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Service delivery reform - redesigning what we do and how we do it: address to the National Press Club, Canberra

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The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Minister for Human Services Minister for Social Inclusion

New Directions - Minister’s Views

Service Delivery Reform - redesigning what we do and how we do it

National Press Club, 16 National Circuit, Barton

Tuesday 21 June 2011

****Check against delivery****

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Thank you for asking me to speak with you today.

I’d like to start with the story of a young man who recently visited one of our Local Connections to Work sites.

He was living in someone’s shed; doing odd jobs for them in return.

He had no job, no money and no bank account.

He wasn’t on payments and had medical issues that he couldn’t afford to treat.

During his visit, staff helped him to claim Newstart Allowance and gave him a Health Care Card.

He was connected with an employment services provider who worked with Centrelink to refer him to a financial service to help him open a bank account.

Staff also re-issued his Medicare card that had expired.

He was then able to see a doctor about his health problem and to continue in the place-based Local Connections to Work program.

He was referred to the local youth housing service - and ultimately got himself a job. On reflection, the staff involved commented on how much could be achieved by working together - and how great it felt to help this young man get back on his feet.

This story is also a story about realising potential - on both the part of the young man, who was able to re-engage with his community and the workforce; and on the part of government to provide more comprehensive, tailored and joined-up services.

I know that last month you heard from my colleague Gary Gray, who spoke of his experience with Centrelink when his father died.

He was touched by the empathy of the frontline staff.

Minister Gray made the point that this frontline service is the basis on which government and the Australian Public Service is judged.

We need to bring more of that to the way we think about things in Canberra. Major reforms are occurring in my portfolio to ensure that the Government delivers the right services, to the right people, in the right places.

Service Delivery Reform is driven by our recognition that the way we do business has not kept pace with community expectations or needs.

Many of our most basic transactions are costly, labour intensive and time consuming. People now expect government to provide services that use modern technology - to be as convenient and accessible as services provided by banks, bookshops, airlines and hotels.

And here’s the rub - while people can now plan a holiday from start to finish from their lounge room; do their banking on their mobile phones; and buy books, songs and movies using their iPad - they still can’t apply for many government payments or services without filling out paper forms and taking them into an office.

Our own staff are used to doing the sorts of things I mentioned - and they want to be able to innovate and be responsive to the needs of customers in the same way.

That’s what we are implementing under Service Delivery Reform - more online services, less redundant paperwork, less manual processing and more automation.

Instead of wasting time scanning letters and doing manual data entry from one screen to another, staff will be able to use their time to actually help people.

The success of place-based programs that have already been trialled in my portfolio has resulted in the Government expanding this idea across more communities and programs.

These new programs will take advantage of local expertise and conditions rather than relying on one-size-fits-all models that ignore the specific needs of different communities.

My portfolio is also working more closely with local service providers and non-government organisations - those who have worked in their local communities for years and know what works and what doesn’t.

It is human nature that customers respond better when their individual needs are met. Consider another client - 20 years old, unemployed, with an unstable housing situation and in the middle of a custody battle.

Through Local Connections to Work, he was put in contact with a housing service. Securing stable accommodation helped him gain access rights to see his child again. He is now actively seeking employment and in his own time, resumed pursuing a career in music. Supporting this person and connecting him with the right services has helped him regain his confidence to reconnect and take a more active approach to life.

What is crucial to the success of this reform is citizen-centred design -getting out into communities to understand what works for them in tackling disadvantage and looking at how to tailor a model to suit.

It means a higher level of trust for frontline staff - trust that they know their communities; have strong local connections to other government and non-government agencies; and can act constructively to help the customer.

We can’t centrally plan for every eventuality in every community, or centrally design to accommodate every risk - and that is what our place-based approach is all about.

In 2010, my portfolio conducted community and staff forums across the country to get insight - and of course some healthy criticism - from those who use and deliver our services.

This is part of the portfolio’s new co-design approach - and puts into practice the Government’s plans to more actively engage citizens in designing the services they need and access.

It has also enabled us to get a better understanding of where and when people fall through the gaps. The causes of significant disadvantage like homelessness and drug and alcohol dependency are varied and multi-faceted. So too must be the solutions. That is why we are designing many of our new services with our customers, their communities and the frontline staff who serve them.

By putting people first in the design and delivery of services, we can focus on what we want to achieve for the customer - rather than what might be administratively convenient for the bureaucracy.

As one customer said:

‘…if you just have general process stuff it’s good, the problem is when things fall down. If things get complicated that’s when it gets bad’.

This highlights that it is when ‘things fall down’ that policy departments need to have a much clearer sense of service delivery implications of their work - because what works logically on paper doesn’t always work smoothly on the ground.

By better understanding how policy and service delivery intersect, we are better placed to prevent things falling down and people becoming marginalised.

From my previous experience as Minister for Housing and again in my current portfolio, I have seen that homelessness and social isolation can affect anyone.

I’ve also seen that it is often by the smallest of margins that those at risk of homelessness don’t end up becoming homeless.

This means we have the opportunity - and I think the responsibility - to be responsive to the signs and intervene early.

Take for example the Case Coordination trials that my portfolio will begin rolling out over the next couple of months.

Customers who are facing significant challenges in their lives, such as homelessness or drug dependency, will be identified early.

Services will be wrapped around the customer - to meet their needs and their individual circumstances.

This might mean that they are referred to family support or rehabilitation services, or child care might be organised for their kids while they attend a job interview.

This is exactly the sort of assistance that will help vulnerable customers get back on their feet.

We need to change the way that government delivers services by moving beyond simply handing over forms to fill out and delivering payments.

In the future, the Case Coordination approach has the potential to be a far reaching program and a key part of the Government’s broader agenda to modernise the delivery of public services to Australians and their families.

The Federal Government is not alone in this. There are thousands of state and local government and non-government services out there that offer assistance programs.

Modern government service delivery needs to partner with the vast array of services already out there and link them together in a way that is helpful to customers.

Our Case Coordination approach is a great example of public sector reform in action - working across government and with the third sector rather than working in a vacuum.

I am sure I don’t have to tell you this but getting out and seeing first hand what is happening in communities should be an important part of your jobs as public servants.

You don’t need to travel across Australia to do this - visit Goulburn, Yass or Wagga and listen to what people are saying at a Human Services portfolio office or other service delivery agency.

See first-hand what government is actually delivering, talk to frontline staff and customers and get their insights. If you aren’t getting that interaction then it makes it very hard for you to be give meaningful and relevant policy advice, write informed briefs and speeches.

One customer summarised this well:

‘Put yourselves in our shoes - they don’t know what’s going on in the outside world and we don’t know what’s going on in the inside. They need to come out to our communities and experience what it’s like for us, to live like us and make it real for them, it should be a part of their training’.

Customers appreciate empathy and understanding, as Gary Gray said to you last month.

That is why we need to equip frontline staff with policy and a service delivery model that helps them to provide the support and assistance that individual customers need.

Our staff want to do this - yet we continue to put barrier after barrier between them and the natural exercise of their empathy and flexibility.

It is critical that public servants can both see things through the eyes of citizens and communicate in a way that is meaningful for the average person.

Well crafted, plain English correspondence and public documents not only demonstrate open government but also compassion and understanding.

My own staff will attest that this is a particular passion of mine!

Language that is too bureaucratic or complicated can hamper the good work we are trying to achieve.

A customer who has literacy difficulties may be deterred from applying for a payment they are eligible for, rather than risk the perceived embarrassment of asking for help to read a letter or complete a form.

Ordinary families, who work hard in their jobs and at home, don’t necessarily have time to wade through pages of letters or websites based on benefits rather than circumstances.

Through Service Delivery Reform we will also let customers know what they are be eligible for, rather than waiting for them to figure it out.

Our reforms are a microcosm of what is happening more broadly in the public sector throughout Australia and the world.

The Australian Government Information Management Office’s Interacting with Government Report 2009 demonstrates that those people who deal with government online report the highest level of satisfaction.

Singapore is a model for investing in technological advances to make it easy for citizens to manage their interactions with government.

Canada has merged many of its government shopfronts and integrated phone numbers and websites to provide customers with themed information based on life events such as ‘finding a job’ and ‘raising a family’.

We have already begun co-locating our Centrelink and Medicare offices with great success. Many customers are telling us they are finding it easier to access services and like being able to do this under one roof.

By extending the range of services available to customers through these ‘one-stop-shops’, we are also providing access to services to those in rural and regional areas who previously might have had to travel hundreds of kilometres to their nearest Medicare office.

New Zealand’s “Community Links” program has informed our Local Connections to Work, which brings together government and non-government services to provide customers with easy and all-inclusive assistance.

We have looked at local innovations as well; the Victorian and Western Australian State Governments have adopted approaches in community partnerships and engagement, something we have brought to our Service Delivery Reform model, through co-design.

We are also expanding some of our own innovations that work really well - like Mobile Offices that are deployed quickly in emergency situations and Community Engagement Officers who provide outreach services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

A key message that I want to leave with you with is that good policy requires good delivery and good communication. All three bases need to be covered to deliver improved employment, social, health and welfare outcomes for Australians.

Better informed policy will lead to more success for implementation - but we also need to more clearly communicate changes and requirements to our customers, stakeholders and staff.

I’d like to tell you a final story to close. Bruce had been unemployed since 1991 so he signed up to the Local Connections to Work program when it was implemented at his local Centrelink office.

He said he really wanted to get a haircut and shave at the barbers - because he hadn’t done this for years.

His employment services provider organised this for him.

For Bruce this was a real treat and made him feel like a new man.

He achieved a real boost in confidence by having a service solely focussed on him and his specific needs.

After participating in Local Connections to Work interviews, Bruce was thrilled by his ability to get a job after being out of the workforce for so long.

He has kept in touch and has made friends at work and is now much more self-reliant.

At a six month review, Bruce proudly indicated that he had been promoted to supervisor.

He is now managing staff and his boss is very happy with his performance. This is living proof that our new, innovative programs are improving people’s lives - rather than just continuing to shuffle them through the system.

I am looking forward to hearing many more stories like Bruce’s over the course of Service Delivery Reform and I know many of you here will also be watching with interest.

Thank you once again for asking me to speak with you today.