The last six to eight months have been difficult for the government’s digital transformation agenda. From the botched Census 2016 project to the latest acrimony about the Centrelink overpayment recovery program — it’s been a series of speed bumps attracting plenty of criticism from the public and public servants.
Centrelink has recently delegated decision-making about people's entitlements to a computer.
And, surprise, surprise, neither the data nor the software are good enough to support the process.
While there has been some controversy over the government’s reliance on big data to save taxpayers’ money, none of the commentary has come close to understanding the complexities hidden in the notion of the error rate.
The system that Centrelink employs is an example of artificial intelligence, and the problems it faces are intrinsic to all decision systems.
The government is trying to modernise service delivery via online platforms, with mixed results.
Knowing that the Turnbull Government isn't finished with its five-seven year WPIT plan should send a shiver down our spines.
In the 2015-16 budget, the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program was announced as the replacement for [the Income Security Integrated System (ISIS), set up in 1983 to oversee welfare payment deliveries, customer service, support and compliance activities for Centrelink]. The 2015-16 budget measure worth $60.5m is part of a $1.5 billion, seven-year program. The program was described by the Government as one of the world’s largest social welfare ICT transformations.
Claims made today about the Department of Human Services’ online compliance activity do not accurately represent how the system works.
General Manager Hank Jongen said the system was designed to identify differences between Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink payment records, and was performing the task as intended.
“We will continue to work with staff to explain how the system operates and the role they play.”
The Australian Government has yet another embarrassing technology failure on its hands, thanks to a poorly designed and implemented IT system.
The government’s horrific start to the year is not only fully deserved, it is completely appropriate. The Centrelink shemozzle and entitlements abuses are a wonderful amalgam of the absence of respect for those on welfare and the tin-eared political nous which characterises this government.
Let’s not pretend that Centrelink issuing faulty debt notices is just a case of IT gone wrong.
Faults where people are issued debt notices of $14,000 due to the system incorrectly duplicating employers, or because it hamfistedly averages annual income over 52 weeks are not really IT glitches, but rather are part of the policy design.
Governments across the globe are experimenting with the blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, as a way to reduce costs and provide more accountability to the public. In Europe alone, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Estonia are experimenting with blockchains to fight corruption and deliver public services.
Australia, too, is looking at what a blockchain might achieve. The recent problems with Centrelink’s automated data-matching system show precisely where a government blockchain would fit in.
Rather than siloing our data in government agencies, we could create a single source of information. This would speed up our interactions with government, while reducing errors and fraud.
As the pressure ramps up on Human Services Minister Allan Tudge over Centrelink’s most recent attempts to claw back billions paid out through the welfare system, the department is putting together a new procurement panel for “advanced customer aggression training” and preparing to roll out front-line virtual assistants.