[LINK] An IT revolution for taxpayers
david.boxall at hunterlink.net.au
Sun Oct 22 11:28:13 EST 2006
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An IT revolution for taxpayers
Author: Julian Bajkowski
Publication: Australian Financial Review (29,Tue 17 Oct 2006)
The federal government plans to overhaul the way public service
departments employ the internet to dramatically simplify the use of
government services for business and taxpayers.
In the biggest upgrade to the public sector's use of information
technology during the coalition's 10 years in power, the reforms will
require government agencies to adopt new work practices that will
streamline everyday access to simple services.
Hundreds of paper-based welfare benefit and community services forms
will migrate to internet-based transactions, as the federal government
changes its service delivery model. These include the much maligned
30-page application forms for family tax benefit and the baby bonus.
People who register a change of address at one government agency will
also be able to have their new details automatically carried though to
all others - including state registries and local councils.
The reforms are intended to upgrade technology operations performed by
several agencies including the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink,
Medicare and the Department of Family and Community Services and
Spearheaded by public service chief Peter Shergold, the reforms are
designed to make more effective use of the federal government's
expenditure on information and communications technology which consume
between $5 billion and $7 billion a year.
Other moves include the widespread implementation of a controversial
technology known as auto-population to allow computers at one government
agency to retrieve the personal details and particulars of individuals
from another. These include taxable income, welfare entitlements and
The system is already used between the ATO and Centrelink, and the
government plans to extend it to Medicare, the pharmaceutical benefits
scheme and pensions.
Yesterday Dr Shergold, commonwealth auditor-general Ian McPhee and
public service commissioner Lynelle Briggs launched new guidelines to
govern how public sector programs and policies are implemented.
Directed squarely at chief executives and departmental secretaries, the
new rules hold major implications not only for how agencies buy their
technology, but also how they measure its success.
The government's attempts to put the internet to work for taxpayers has
proved far from easy since Prime Minister John Howard promised in 1997
to have all "appropriate" services online by 2001.
Although thousands of government websites have been created since,
transaction technologies such as the 20-year-old Eftpos system are only
now being adapted to provide consumer services such as electronic
claiming of Medicare refunds.
In August Mr Howard announced plans to pay up to $10 billion worth of
Medicare refunds directly into patients' bank accounts using the Eftpos
He said the new system would dramatically lower manual transaction costs
of between $3.50 and $10, and remove the need to queue at Medicare
offices to claim refunds that typically amounted to $35 per doctor's
Dr Shergold acknowledged that the 1990s experiment with
whole-of-government IT outsourcing had led to a loss of strategic
control over public sector technology.
"I think it is true to say we've been a little bit slow to grasp the
full capacity of IT," Dr Shergold told The Australian Financial Review.
"People will only really engage with the government electronically when
they are able to do transactions. Until people start to transact [over
the internet] with government, then the technology will not be taken up
to the degree that we need."
Several ministers, including Health Minister Tony Abbott and Human
Services Minister Joe Hockey, are believed to regard Medicare as the
prime example of how entrenched bureaucratic resistance has left
government services technology decades behind the commercial sector.
To wrest back strategic control over the government's technology agenda,
Dr Shergold has sheeted the responsibility for the success or failure of
government technology projects directly back to individual departmental
and agency heads. Specifically, department heads and chief executives
are required to co-ordinate technology strategy through a formal
committee to avoid the repetition of major IT breakdowns that plagued
the Australian Customs Service and the Department of Immigration.
Both agencies have seen their chief executives replaced in the past 12
months by senior public servants who are regarded as having successfully
run large technology projects.
Auto-population pioneer and former Taxation Commissioner Michael Carmody
now heads Customs after instigating a $450 million technology overhaul.
DIMA secretary Andrew Metcalfe and deputy secretary Bob Correll both
pushed through new IT systems at the Department of Employment Workplace
Relations where Dr Shergold was once secretary.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has also established a
powerful Cabinet Implementation Unit (CIU) to assess all new projects
for their impact across the entire government. Some have likened it to a
public sector project flying squad, largely because of its project veto
Federal government IT projects
Department Project Budget
Human Services Access Card $1.1bn
Immigration Systems for People $495m
Taxation Office Change Program $450m
Centrelink IT Refresh $312m
Defence Wide area network replacement $250m
Customs Cargo management re-engineering $205m
Foreign Affairs ePassport $165m
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