and being made successfully.

Senator CAMERON: I get that, but it is still not good enough. That is the bottom line.

Ms Campbell : We are recruiting at the moment. We are out recruiting staff, but it does take time to train staff up for these functions.

Senator CAMERON: I will move onto another issue. I think that, between Senator Siewert and me, we have covered this.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just ask how many staff you are recruiting.

Ms Campbell : We are recruiting 1,500 staff at the moment.

Senator CAMERON: Is that on top of the 1,000 that the minister spoke about?

Ms Campbell : That is including those.

Senator CAMERON: That is including them, so it is an extra 500.

Ms Campbell : We have been recruiting over a number of months now—

Senator CAMERON: Can I just go briefly to that issue because I have heard complaints from members of your staff who were IIEs, basically part-timers. They had applied for the job. They ended up not getting the job even though they had commendations for the work that they had done within the department. What is going on?

Ms Campbell : We had 8,000 applications for those jobs, and we took the best-qualified candidates, the best candidates who performed at interview. That sometimes meant that staff who had worked as irregular and intermittent employees were not offered full-time jobs.

Senator CAMERON: Staff who had been commended for the work they had done?

Ms Campbell : They are competitive processes. We go to the market, and all Australians have the opportunity to apply. We do not say that the people who have worked as IIEs have preference over the broader Australian market.

Senator CAMERON: Can you take on notice then to provide me the process that was undertaken, who undertook the process, how much it cost for the process, and how many IIEs who applied for the job did not get the job?

Ms Campbell : I will just check whether Mr Jackson has that information on that last question.

Senator CAMERON: Can you take it on notice? I have not got time to go through it now. I will be happy for you to take that on notice. I want to cut to WPIT. Are you using any PR consultants in WPIT?

Ms Campbell : PR?

Senator CAMERON: Yes. Are you producing videos or booklets or web presentations?

Ms Campbell : We might be doing some design work, so I will just wait for Mr Shepherd to join us.

Senator CAMERON: Mr Shepherd, are you spending any money as part of the WPIT project on PR consultants, the production of videos, booklets or web presentations?

Mr Shepherd : We are not spending any money on PR consultants.

Senator CAMERON: What about consultants?

Mr Shepherd : We have not spent any money on consultants. We have expenditure on contractors.

Senator CAMERON: This may not be the WPIT program, but tell me about Dragons' Den.

Mr Shepherd : Yes, I can tell you about that program.

Senator CAMERON: That is the WPIT program, is it?

Mr Shepherd : The Dragons' Den is actually part of the department's innovation program.

Senator CAMERON: So this is the overall—this is not just WPIT; Dragons' Den applies across the department?

Ms Campbell : Across everything we do.

Mr Shepherd : One of the key elements of that program is—it is so important in all the large transformation projects we looked at around the world—to actively engage your staff at the front line in coming up with ideas that can be implemented across your organisation as part of that transformation. The program you are talking about was a program to go out to all of our staff to actively engage. I think 280 staff across about 35 locations formed teams, developed innovative ideas and then came to a national workshop with those ideas. Front-line staff—who are case officers; they answer phones; they are our customer liaison officers—presented those ideas to a panel, and the winning ideas are now being picked up and implemented within the organisation.

Senator CAMERON: Who delivered Dragons' Den?

Mr Shepherd : The department partnered with PricewaterhouseCoopers to deliver Dragons' Den.

Senator CAMERON: So, with PricewaterhouseCoopers, how much did Dragons Den cost?

Mr Shepherd : The total cost for that engagement was $233,385.

Senator CAMERON: Was there a DJ at the Dragons' Den exercises?

Mr Shepherd : Was there a what, sorry?

Senator CAMERON: You know—a DJ, a disc jockey. Did you play music?

Mr Shepherd : No. Music was played at the Dragons' Den—sorry, yes—but there was no DJ at the Dragons' Den.

Senator CAMERON: What kind of music was played?

Mr Shepherd : I cannot recall the tracks, but definitely the background music that accompanies the Dragons' Den in the program was played.

Senator CAMERON: So it was PricewaterhouseCoopers who picked the music, was it? Did they?

Ms Campbell : Senator, these are different ways of doing business.

Senator CAMERON: You do not have to be so defensive. I am simply asking—

CHAIR: She can see you coming, Senator Cameron.

Senator Payne: I thought it was very helpful, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: Can you then, Mr Shepherd, on notice, provide me with details of the outcomes in terms of better IT arising from this program, and better call response times and resolution times?

Ms Campbell : We can talk to you now about the fact that—

Senator CAMERON: I do not have a lot of time, so if you take it on notice that will be fine. Were there artists at the Dragons' Den or cartoonists?

Mr Shepherd : Just to explain the concept: this is a new approach that organisations and governments around the world are engaging in to engage their staff in innovation on their programs. This is an approach currently being used by the New South Wales department of Treasury. It is an approach that was used by Sydney Trains to solve their train congestion issues.

Senator CAMERON: Sydney Trains?

Mr Shepherd : It is about bringing together people with skills. Some of those skills are skills around how you map a customer journey and how you map a staff experience. Those processes are mapped out using pictures of customers interacting with services and staff interacting with customers.

Ms Campbell : And these are often junior staff who experience and work with customers, so they know what it is like for a customer to go through an unpleasant or unrewarding outcome. We have junior staff who are telling us: 'You know what? If you changed this, this would lead to better customer outcomes.' That is why we want to engage these staff, and that is why we want to try different things—so that we can respond to our customers better.

Senator CAMERON: On notice, could you provide details of the innovations that have been picked up arising from it. What about Hack the Future?

Mr Shepherd : Yes, that is also part of the department's innovation program.

Senator CAMERON: How much is spent on Hack the Future?

Mr Shepherd : I will need to see if I can get that. I will take that on notice.

Senator CAMERON: Who is delivering Hack the Future?

Mr Shepherd : The department is delivering Hack the Future.

Senator CAMERON: It is an internal one?

Mr Shepherd : The department is delivering Hack the Future. We did start that program in partnership with PwC, but the whole idea is that they have helped train us in this new way of working, and now we have public servants fronting those events. I participated in the Canberra event. It was entirely run by my team.

Senator CAMERON: Were there DJs at Hack the Future?

Mr Shepherd : We have never hired DJs at any of these events, Senator.

Senator CAMERON: Do you have somebody playing music?

Mr Shepherd : Yes. Do we use music as part of the design session? Yes, we do.

Senator CAMERON: Does somebody play the music?

Mr Shepherd : Yes. I know that person, I know the iPhone user, and he is one of my staff.

Senator CAMERON: Who picks the music?

Mr Shepherd : I could not tell you that.

Senator CAMERON: Is it part of the programs Dragons' Den and Hack the Future? Is there a certain type of music that is played?

Mr Shepherd : Music is predominantly used because the sessions move quite rapidly—you do 20 minutes at a table and you will move to the next exercise. The music is to get you up faster and moving to your next exercise.

Senator CAMERON: So you do not play Barry White?

Mr Shepherd : No.

Ms Campbell : I do not think we know who Barry White is. We use uplifting-type music, getting-people-moving-type music.

Senator CAMERON: No Leonard Cohen? What a shame.

Senator Payne: I suspect Hallelujah is not on the list.

Senator CAMERON: Is painting banners with slogans part of the process?

Mr Shepherd : As I said, we use the process for our staff to express their ideas. Those ideas are all about serving customers and changing customer experience. I would not say there were slogans, but there will be names around those ideas. For example, one of the ideas was about how we can help customers keep their debt down, and so the idea was called Down with Debt. I do not think you would describe them as slogans, but do they give their initiatives names that they come up with? Yes, they do.

Senator CAMERON: Was there voting with balls?

Ms Campbell : Yes, there was.

Mr Shepherd : Yes, there was.

Senator CAMERON: How does that work?

Mr Shepherd : All of the ideas get displayed, and the participants in the conference vote for which idea is the one which will have the most impact on our customers and our staff, and they drop a ball into a cylinder.

Senator CAMERON: What was the cost of Hack the Future? Have you found that yet?

Mr Shepherd : I have got the event that you asked about. I have that cost here. That was the $233,000.

Senator CAMERON: That was Dragons' Den.

Mr Shepherd : Yes. The Hack the Future cost I will have to take on notice.

Senator CAMERON: I appreciate that. Also, who delivered Hack the Future? Was it PwC? How much did PwC get?

Mr Shepherd : We can take that on notice.

Senator CAMERON: And any other consultants that were involved. Just give me itemised accounts for what was spent on Dragons' Den and Hack the Future.

Mr Shepherd : Sure.

Senator CAMERON: I think you advised me last time that you had an internal slogan. Is that right? You had developed some internal slogan—was it 'Yes'?

Ms Campbell : Was it 'We'—our statement of how we want to behave, those sorts of things?

Senator CAMERON: Yes. How much did you spend on 'We'?

Ms Campbell : That was some years ago, so I think it is best we take that on notice. I do not think I have got anyone here tonight who would have that information.

Senator CAMERON: Is it still used?

Ms Campbell : It is still used.

Senator CAMERON: Can you provide some graphics of how it is used?

Ms Campbell : We can.

Senator CAMERON: On notice, can you also indicate where 'We' is still used?

Ms Campbell : It is used throughout every one of our offices.

Senator CAMERON: What do you do with it?

Ms Campbell : It talks about a framework on the behaviour that we expect from staff and each other—about initiative, collaboration, honesty, listening and other attributes in that space.

Senator CAMERON: What is the relationship with DTO and WPIT?

Ms Campbell : We work closely with the Digital Transformation Office. The Digital Transformation Office has been set up in the Prime Minister's portfolio. The Prime Minister's portfolio has responsibility in the administrative arrangement orders for whole-of-government service delivery policy, and we are working very closely with them on that.

Senator CAMERON: There was a report in The Canberra Times that DTO were going to take over WPIT. The minister basically rejected that, saying that WPIT has got 3,500 and DTO has got 30 staff. Are there any plans to take more staff from WPIT to the DTO?

Ms Campbell : I think the article might have been not about WPIT but about MyGov. The Digital Transformation Office is about usability. It is about working out how the government interfaces with citizens, and the minister's statement was about the fact that these are very big ICT systems, that the Digital Transformation Office's focus is on ensuring that government moves to a digitalised system. I think the Digital Transformation Office is probably much better placed to talk about its objectives than I am. But we work very closely with them. We have a team that is co-located at their premises at the moment. We expect to have more teams co-located there and, hopefully, in our organisation so that we can work on the best way for citizens to engage with government.

Senator CAMERON: So how many of your staff have co-located?

Mr Shepherd : I would need to get the accurate figure in an answer to this on notice. But about 10, at the moment, are working on a project with the DTO.

Senator CAMERON: What is your projection for further projected numbers to further co-locate?

Ms Campbell : We are thinking about those sort of sized teams. I think the Digital Transformation Office has envisaged small expert teams helping agencies like ours in that user facility space.

Senator CAMERON: DTO, I think, has got a bit dirty, according to Minister Robert—I am not sure if he is a minister still. He is still your minister, is he? He hasn't resigned yet?

Senator Payne: Senator.

Senator CAMERON: Well, things change fast in this game. With the 30 in DTO, are any of them co-locating back into the WPIT design group?

Ms Campbell : I do not think we have got that far in our discussions with them. I do expect over time for staff from the DTO to come and work within the department and bring their expertise—and particularly in that space.

Senator CAMERON: The impression that has been given by the minister and by spokespersons for DHS is that once WPIT is in place you will see significant improvements in service delivery. Will that improve call wait times?

Ms Campbell : I would hope that some of the functionality that comes from WPIT will mean that people will not have to ring up. For example—and I mentioned earlier—people ring up to find where their claim is up to. If we are able to say to people at the start of their claim, either when they put it in electronically or in person, that it is expected to take X days and there is a way for that customer to know where it is up to along the way, they will not have to call.

Senator CAMERON: Can you provide details of any analysis that has been done within the department to link lower call wait times to the implementation of WPIT?

Ms Campbell : We will take that on notice.

CHAIR: Senator Cameron, I will just advise you that Senator Siewert is waiting. So you have another few minutes, and then I will go to Senator Siewert.

Senator CAMERON: Has there been any analysis done as to when WPIT will start making a difference to call wait times?

Ms Campbell : We will take that on notice.

Senator CAMERON: You don't know?

Ms Campbell : You asked me for analysis, and I do not have analysis with me. That is why I said I would take it on notice.

Senator CAMERON: If you do not have it with you, is it there?

Ms Campbell : We are only in tranche 1 of WPIT. We have been very clear on what we have asked tranche 1 to deliver, and that is about the procurement—

Mr Shepherd : The design, the first initial deliverables.

Ms Campbell : the design and first initial deliverables, which include the applications about where claims are up to.

Senator CAMERON: Can you provide me some documentation as to the detail of tranche 1?

Ms Campbell : We will take that on notice.

Senator CAMERON: Can you provide me some details about what is going to apply in tranche 2?

Ms Campbell : I think we have said that tranche 2 will become clearer once we have gone to the market, which we are doing as part of tranche 1, and the design. We will not be in a position to provide details on tranche 2.

Senator CAMERON: But you have spoken of different tranches. You must have an idea of what the tranches are. How many tranches do you have?

Ms Campbell : We are looking at five tranches.

CHAIR: So just give me an overview of the five tranches. What is going to be happening in those five tranches?

Ms Campbell : I think we have said before at this hearing that the first tranche is about the design. The latter four tranches sort of broadly break up the size of the project. But we will need to go to the market and talk to system integrators and software providers about the best way to structure the rest of the program.

Senator CAMERON: How did you come up with five tranches?

Ms Campbell : Broadly, the amount of IT work that the market could sustain at any given time. That was broadly worked out on other major projects that had been conducted of this ilk.

Senator CAMERON: Just give me an idea of how these five tranches will work?

Ms Campbell : We need to wait until we have the design in place. But, broadly speaking, we think that we may start with a certain cohort of customers. We may start with, for example, students. That might be a cohort that we build and replace the current systems with first off.

Senator CAMERON: Is there documentation about the five tranches?

Mr Shepherd : There are over 100 pages of documentation about the program that went on to AusTender on 18 September.

Senator CAMERON: So that is on AusTender?

Mr Shepherd : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: Is there any other documentation in relation to the tranches that are not on AusTender?

Mr Shepherd : I think that if you see the pages on AusTender you will see there is quite a comprehensive articulation of what the department is looking for. As the secretary said, we need to actually wait for the response from the marketplace because it may have a smarter idea about how to achieve that.

As the secretary said, our thinking at the moment is that you would approach this from a customer cohort perspective and, perhaps, start with students. But our evidence from international projects is that they took a capabilities approach to some of the transformations rather than slice this by customer cohort. So we do need to wait for the response from the marketplace to finalise how those will work. But the concept of taking a large multi-year program, breaking it up into tranches and breaking it up into smaller work packages is now considered best practice in all large transformation programs. So you will see the concept of tranches and work packages in the documentation.

Have we landed on the contents in those tranches and those work packages? We cannot actually do that until we ask the market to respond to our requirements.

Senator CAMERON: Have you made any estimates about if there would be a reduction in staff as a result of the implementation of WPIT?

Ms Campbell : I think that we have looked at some areas broadly but I do not think we could say that it was comprehensive yet, because we are still waiting for the design of what we are going to do first.

Senator CAMERON: Okay. You said that you have looked at some areas broadly. Can you just tell me which areas you have looked at for staff reduction?

Ms Campbell : I think that we would like to ensure that WPIT allows, as much as possible, end-to-end processing. A customer could enter their details, or we could naturally collect their details, and if we could get through some of the complexity of the legislation that the outcome of a claim could be an end-to-end process—not unlike the tax system, where I think that 85 per cent of their claims can be done without human interaction.

Currently in the Centrelink system 100 per cent of claims require a person to be engaged. So we are looking at whether there are some efficiencies there.

Senator CAMERON: Centrepay?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator CAMERON: When Minister Payne had responsibility for DHS she started a working group to promote the disclosure of effective interest rates. It has met four times I understand—is that correct?

Ms Campbell : I will just get the officer who knows all about Centrepay to the table.

Senator CAMERON: I just want to ask about Centrepay. Last time—I think it was Mr Learmonth—

Ms Campbell : Mr Learmonth is at the table.

Senator CAMERON: Yes, he just walked in—sorry! The Thorn Group had to repay over $1 million—okay? You indicated, when I asked you whether there were any sanctions against this company, that it was a matter which was underway and that it was not concluded. I asked if there were a possibility that there could be a sanction and you said that it was 'a matter underway' and that it was not concluded. Where is that up to?

Mr Learmonth : It is still underway.

Senator CAMERON: It is still underway. Tell me how it is underway.

CHAIR: I am sorry to interrupt, but is this going to be a long line of questioning, Senator Cameron?

Senator CAMERON: I do have a bit to go; I am the shadow minister and I am keen to get some of these questions answered.

CHAIR: I will get you to conclude.

Senator CAMERON: How long has this been underway? Tell me that.

Mr Learmonth : While my colleague is looking up when it started, it is still underway in so far as there are a number of clients of the Thorn Group. Some of those will no longer be our clients. There is a process that Thorn is undertaking to identify those people who may have monies owed in order to repay them and that process is not yet concluded. For some of those clients, and particularly ex-clients, it will be harder than for others.

Senator CAMERON: How long has it been running, Mr Box?

Mr Box : In August 2015, Radio Rentals advised the department that it identified the excess payments—August 2015.

CHAIR: Unfortunately, we are going to have to leave it there, Senator Cameron.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to come back to the issue of the DSP assessment process. You said that 75 per cent of claims had recently been rejected. What period was that for?

Ms Campbell : My understanding is that it is for this financial year to date, but I will confirm with the officers when they come to the table.

Senator SIEWERT: For the group of people who applied, do you have an understanding of where they ended up? Did they end up on Newstart, youth allowance or with no income support?

Ms Campbell : Customers with a rejected claim, where do they go?

Ms Golightly : We make the offer of whether they would like to go on to another payment, which is usually Newstart. It is up to the customer if they wish to do that, but most do take up that offer.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you have any data on that?

Ms Golightly : I do not have the numbers with me, but I can take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you also take on notice where that 75 per cent ends up?

Ms Golightly : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: For the increased number of people who are not receiving DSP, I presume you are talking about the group which participated in a program for 18 months.

Ms Golightly : Not necessarily; that would be a subset of all the rejections. The figure that the Secretary was mentioning was for the total number of people who were applying for DSP. You are talking, I think, about one of the measures where people under the age of 35 were reviewed against—

Senator SIEWERT: No, it was a different one. I am talking about the process now where people have to participate in an approved program for 18 months.

Ms Golightly : There is a criterion that you need to have undertaken a program of support. The figure could include people who have not undertaken that program. They have a time period to complete that program. We can see what data we have on that for you.

Senator SIEWERT: I would be interested in knowing: of that 75 per cent how many were rejected because they had not undertaken a program of support and then came back through the system.

Ms Golightly : Yes, I understand that.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to make sure I understand the process. In terms of going down to the 49 per cent—and we had that discussion about the seven weeks and the 13 weeks—the ANAO report, the recent one on qualifying for the DSP, goes through your not meeting the agreed timeliness standard for that process. I think it said you met the target in 58 per cent of cases. I have it here somewhere, but I think it was about 58 per cent. So I am a little bit confused now about the process that you just talked about in terms of the 13 weeks, compared to that internal review process.

Ms Golightly : That is the AROs.

Ms Campbell : That is the AROs. That is a review process. My understanding—and then Ms Golightly will correct me!—is that with DSP you can actually bring further information in without asking for a formal review.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay.

Ms Golightly : That is exactly right.

Ms Campbell : So, after they have provided all the information they have, maybe at the end of those extra 13 weeks, if they are still being rejected, then a customer might ask for a formal review.

Senator SIEWERT: Rightio. So that is a process that is in between. The process is basically in between, and that is what you are saying is blowing out—the fact that you have not met that 70 per cent target.

Ms Golightly : Yes, that is right. If they want to provide information for whatever reason, after they have been rejected they have 13 weeks until they can do that, with the clock still running. Even if they provide one piece of the information—it might not be all of it—the 13-week clock keeps running for another 13 weeks. So it is sort of an endless tail.

Senator SIEWERT: Do I understand that you are going to go back to the department, to DSS, to discuss that?

Ms Campbell : I think we need to look at the entire process—I am not sure this is good for anyone, whether it us trying to administer it or a customer claiming—to see whether there is a better way of doing it.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the findings in the ANAO report on qualifying for the DSP, and its recommendations, have you met with DSS? There were some recommendations for DSS and some for you. Have you met with DSS yet to talk about those recommendations?

Ms Golightly : We are constantly talking to DSS. Yes. Even during the audit, we were talking to them about working with them, going forward. I do not think there has been any one meeting dedicated to those recommendations yet.

Mr Williamson : As Ms Golightly said, we meet with them on an ongoing basis. We have certainly discussed the audit with them, post the audit being tabled. There are two recommendations there that probably relate to both departments, and we are in the early days of talking about how we make sure we go about addressing those.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. In particular, I am interested in—well, all of it, actually, but I am interested right now in—the finding about the lack of documentation in decision making and what you have done to address that.

Ms Golightly : We are always looking at different ways we can improve the whole process, whether it be documentation or anything else. Certainly, one of the things we noted during the audit was that there are different places in the system where different parts are documented, and my understanding is that the Audit Office recommendation was around how we might make that easier or bring it all together, and we are doing that. Again, we are a little bit hampered by the system we have, but we are certainly looking at what else we might do with our staff to try and bring that documentation into a more coherent space.

Senator SIEWERT: What do you mean by the system that you have?

Ms Golightly : ISIS.

Ms Campbell : ISIS, our old Centrelink system.

Senator SIEWERT: Your old system. Okay.

Ms Campbell : That is where the information is kept.

Mr Williamson : Senator, can I just add to that. We are certainly looking at the documentation one, but I think one of the important things the audit showed is that the ANAO, when they were questioning the decisions that were made, were actually saying that we could do better in our documentation of those, so that is something we are looking at.

Senator SIEWERT: That is why I asked about that.

Ms Campbell : Chair, could I just correct the record before we finish?

CHAIR: Please.

Ms Campbell : The Capital Metro agency are visiting Braddon Service Centre to consult with staff on light rail. They will be in our tearoom on 24 February.

CHAIR: So the inner suburbs will be well serviced! We are going to have to wrap it up there. Actually, could you take on notice to provide some detail on who initiated that engagement and any arrangements around it, whether there is any cost and all that sort of thing—just any further details?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

CHAIR: Before we finish, I should put on the record that one of our Senate colleagues has been elevated to Deputy Leader of the Nats tonight, so congratulations to Fiona Nash. And of course a former senator, Barnaby Joyce, is now Nationals leader. So the senators are doing it! Thank you, Minister, for being here—

Senator Payne: Thank you, Senator Seselja.

CHAIR: and Ms Campbell and all of your staff. Thank you also to our secretariat and Hansard and Broadcasting staff. Senators are reminded that written questions on notice should be provided by 19 February 2016. The hearing is now adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 23:00