The Federal Government is embarking on a major reform of the agency responsible for Centrelink and Medicare, flagging considerable IT changes as a result.
Speaking to the National Press Club, the Minister for Human Services, Chris Bowen, said along with co-locating physical services such as Medicare and Centrelink, there will be a single website and phone number for all Human Services agencies by the end of 2010.
The Department of Human services is responsible for Centrelink, Medicare, CRS Australia, Australian Hearing and the Child Support Agency.
"The Human Services portfolio already supports over 17 million online transactions by customers each year and our intention is that, by 2013, all forms across the portfolio will be digitised," Bowen said.
The Minister added the current delivery of services was not up to scratch and the reform program was being viewed as a potential first step towards centralising many government services.
"In, say, 10 years’ time, what’s to say state governments will not have chosen to co-locate their service delivery with the Commonwealth both physically and through the Internet?" Bowen said.
"Australians can only benefit from their governments focussing on better service delivery.
"This will be a long journey but today I am announcing the first, vitally important step towards better, more efficient service delivery. The dividend will be substantial."
As part of the move, Medicare and Centrelink will become part of the Department of Human Services but retain their respective brands and business lines. The IT platforms of the respective agencies will be brought together, but will maintain separate databases. Centrelink chief information officer, John Wadeson, will head up the project.
"The community has genuine concerns about this, concerns that I recognise and understand," Bowen said.
"We are bringing IT platforms together, not information itself. Apart from the limited data that is already shared between agencies like Medicare and Centrelink, no more information will be shared unless the individual concerned asks us to share the information for their convenience."
He added the department was working with the Privacy Commissioner to create a "formal Memorandum of Understanding" to cover the reforms.
In answering questions from journalists, Bowen acknowledged the complexity and scale of the reform objectives.
"You’re right to identify that it is a very big task bringing all back-office together, particularly IT. And you’re right to identify that it will take some time, that there are contracts in place which need to be reworked and recalibrated, et cetera. It’ll be a task we do in collaboration with the private sector," he said.
Fast facts on the Department of Human Services:
- Delivers over $100 billion in payments annually
- Responsible for 200 different services
- 361,000 people attend an office daily
- 31 call centres receive 222,000 phone calls daily
- 400,000 letters are sent out by the agencies each day
- 70,000 transactions occur online daily