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.