Qld Health payroll gets another $384 million


Attractive Business Man In Suit Throwing Money Into Air

blog Those of you who thought that the Queensland Health payroll debacle had gone away, think again. The LNP State Government landed its annual budget this week, and included in it is a massive dollop of change for the ailing project, which continues to bedevil the department and the State Government at large, as well as the politicians and partners involved. Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls told the State Parliament yesterday:

“Madam Speaker, it is not with any pleasure that I announce that the Government has had to provide increased funding of $384 million over four years to enable the Department to operate and improve the Queensland Health rostering and payroll system.

The Health payroll system will cost an estimated $1.25 billion, over seven years, since its failed implementation under Labor in 2010. I know the Minister and departmental staff are working incredibly hard to enhance the payroll environment, improve pay outcomes for Queensland health employees and stem the financial bleeding. They need, and will continue to receive, our support.”

Earlier in the same parliamentary sitting, Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg took the chance to sink the boot in to the previous Bligh Labor administration regarding the payroll systems fiasco. He said:

“Yes, it is true that the legacy of Labor’s payroll debacle continues to munch its way through the Queensland Health system and continues to munch its way through the Queensland Treasury and the amount of money which has to be made available to bail out yet another example of Labor’s incompetence, another example that they were not happy to give over to the people of Queensland until they were so forced in this particular place.”

“Indeed, when I became the minister I was most concerned to see the super brief that had been prepared for the previous Labor minister which actually pointed out that there was more than $500 million worth of unfunded liability in the Queensland Health payroll—that is unfunded liability. Indeed, we know the human consequence of that last year when more than 1,500 jobs across Queensland had to be sacrificed as a consequence of the mess that was left by those opposite. They had no answer. They had no answer on how to fund it.”

“Indeed, due to the hard work which we have been able to do in the last 12 months we have been able to reduce the unfunded liability significantly this year by doing away with the issue of the moratorium on the re-collection of overpayments, by the separation of rostering from pay date— something which they were not prepared to do—and also with regard to a number of other changes. The unfunded component this year was around $124 million, but I am very pleased to advise that the Treasurer, through his empathy, has made sure that that money will be forthcoming to Health so that we do not have to pass that impact through to Queensland Health staff and patients.”

It’s hard to disagree with Springborg that the previous Labor administration shares a great deal of blame for the problems with Queensland Health’s botched payroll systems overhaul. After all, the issue happened under the watch of Premier Anna Bligh, and there are many signs that the politicians involved were privy to warning signs that the payroll upgrade was going south.

However, in my opinion, more of the blame here rests with the bureaucracy inside the State Government, as well as its own IT project and service delivery staff and the outside contractors involved. Ministers, after all, usually have many major projects to keep a watch on, and they primarily act as oversight and accountability watchdogs on these kinds of projects, rather than getting their hands dirty with the nitty gritty details of implementation.

In the case of Queensland Health’s payroll system upgrade, the project went south fast after initial encouraging signs, and the many experts involved, I have no doubt, would have been reassuring the politicians (politicians who had little experience with major IT projects) that the problems were not insurmountable and could be addressed within the bounds of the project.

I would direct the current LNP administration in Queensland to a landmark audit report which Queensland’s Auditor-General published into the Queensland Health issue in June 2010 (yes, three years ago — the debacle is still ongoing). At that time, I wrote on Delimiter:

“The implementation of the new payroll system was broadly to follow a model set earlier by Queensland’s Department of Housing, with the state’s IT shared services agency CorpTech to work with IBM and Queensland Health on the project … However, the Auditor-General noted in its report that all three parties significantly underestimated how large the project would need to be right from the start.”

“The Auditor-General also found other problems with the project. The governance structure between CorpTech, IBM and Queensland Health was not clear, causing confusion, thre was no periodic review of the business needs of the project, and system and process testing before the new system went live had not identified a number of “significant implementation risks”.”

You’ll note that little of this would have had much to do with the politicians concerned — these issues were arising directly from the project governance of the Queensland Health payroll upgrade project. And when things were going south, the politicians did actually take action on the issue, establishing various stabilisation programs and holding various review meetings.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that I suspect that the Queensland Health payroll system would have gone south anyway, no matter which side of politics was involved in seeking to keep it under control. This may be something that Queensland’s current LNP administration would like to consider, especially as it embarks on very similar payroll systems overhaul initiatives at Queensland Police and in the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts. What goes around, comes around. Perhaps in several electoral terms, it might be Bob Katter’s Australian Party using parliamentary time to bitterly complain about the LNP’s oversight of similar botched payroll upgrades. In politics, what goes around tends to come around — and especially in Queensland.


  1. Makes me both sad and angry to see so much cash wasted time and time again on these sorts of Big Gov IT projects. Sigh.

  2. Why do governments run payroll systems? I admit to being naive to the complexities around this but surely this can just be outsourced to professionals. The amount of money just seems astounding for just one state based government department. Doesn’t it cost roughly a billion dollars to build a new hospital? And they spend over a billion on a payroll system and havn’t finished. Just can’t fathom it.

    • Very complex awards make it hard if not impossible to outsource it to professionals. WA Health has transitioned to a new payroll system almost seamlessly but it would not have happened without the very experienced individuals involved who knew what they were doing.

      As for the incumbents using the current situation to further sink the boots into the previous Bligh(t) government, there’s no real substance to it because it’s likely that the same individuals who messed up the previous deployment are still at the helm purely because it doesn’t make sense to remove those who know the most about the project.

      • Bollocks. My dad pretty much single-handedly designed, wrote an implemented a very complex awards-based payroll system (RPI) for the Austin Hospital back in the ’90s. He was an external consultant with no prior experience of the awards system.

        They still use it.

        • I should clarify that my point is that good systems analysts are what you need first and foremost.

          • Hi Ed,

            I’m trying to get meaning from your post because on one hand you are questioning what I wrote above in calling “bollocks” and on the other agreeing with me in your post to clarify your statement.

            Either you only read the first sentence I wrote or you conveniently ignored the part about “experienced individuals involved who knew what they were doing”.

            With respect to your father, it’s also this and your follow up post that contradicts your statement that he pretty much “single-handedly designed, wrote an implemented a very complex awards-based payroll system” without any prior experience of awards/award based systems(?).

            It’s like forgetting that there ever was a project manager/lead, technical lead, developers, systems analysts, business analysts, testers, trainers, support, the business themselves and anyone else involved in the project without which nothing could (or would) have been delivered at all.


  3. Analysis of the special inquiry testimony reveals a slightly different picture. Politicians were warned right from the beginning asMarcus Salouk’s testimony makes clear. Hold their (ibm’s) feet to the fire he told Schwarten.

    You cant simplify this story into neat packages other than to say the Health department should accept less of the blame than anyone else.

    The governments position is that the IBM has screwed them mercilessly from day one. IBM has been scrambling for evidence to contradict this without success. Even more damning is the inference is that at no stage did IBM actually care whether they system worked or not and the transcripts of the IBM’ers are quite calling in this regard.

    However, Corptech provided itself to be more than a willing screwee. The transcripts I have read so far indicate senior Corptech managers did little but passively accept briefings blaming Health. Their commitment to getting a working system for health appears lower than IBM’s.

    The frustration of Health’s IT managers at the games played by their senior managers adds a 3rd corner to the triangle.

    But this analysis is an oversimplification of what was a litany of the wrong decision being made every single step of the way.

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