Tech investments pay dividends for bushfire relief

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Tech investments pay dividends for bushfire relief

Mobile centres deployed to administer payments in affected areas.

The Australian Government expects to quickly disburse $3.7 million in emergency payments to Tasmanians affected by the current bushfire crisis, thanks to past investments in mobile payment systems and data matching software.

The Department of Human Services will administer the emergency payments via The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment system, which was previously used to assist half a million Australians impacted by severe floods in Queensland and Northern NSW in 2010/11.

The Department facilitates the payments via Centrelink's mobile payment hubs - otherwise known as  “Centrelink Points of Presence” or CPoPs.

These mobile units, introduced under former CIO John Wadeson in 2009, allow Centrelink staff to administer emergency payments from virtually any location. Centrelink staff are equipped with laptops running in thin-client mode, connected to Centrelink's databases using a combination of 3G broadband, satellite or fixed phone line.

“They can even run off a car battery if mains power is not available,” a Centrelink spokesman told iTnews.

Centrelink has also sent its two Mobile Service Centres to Tasmania to provide further support on the ground. Nicknamed Desert Pea and Kangaroo Paw, these mobile offices also help to verify documents and administer payments for affected residents.

Centrelink otherwise has 40 staff in place at emergency evacuation and recovery centres to meet extra demand.

“The department has enhanced IT systems to allow staff to identify and track incoming claims in almost real-time, allowing managers to deploy more resources to help alleviate pressure points,” the spokesperson said.

A mix of feet on the ground and smart systems at the back-end help to mitigate against fraud and other inappropriate use of the relief payments system, the spokesperson said.

"We use the same back-end data matching technology applied to other payments. Further, the staff we deploy also tend to be locals, and they're familiar with the people and the areas they are dealing with."

The Department has attempted to use social media to keep residents informed about the location of centres and the availability of payments.

“We have noticed our tweets are being readily retweeted,” the spokesperson said. 

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