Mon, 25 Mar 2024 - 11:49


I move:

That this House:

(1) notes with concern that during a cost of living crisis:
(a) call-wait times at Services Australia remain unacceptably high; and
(b) processing times for key claims, such as the Age Pension and Disability Support Pension, continue to blow out;
(2) acknowledges that this is a result of the Government's:
(a) failure to embrace digital service delivery;
(b) inept mismanagement of Services Australia's workforce; and
(c) failure to commit to a top-to-bottom customer service mindset; and
(3) expresses its support for a root and branch review into Services Australia.

This is the third motion the opposition has moved in this parliament concerning the woeful state of Services Australia under the custody and stewardship of the member for Maribyrnong. I want to focus my remarks today on subclause (2)(a) of the motion, which goes to digital service delivery. Two recent decisions taken by the member for Maribyrnong are examples of the digital drift under this government. One of the reasons why call and claims-processing wait times at Services Australia have blown out is that Labor quietly paused automation processes some 12 months ago. We've learnt through Senate estimates that Services Australia, in their second Annual Performance Statement, blamed the pausing of automation processes as a key factor in the massive claims backlog. Secondly, Services Australia has opted not to participate in the trial of Microsoft's Copilot artificial intelligence tool, the pilot announced by the Prime Minister last year. It's mystifying that Services Australia, one of Commonwealth's largest public sector agencies, has chosen to sit out this important trial.

I raise these two decisions because they illustrate this Labor government's inherent mistrust of and lack of interest in digital transformation. With appropriate safeguards, automation and artificial intelligence can be important tools to help deliver better customer service. Look at what the coalition achieved in government: we implemented the Single Touch Payroll process, which is an example of automation. This allowed Australians who engage with both the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia to use prefilled information to meet their reporting obligations efficiently. It also, therefore, allowed the government to increase payment accuracy, thereby helping to reduce instances of fraud and noncompliance. As evidence of the success of this initiative, between 1 July 2023 and 31 December 2023 more than 7.9 million Single Touch Payroll pay components, such as salary and wages, leave payments and allowances, were prefilled. This benefited citizens and allowed Services Australia to deliver better services.

When in government we also invested in the responsible use of artificial intelligence—again, to serve citizens better. As part of our $200 million investment in myGov, we rolled out digital assistance using Microsoft Cortana software. It's important to look at what the myGov user audit, commissioned by the member for Maribyrnong, had to say about the coalition's enhanced myGov investment: 'The Enhanced myGov program has shown what a well-crafted and -implemented development program can achieve.' Digital assistance comes in many forms, but in the case of Services Australia this meant that any citizen using the Services Australia website could ask questions of a bot and receive simple and straightforward information. As with any example of artificial intelligence, the Services Australia digital assistant learns more over time and can now handle increasingly complex questions about claims. Australians have embraced this functionality. In 2020 there was a 600 per cent surge in the use of digital assistance. One of the obvious benefits of digital assistance is that it allows customers to have their questions answered immediately, without having to call up Services Australia and wait. Certainly, when you do that under this government you have to wait a teeth-grindingly long period of time.

These kinds of tools—prefilled data and digital assistance using AI technologies—have been readily embraced in the private sector. Banks, telecommunications companies, large retailers and a whole range of other businesses are using these technologies to improve the service they offer to their customers. Services Australia really should be learning from the private sector, as, frankly, should the rest of government. In the work of improving services delivered by government, there is clearly a place for understanding and applying best-practice innovation from the private sector. The case studies I've given are evidence of the benefits that can be realised when you have a government that's ready to look at what's done in the private sector and adopt it. Unfortunately, the member for Maribyrnong has chosen to take a very different approach. He's pulled up the drawbridge; he's not interested in learning from innovation in the private sector. That's not the way to improve service delivery, and it means that Australians who are engaging with Services Australia are suffering and receiving poorer service.