The public servant’s union has blamed holiday season system outages at the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Human Services on under-resourcing and systematic neglect of the government’s critical IT infrastructure.
Centrelink customers complained they were unable to access the welfare agency’s web services for a handful of days in late December, then last week the agency was forced to apologise to more than 70,000 customers who were mistakenly issued online bills for money they didn’t owe.
Also last week, the weather bureau’s website failed to update the latest forecasts and radar images due to a reported “physical networking issue”.
In response to the spate of outages, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has argued these sorts of tech hiccups are not isolated incidents, but consequences of sustained cuts to the resources dedicated to running the country’s critical IT.
“It’s little surprise that customer service standards have eroded so much over recent years,” said CPSU national president Alistair Waters.
“The government has refused to invest in IT systems while cutting staff numbers and turning to an increasingly casual workforce.
“We have members of the government like Finance Minister Mathias Cormann boasting that the number of people working in the public sector has been cut back to 2006 levels, while ignoring the fact that Australia’s population has grown by more than 3 million people who expect decent services from Centrelink, BoM and other agencies.”
Centrelink and the BoM run some of the largest IT operations in the Australian public sector. However their expensive system infrastructure has attracted criticism in the past for its age and the government's perceived sluggishness when it comes to updating legacy systems.
Last year the government finally committed to replacing Centrelink’s 30-year-old mainframe-based welfare calculation system, with the cost expected to surpass $1 billion.
The BoM also has its hands full building what it hopes will be Australia’s biggest supercomputer, to crunch its weather forecasting algorithms and long-term climate analysis.