The Federal Government has announced the consolidation of the Human Services portfolio, bringing together the information technology, staff and procurement of Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, Australian Hearing and CRS Australia under one consolidated group.
Under the plan, John Wadeson, currently chief information officer at Centrelink, will take the reigns as CIO of the Human Services portfolio.
A spokesperson for the department has confirmed that Wadeson will have remit over a consolidated IT team that covers all agencies within the Human Services portfolio.
The consolidation of the various IT departments of Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, Australian Hearing and CRS Australia will begin in the New Year.
Announcing the move at the National Press Club today, Federal Minister for Human Services Chris Bowen said that the Department of Human Services will spend next year integrating back office support in the areas of Human Resources, Information Technology and Property.
"The Prime Minister has agreed to my proposal that Medicare and Centrelink should become part of the Department of Human Services," he said.
Bowen also discussed what he termed the "service delivery reform agenda" - the means by which a consolidated agency would provide better services to Australian citizens.
There will be a single point of contact for services within the Human Services portfolio, whether it be face-to-face, online or over the phone.
But Bowen stressed that a consolidated Human Services portfolio would not create privacy concerns for Australians or another attempt at an "Access Card" or "Virtual ID" as forecast yesterday.
The reform agenda was "not a central database," he stressed. "We will not house an individual's personal, sensitive information in one place, vesting all control with one body or one card. This is not an Australia Card and we will not be merging agency databases.
"The community has genuine concerns about this, concerns that I recognise and understand. We are bringing IT platforms together, not information itself. Apart from the limited data that is already shared between agencies like Medicare and Centrelink, no more information will be shared, unless the individual concerned asks us to share the information for their convenience."
Health data has been excluded from the reforms, he said.
"Further, we are working with the Privacy Commissioner from the outset, putting in place a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Department of Human Services to cover these reforms. I want privacy protections built into this transformation from the very start rather than treated as an afterthought."
Bowen also stressed that the reform agenda "isn't about a consolidation of information.
"Nor is it about staff cuts. Rather, it is about freeing up staff to do more meaningful work for the direct benefit of Australians."
A better online presence
Bowen promised that by the end of 2010, agencies within the Human Services umbrella will have a "single phone number and single web site" no matter the inquiry.
"People will be able to call the one phone number to access any service across the portfolio," he said. "We will take responsibility to connect you to the right person, rather than leaving you to navigate your own way through our bureaucracy."
The Department will also work to make its internet sites more usable, he said.
"Technology is revolutionising how services can be - and are - delivered but, without broader changes, it can actually exacerbate the confusion and information overload," he said.
"Information that's relevant to you should be in one place and easy to find. You shouldn't have to remember multiple usernames and passwords for multiple websites."