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Monday, 11 May 2015
Page: 2737


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Payne. Will the minister update the Senate on progress with replacing the Centrelink computer system which was announced last month?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:38): I thank Senator Seselja very much for the question. On 10 April the Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, and I made this announcement, and I am very pleased to be able to advise that preliminary work is indeed already underway on the project. We are talking about the streamlining of approximately 40 payments and 38 add-ons, which is currently the structure around which we make payments to 7.3 million Australian Centrelink customers. This is ultimately a very important long-term investment in government infrastructure that will have the capacity to underpin our welfare system for a generation.

The system we have now, as many people have heard previously, is over 30 years old. It is extraordinarily expensive to maintain and it is increasingly unable to meet the requirements not just of customers but also of government. This will be one of the largest IT projects of its type in the world. We estimate that it will take about seven years to complete in total from inception to decommissioning, if you like, in terms of the current system and introducing a new system. There are three major benefits that government will achieve by making these changes. Government will be able to properly address the challenges that face Australia's welfare system; we will maximise the benefits of e-government; and we will reduce the costs of administering the system for taxpayers, which is a benefit to customers, to taxpayers and to government.

What we have is a patchwork of hundreds of different systems tacked on, added on, stuck on, pinned on—any way people could find to do it over 30 years. It is unnecessarily complex and it creates extraordinary additional red tape for customers as well. Ultimately, we expect this will pay for itself within 10 years and it will continue to deliver savings at the end of that period of construction. (Time expired)

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:40): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister explain to the Senate how Australians will benefit from this major investment in new technology?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:40): I think that the most important thing is that customers will actually start to see benefits from the end of 2016. As well as what they see there will be benefits to government and benefits to taxpayers. From a government perspective, it will be a much faster process and it will mean less costly implementation of social policy. That will place us in a much better position to meet the constantly changing needs of the 7.3 million customers who currently rely on the system. Customers will also benefit from improved access to real-time information about their payments and a reduction in the amount of paperwork that they are required to currently submit manually—which any constituent will tell any member of parliament would be a good thing. If you are a parent who is engaged with the system you will end up with more time to spend with your children. If you are a carer, instead of lodging more forms, you will end up with more time to look after the people who depend upon you the most. If you are a job seeker, it will give you more time to spend looking for a job. Most importantly—(Time expired).

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:41): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how Centrelink's replacement computer system will help combat welfare fraud?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:41): I thank Senator Seselja for that question. This is a very good news announcement for a whole range of people that I have referred to earlier, but for those people who try to defraud the welfare system, quite frankly, it is very bad news. We will be greatly enhanced in our ability to catch those people who are deliberately trying to rip off the government and taxpayers for their own gain.

We already have a very extensive fraud and compliance program. We saved over $870 million in the last financial year with that program and we conducted over 3,000 criminal investigations and sent in excess of 1,100 matters to the Commonwealth DPP for further investigation and potential prosecution—all of those steps taken in the current system. The new system will give us an ability to do real-time monitoring or risk profiling. Due to the age of the system, we will be able to do away with the need for our staff to be manually manipulating data from other agencies, so that we have much more effective compliance—(Time expired).