Wed, 28 Feb 2024 - 19:39

Adjournment Debate - Minister for Government Services

Under this government and the inept and incompetent conduct of the Minister for Government Services, the member for Maribyrnong, we see service delivery and digital transformation in a terrible state. At Services Australia there is a massive of backlog of claims. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that Services Australia has a backlog of 1.5 million claims. Under this government, claim-processing waiting times have blown out massively compared to the times which applied under the coalition. The average time to process an application for a low-income card in 2021-22 was 16 days. What is it now under Labor, the worker's friend? It's 82.5 days! It's 82.5 days you have to wait when you apply for a low-income card. What about the age pension? Under the coalition it took 25 days for a claim to be processed, and now you are waiting 78 days.

Of course, there is one group of Australians who are having their applications for welfare payments dealt with very promptly, and that would be the 105 individuals in the NZYQ cohort. It's taking Services Australia a mere 14 days to process the applications for a special benefit payment compared to, if you apply for the disability support pension, waiting for 82 days. Those are the priorities of the member for Maribyrnong. If you are a criminal who has been released from immigration detention, your application for special benefits will be dealt with very promptly. But if you are somebody who is seeking the disability support pension you can expect to wait for 82 days.

What experience are we seeing of people who call up Services Australia with an inquiry? For the second half of the last calendar year, the average amount of time people had to wait when they called the disability, sickness and carers line was 48 minutes and 31 seconds. By comparison, under the coalition, in financial year 2021-22 it was 21 minutes. It's now more than double that. What was the big fix from the member for Maribyrnong to solve this problem? He told us proudly recently that they are employing another 3,000 new staff, but he forgot to mention a couple of things. The average staffing level was cut from 28,560 in 2022-23 to 26,692 in the 2023-24 budget, down by nearly 2,000. In mid-2022, shortly after coming to office, he rolled up his sleeves and cancelled a contract with specialist call centre provider Serco. At the stroke of a pen, 600 call centre jobs were gone.

What's happening when it comes to the future of delivering services digitally? Well, the member for Maribyrnong doesn't particularly like the delivery of digital services. We have learnt through Senate estimates that in March last year the government quietly paused automation processes for the processing of claims, and some of those processes remain paused. It's quite mystifying why, but we can see the results in the appalling blowout in the length of time people need to wait when they apply for a benefit. That pausing of automation is surely linked to this terrible performance.

But there is more terrible performance in every direction you look under the care of the member for Maribyrnong. There are now only two major information and communications technology projects on the books at Services Australia: the GovERP program and the Health Delivery Modernisation Program. Both were started by the coalition government. How are they tracking now under the member for Maribyrnong? As of December 2023, both were on the lowest health rating of red. They were red. Indeed, the performance of the Health Delivery Modernisation Program was so bad that the Digital Transformation Agency said this month that the project requires constant attention if it is to achieve its stated outcomes. I forgot to mention that one of the other great contributions of the member for Maribyrnong in late 2022 was to abolish over 1,000 specialist IT jobs at Services Australia. No wonder the performance is so dreadful. We knew that the member for Maribyrnong was absolutely hopeless at public administration. We have now seen powerful proof of it.