Consultant risk for new ServicesAus

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The new Services Australia department provides an opportunity to improve the digital delivery of government services, but it cannot just replicate its NSW counterpart and rely on outsourcing, according to the public sector union.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is concerned that the government’s “digital by default” strategy is putting cost-savings above improved services, and that this could be exacerbated by the new department.

“If the establishment of Services Australia is a genuine improvement in service delivery and not just a rebranding exercise, the government will need to reverse the thousands of job cuts and creeping privatisation that has occurred in DHS, as well as provide better investment in IT systems,” the CPSU said in a submission to a senate inquiry into the delivery of government services.

The new department was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison following the May election to drive service delivery and public service ICT. It was soon revealed that it would be a rebadged version of the old Department of Human Services.

Mr Morrison said it would “pick up its lead” from the NSW government’s Service NSW.

But the CPSU said that the federal version cannot simply replicate the state-based effort.

“Service NSW does not provide complex human services such as applying for public housing or family and community services and is not a model that can be simply adapted to deliver the full range of Commonwealth government services. It may not provide the appropriate template for Services Australia,” it said.

The Coalition is still in the process of transitioning to the new department, with a strategy now in its hands.

McKinsey and KPMG were handed $858,000 for a six week consulting project to develop the plan, which was led by former NSW government finance secretary Martin Hoffman. Mr Hoffman was recently appointed as the new head of the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The CPSU said it was concerned this was a “shallow review” that resorted to “off-the-shelf recommendations”.

“There is a very real concern that in outsourcing this project to private consultancy firms, the likely outcome will be to recommend more consultancy projects and further privatisation of work done by DHS,” the union said.

“This work should be kept within the public sector, and Services Australia used as a catalyst for restoring APS capacity and service capability,” it said.

The new department was an opportunity to improve digital service delivery, but it had not got off to a promising start, the submission said.

“Services Australia may create the opportunity to drive ‘better use of information technology and apps that can assist Australians to better access services they need’, as the Prime Minister has announced,” it said.

“Involving those with the firsthand experience and actual knowledge of delivering services and the people who use those services everyday in the planning process is critical.”

“Creating another cash cow for large consultancy firms seems a more likely outcome at the moment.

“If this is the case, we can expect more of the same – services that do not quite deliver what they promise and further deterioration in the capacity of the APS to this work and the working conditions and career paths for those who do this work in privatised, for profit, firms.”

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