Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Next chief of welfare giant Services Australia is a digital expert


Next chief of welfare giant Services Australia is a digital expert

Tom BurtonGovernment editor

Digital transformation expert David Hazlehurst has been appointed to lead federal agency giant Services Australia, in a move that could pave the way for the myGov portal to become a one-stop shop for all federal services.

Mr Hazlehurst’s appointment to the $800,000 job is due to be announced on Tuesday, after an open, merit-based selection process. He will have responsibility for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support services, but his remit is expected to expand as Services Australia takes on the delivery of other federal services such as passports, electoral enrolment and identity management.

Following the government’s acceptance of all the recommendations of the robo-debt royal commission, Mr Hazlehurst is also expected to lead reforms to improve customer service, lift engagement with welfare groups and overhaul the agency’s legal and debt recovery practices.
He will continue the cultural reforms led by former chief executive Rebecca Skinner to reframe the historically top-down agency around the needs of its users. This is expected to include giving far greater authority to front-line staff to resolve customer issues.
Several of the agency’s senior legal and other managers face code of conduct hearings and possible professional sanctions after 16 officials were referred by the robot-debt royal commission.
Mr Hazlehurst’s appointment as chief executive of Australia’s largest civilian public agency comes as Services Australia is rapidly employing 3000 new front-line staff to fix long delays at its call centre and to remove chronic backlogs in application claims.
The 30,000-strong agency was rebranded in 2020 from the Department of Human Services in an attempt to emulate NSW’s successful Service NSW portal, which offers more than 1000 services through its digital platforms.

Run with uncertain funding

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten has strong ambitions for Services Australia’s myGov portal.
He has established a new governance arrangement for myGov, to be led by former NSW digital minister Victor Dominello. Plans include ensuring all services, such as tax returns and medicare claims, use a common design so users don’t have to relearn a new interface.
Mr Hazlehurst was the interim CEO of the Digital Transformation Office in 2015 and has led major digital transformation projects in the industry, trade and agriculture portfolios.
This year, he oversaw a team of officials that reviewed the myGov portal and found more than a million people visit the site a day.
But his review said the site had been largely run as an IT project with uncertain funding. It called for major reforms to boost the current 15 services and to link up these services, so users do not have to find their way around multiple websites, such as for the birth of a child.
The review found fewer than half of the people engaging with myGov would recommend it to others.
“This is far too low,” the review said. “Government services are rarely loved by the public, but they need to be good enough and trusted enough to be worthy of recommendation to others.”
Mr Hazlehurst is well respected within the federal bureaucracy as a reformer and has just overseen the review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme by Professor Bruce Bonyhady and former secretary Lisa Paul.
Services Australia claims to run the largest IT department in the country, with major investments over the past decade to rebuild its ailing payment systems. His appointment comes as a series of big tech projects have been shelved, including a $191 million welfare entitlement calculator.
Mr Shorten has directed Services Australia to pull back from big technology projects, declaring he wants a more interactive approach that tests proposals in a staged manner, with commitments of around $5 million rather than hundreds of millions of dollars.
The government has yet to decide if it will morph its myGov ID facility into the myGov service platform. Mr Hazlehurst’s review said users found these two brands confusing. The Tax Office runs the myGov ID infrastructure and has commissioned research to better understand users’ needs for the identity brand.
The agency also faces a major technology and employment overhaul, with robotic process automation and artificial intelligence expected to affect up to 40 per cent of its workers.
Tom Burton has held senior editorial and publishing roles with The Mandarin, The Sydney Morning Herald and as Canberra bureau chief for The Australian Financial Review. He has won three Walkley awards. Connect with Tom on Twitter. Email Tom at tom.burton@afr.com