ServicesAus chief executive Rebecca Skinner retires

Brandon How

Services Australia chief executive Rebecca Skinner, who oversaw the delivery agency through a tumultuous period of Covid, the robotdebt recovery, and the upgrade of the myGov portal, will retire this month after 30 years in the Australian Public Service.

Ms Skinner will officially step down on September 29, after three and a half years leading the government services and welfare agency.

Across her extensive public service career, Ms Skinner has served in several roles in the Department of Defence, including as Associate Secretary, as well as in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney General’s portfolio.

Ms Skinner has led the transition to the new myGov platform and development of the myGov app, which despite delays was downloaded by more than one million people in its first three months.

In a statement, Government Services minister Bill Shorten said Ms Skinner “has been instrumental in transforming the agency post-Robodebt. Under her leadership, Services Australia is becoming the customer-centred agency Australians need”.

Ms Skinner was awarded the Public Service Medal in June 2021 for her contributions to national security policy, intelligence, business transformation, and service delivery.

An acting chief executive will be appointed during the search for a replacement.

Rebecca Skinner. Image: Services Australia

During the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, Ms Skinner acted as Defence secretary and had been working on the government’s COVID-19 response when she was moved to Services Australia, just before lockdowns began.

She entered the top job at Services Australia in March 2020, a few months after the Robodebt scheme was terminated in November 2019. In a video message last Friday, Ms Skinner apologised on behalf of former Services Australia leadership to all agency staff for the scheme.

“I want to apologise to all of you for Robodebt. Robodebt is a heavy burden that many of you still carry,” she reportedly said.

The agency employs more than 28,500 staff and processes huge volumes of work. Just this year, processed payments worth $219.5 billion have been, 1.1 billion online transactions, and 55 million customer calls.

“She took on the role as the pandemic took hold of our country,” Mr Shorten said in a statement. “Under her leadership, the agency provided Australians with record support – financially, and by keeping their doors open throughout for those who needed help in person.”

“Since my time in this ministry, Ms Skinner has led the transition to the new myGov platform and development of the myGov app – important steps forward in the transformation of Australian Government digital services. She also led a record emergency response for the agency, following the devastating flooding across Eastern Australia, including my electorate,” he said.

Under her leadership, the agency scrapped development on a $191 million Centrelink calculator which had begun in 2019, before Ms Skinner became chief executive. Development had been on pause since late 2022 with Mr Shorten announcing it would be scrapped in July 2023 to stop “throwing good money after bad”.

Ms Skinner told a public inquiry on Monday the decision was made by Services Australia after doing “everything [it] could possibly do to try to get [the ECE] to a place where we could take it forward”.

She noted that there had been “difficult conversations with Infosys about the performance of their product and their delays in their schedule”. Eventually, Services Australia overtook the systems integrator role.

As former Government Services minister and NDIS minister Stuart Robert faced allegations he was involved in a lobbying scandal, in December 2022, he attempted to ask Ms Skinner to “provide probity confirmation” to help clear him of wrongdoing. However, the public servant did not respond, and Mr Shorten accused Mr Robert of trying to “bully” Ms Skinner.

Services Australia has awarded millions of dollars’ worth of tech contracts to companies that were clients of consulting firm Synergy360, which was co-owned by a close friend, former business partner, and political fundraiser of then-minister Robert. This at least included Infosys, Delv, Adobe, and Salesforce.

The firm had planned to pay Mr Robert to help secure support in winning federal government contracts, although Mr Robert has repeatedly denied any suggestion of improper involvement in procurements.

A two-month review of procurements related to Synergy360 by Services Australia and the NDIA was undertaken by former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Dr Ian Watt. This was supported by Services Australia officials, according to Ms Skinner. It subsequently found that 19 of the 95 procurements investigated warranted further investigation.

Further investigations into the scandal will now be overseen Ms Skinner’s successor.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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