DHS issues show Turnbull’s innovation talk just ‘spam’, says Labor


news Labor has criticised the Turnbull government over recent IT and other issues at the Department of Human Services (DHS), saying they reveal that the Prime Minster’s talk of innovation is just “spam”.

Recent technical problems have caused problems for Australian citizens using DHS services, including a New Year’s Day glitch in Centrelink systems that caused around 70,000 people to be told they owed up to $800 to the government.

Labor said access to myGov, the Centrelink website and the Medicare system is proving “increasingly difficult” for Australians. It further points out that the issues come as the government “begins spending $28 million on ads to say it ‘embraces innovation’”.

The comment was referring to a government announcement last week, saying that it plans to launch a “public information and community engagement campaign” to support the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said at the time the agenda will “drive an ideas boom in Australia that will be supported by innovation and deliver the next age of economy prosperity”.

Senator Doug Cameron, Shadow Minister for Human Services (pictured), said: “It is the height of irony that the Turnbull Government is spending so much telling us how they’re innovative at the same time as you can’t access MyGov because the system is down.”

A statement from Cameron cited an Australian National Audit Office report showed that approximately 40% of all Centrelink’s incoming calls result from failed online or self-services, and said the growth of digital transactions has not reduced demand for call centre services as was anticipated.

Additionally, the Opposition pointed to other issues, including the DHS Annual Report, which shows complaints are up 18.8% on last year, while customer satisfaction is down by 8%.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s follow-up review of service delivery complaints at Centrelink has revealed that problems have persisted for more than 18 months after his initial report was published in April 2014, Labor said.

“The Minister responsible has no interest in these issues. He just wants to be seen to be acting tough,” said Cameron, referring to Minister for Social Services Christian Porter. “He needs to focus on his portfolio, settle the long-running industrial dispute in DHS fairly, and be open and transparent about what the problems in DHS are and how he plans to fix them.

“The Government says it will be spending up to $1bn on the welfare infrastructure payment transformation program, but they won’t release details of how that transformation will proceed. They won’t tell us how much, if anything, will be used to strengthen Australia’s long term IT capabilities,” the minister added.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has also criticised computer malfunctions and other issues at the DHS, saying they are due to “chronic and prolonged underfunding”.

The Government has promised in March that it would replace the ageing Centrelink computer system at a cost of AU$1 billion. The improvements are expected to take place over several years, however.


  1. This is just political mudslinging and nonsense. The problems with DHS systems (and so many other big, big systems) have been decades in the making. The solutions are not quick and easy.
    The impact to the Australian public, and the taxpayer, is too big for the political parties to play with this kind of thing. They really need to have a bipartisan approach, and to resist the temptation to use these things as political footballs. The more politicised it becomes, the more it turns to crap.

  2. Most of what Turnbull says is spam. How often has he advocated one position on programmes like Q&A, a popular position with the people, only to quietly vote the opposite once in parliament. Way too many times for my liking.
    Looking at his record in parliament. Turnbull seems to be one of the biggest talkers for the least productivity. He really has achieved SFA as far as I can tell.

  3. The biggest problem with the public services is the government. Result are not measured by how much they cost and not by the outcome. It is the old about the productivity commission measuring the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    If you want to cut down waste in public service and improve outcome stop making the public service responsible for budget savings and start making them responsible for outcomes. Hiring freezes ‘efficiency dividends’ and basing budgets on last years spend don’t achieve anything useful.

    The public service needs two things to be effective. They need to be accountable and empowered right now they are neither when they need to be both. The problem is neither party knows how to do accountability right. The LNP think account accountability has to do with the bottom line of a P&L it is why they always talk about cutting cost and reducing the size of the public service, and privatization, this results in loss of needed investment driving up long term costs causing wastage in the future. Labor doesn’t understand competitive incentives trying to be equal for all workers which leaves individuals unaccountable, this enables bloat and carrying of dead weight. Neither approach focuses on how we achieve the outcome.

    We have this issue across all areas of the public service and in the private sector. Empower public service to achieve outcomes and make them accountable for achieve those outcomes and the cost savings will come.

    Want to reduce the cost to budget of unemployment benefits the goal should be getting people into long term employment. You don’t achieve this by reducing the number of staff at Centrelink incentivizing private job sector provider to get people into any job even if it they end up straight on unemployment again in 6 months time.

    • I think there is tension between being accountable and being empowered. This tension is created when the scope of a manager’s responsibility overlaps or touches on another manager’s responsibilities. You end up in a situation where all managers are somewhat accountable, which means that no-one is actually empowered to do anything; and you get situations where you need a dozen signatures just to change a light globe.

    • When you start reading about the LNP cutting APS staff numbers it is just smoke and mirrors. They stand up and carry on about how much the taxpayer has saved by the sacking of thousands of public servants but they are only showing you one section of the overall balance sheet. The part they don’t show is how much it is costing the taxpayer for all the private consultants and contractors that have been hired to replace the sacked public servants. A recent article highlighted people in Defence being made redundant and returning as contractors on 5 times the salary to do exactly the same job.
      It is the same with DHS, they sack APS staff and put their work out to private companies at many times the cost for arguably poorer results, or at best massively fudged figures.

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