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                    [post_content] => 

 

Exasperated staff at Human Services will intensify strikes at Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support from Thursday next week in an attempt to break the three-year deadlock with the federal government over pay and conditions and sign a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members begin two weeks of industrial action from Thursday April 13 until April 26 with longer strikes between 7am and 8.30pm, except for April 13. These are rolling strikes, which means strikers can chose to strike for as little as half an hour or for their entire shift.

Recent strikes have involved shorter periods of time, from 1.30pm to 8.30pm or 12.30pm to 8.30pm.

Human Services and the CPSU appear to be no closer to a resolution and a new agreement than they were last year, despite the Fair Work Commission overseeing the discussions.

DHS staff have already voted down agreements three times: by 83 per cent in September 2015; 80 per cent in February 2016 and 74 per cent in November 2016.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said a fortnight of strikes in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support showed how frustrated workers were.

“We’re talking about thousands of people with bills to pay, many of them part-time working mums on around $40,000 a year,” Ms Flood said. “DHS workers really aren’t asking for much. All they want to do is hold on to rights and conditions that have been in place for many years and allow them to balance their working and family lives.

She said ‘slow but steady’ progress made by other Commonwealth agencies but talks with DHS had achieved little.

“Our team has worked tirelessly trying to negotiate through this mess with DHS management. Those talks are ongoing and are currently being overseen by the Fair Work Commission, but there’s been no movement from DHS’s bosses or in fact any sign whatsoever that they actually want to resolve this.”

She said the strikes came at a period of high demand for DHS services and were expected to cause ‘significant disruption’ to the department and its clients.

It is not known whether the strike will affect DHS’ Mobile Services, which are helping people get emergency help in flood-hit areas of Queensland.

In the past, the Department has requested the union grant exemptions to strikes on the grounds they could cause unnecessary hardship to claimants and the CPSU said they had always agreed to these requests.

A CPSU spokesperson said it was difficult to predict the effects of the two-week strike because it depended on DHS’ contingency plans as to where the impact would be felt.

DHS General Manager Hank Jongen said that the strike action, which includes Easter and Anzac Day, was designed to disrupt DHS' face-to-face and telephone services.

He said it was an attempt by the union to make it 'even harder' for people who used its services but that it would not succeed, predicting that the impact of the industrial action would be 'minimal' and there would no disruption to existing payments.

"Our priority is ensuring that the those most vulnerable or with urgent queries get the support they need," Mr Jongen said. "People can also access services through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps – these will not be affected by any stoppages."

He said the union's actions would not change the department’s bargaining position around the new Enterprise Agreement.

"The department and the CPSU are currently making progress in bargaining before the Fair Work CommissionWe are disappointed the union is initiating more industrial action while we continue to bargain in good faith.

"In our most recent offer we committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all our family friendly entitlements. We are also offering staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards."

 
                    [post_title] => Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support staff step up strikes
                    [post_excerpt] => DHS says bargaining position won't change. 
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                    [post_content] => 

Shadow Human Services Minister Linda Burney. 

 

The Shadow Minister for Human Services, Linda Burney, attacked the Turnbull government in Parliament last night over what she said was the ‘disgusting’ treatment of Department of Human Services’ (DHS) staff, who are still waiting for a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) after three years.

Ms Burney cut a lonely figure in Parliament – most members seemed to have gone home – but ploughed on, talking about the pay and working conditions dispute, which she said impacted disproportionately on women and families.

 


Empty chamber. 

 

Women make up 70 per cent of DHS staff and around one-third of them work part-time. DHS is the largest government department with about 35,000 staff and runs Medicare, Centrelink and the Child Support network.

“The proposed EBA gives employees no access to flexible, regular hours leaving rostering decisions to be made ad hoc by management,” Ms Burney said, adding that it made school drop off and picks up a nightmare, especially where work locations could change too.

“Three years since the negotiations began, there has been no offer that addresses the years’ long wage freeze employees have been subjected to,” she said.

She also heaped criticism on the government for blocking domestic violence leave and increasingly casualising the workforce.

“Thirty-six million calls go unanswered. Seventy per cent of new staff hired were casuals in the last financial year,” she said.

“It is incomprehensible that people that are under so much pressure and do such important work with the Department of Human Services are being treated so disgustingly by this government.”

DHS staff who are union members began a series of rolling strikes last week after the Department and the Community and Public Sector Union reached an impasse at the Fair Work Commission over pay and working conditions.

DHS staff have already rejected EBAs three times: By 83 per cent in September 2015; 80 per cent in February 2016 and 74 per cent in November 2016 and there seems no end in sight to the dispute.
                    [post_title] => Burney calls out Turnbull government over treatment of DHS staff
                    [post_excerpt] => Says women hit hardest.
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                    [post_content] => 

 

 

Today (Friday) is the first day of rolling strikes by staff at Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, as the union ramps up its fight for a new enterprise agreement for Human Services workers.

Community and Public Service Union members (CPSU) begin a new round of strike action between 1.3 0pm and 8.30pm today in protest at what the union says is the federal government’s intractable stance on pay and working conditions, a dispute that has dragged on for three years.

Asked how the strike would affect benefit claimants, a CPSU spokesperson said it was ‘difficult to predict’ what impact industrial action would have. 

“Based on past strike action there may be increased wait times at customer service centres and for telephone queries,” the spokesperson said, describing the strike as 'open-ended'. 

“The intention of the action is to pressure Department of Human Services’ (DHS) management and the Turnbull Government to fairly resolve enterprise bargaining.”

He asked the public to be patient and advised them to access DHS services outside the notified strike times.

 “DHS staff are taking this action because they’ve been fighting for a new agreement since 2013 and have gone well over three years without a pay rise,” he said.

Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said customer payments would not be affected by the strikes but he added that there may be 'reduced numbers' of staff in service centres and on the phones.

He said DHS was working hard to minimise disruption to services.

“We’re asking customers to use the self-service options available through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps,” Mr Jongen said.

“We will have arrangements in place to make sure that staff will still be available to help those in financial hardship and who need immediate assistance.”

The union postponed strikes in February in order to negotiate with the Department, talks mediated by the Fair Work Commission. When the talks came to nothing, strikes were back on the table.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “This protracted dispute had gone on for far, far too long. It’s bad for people working in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, it’s bad for their families and it’s bad for the essential services our members in DHS provide. That’s why our members are going back on strike.

“We agreed in February to hold off on taking fresh industrial action and instead proceed with negotiations overseen by the Fair Work Commission. The CPSU has negotiated in good faith but unfortunately DHS stands out from other Commonwealth agencies where we are making progress.”

Mr Jongen presented a starkly different picture of how negotiations between the department and the CPSU were going, saying “we are making progress”.

“In its most recent offer, the department has committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all its family friendly entitlements, and giving its staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards,” Mr Jongen said.

“The department is, however, disappointed that the CPSU has initiated further industrial action while we continue to bargain before the Fair Work Commission.”

He said the strikes would not alter the Department’s bargaining position and added that staff would have the chance to vote on a new enterprise agreement as soon as possible.

Meanwhile Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff are awaiting the Fair Work Commission’s decision on their enterprise bargaining agreement, after the Commission stepped in at the end of last year to arbitrate between the union and the DIBP.

 

Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter.
                    [post_title] => Human Services’ ‘open-ended’ strikes begin today
                    [post_excerpt] => It won’t change our stance, says Jongen.
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                    [post_content] =>   Medicare
The Department of Health (DOH) is brainstorming the overhaul of its ancient IT systems which together deliver more than 600 million health, aged care and veterans’ payments annually to 99 per cent of Australians.

Health issued a Request for Information (RFI) earlier this week asking companies, including small and medium-sized ones, for their input and advice on designing and delivering the new Digital Payments Platform to replace the current one, which has evolved over 30 years.

The current system is incredibly complex and supports a huge range of payments including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Medicare, aged care and related veterans’ payments, totalling around $50 billion.

“The Medicare systems alone comprise over 200 applications and 90 databases, many of which are ageing and based on obsolete technology,” say the RFI documents.

The government is under no illusions that the current system is broken and needs replacing.

“The current systems have become increasingly complex with a tightly coupled and inflexible architecture," says the RFI.

 “The systems are no longer fit for purpose. They are unable to support the level of flexibility and service innovation that users – individuals and providers – and the government expect.”

There are a number of bespoke applications, all with different authentication processes for consumers and providers.

"Just as Australian families have upgraded their computers since the 1980s, the time has come for the government's health payments systems to do the same," the government said.

"The RFI provides an opportunity for respondents, including small and medium enterprises, to shape the future design of the new system which the Australian government will continue to own, operate, and deliver."

Reforming the payments system is a touchy subject after the attention it received during the 2016 federal election.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten seized upon the possibility of Medicare payments being outsourced to run his ‘Mediscare’ campaign during the 2016 federal election, suggesting it was a Trojan horse to privatise Medicare itself.

The Department is at pains to point out that the federal government will continue ‘to own, operate and deliver’ the payments as its asks for outside input.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the government is not seeking proposals for outsourcing,” it states.

 

Content of the RFI

In the RFI respondents are asked to estimate the cost of designing and building the new system and implementation and transition costs over five years; as well as how much it will cost to run.

The RFI is stage one of the project, stage two is the procurement phase of the Digital Payments Platform. The RFI will not be used to shortlist any suppliers for stage two procurement.

The DOH will be sizing up potential partners to get an idea of the level of interest, capability and capacity in the market and different procurement options.

The project will involve multiple phases over several years and will need to be able to adapt and grow to new payments and legislation.

The RFI mentions that interested parties should be able to demonstrate how ‘progress could be achieved by early 2019’.

“The vision for the program is to deliver a new Digital Payments Platform that supports a digital-first (or digitally enabled) service delivery business model and simpler, faster, easier services for users,” it said.

DOH said it designed the RFI in consultation with users, health and aged care providers and other stakeholders.

The deadline for respondents is April 4 and a procurement phase for the new digital payments platform will start in mid-2017.

Meanwhile, the new multi-billion dollar DHS payments system, Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT), responsible for processing more than $100 billion Centrelink payments annually, including payments like Austudy and Youth Allowance, is also being radically reimagined over the course of the next seven years. 

 

Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter.
                    [post_title] => Health brainstorms new IT system for Medicare and aged care payments
                    [post_excerpt] => Digital Payments Platform.
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                    [post_content] => 
Labor's 2016 Mediscare TV and YouTube ad featuring Bob Hawke. Pic: YouTube

 

 

Labor has launched an online portal encouraging Australians to submit their experiences of Medicare and the impact of healthcare cuts, in a sign that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will continue to attack Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Medicare.

Mr Shorten said the new portal – mymedicarestory.com - was established in response to complaints from Australians about ‘serious delays in Medicare processing’ under the Turnbull government. He said some people had reported a six-week delay getting a refund.

“We know that because of this Government's cuts to vital services some people are falling through the cracks,” Mr Shorten said. “We want to know when that happens, so we can help ensure our health care system is strengthened now and in the future.

“Labor will never stop fighting to protect Medicare from Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals. Today there is a clear message for Malcolm Turnbull -  give Medicare the best  birthday present by dropping the savage cuts to health which will see bulk billing drop, every Australian pay more and Medicare undermined.”

Submissions using the portal are anonymous and can be confidential, if requested.

Mr Shorten’s Mediscare message – warning voters that Mr Turnbull was trying to sell off or privatise Medicare through the back door - became central to Labor’s campaign during the 2016 federal election.

The Opposition wheeled out former PM Bob Hawke to front the TV and YouTube advertising campaign, warning that the Liberals had set up “a Medicare privatisation taskforce” that would destroy the country’s healthcare system.

Mr Shorten used the fact that the government was exploring outsourcing Medicare payments as leverage to suggest that the whole kit and caboodle could follow suit.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Turnbull said Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, health, aged-care and related veterans’ payments would continue to be managed by the government and disbanded the $5 million Digital Payments Services Taskforce, which had been aided by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Department of Health is understood to have held market briefings with IT providers in Sydney and Melbourne last month in a bid to select potential partners to help replace Medicare’s 30-year-old system ahead of the Request For Proposal.
                    [post_title] => Labor continues to attack Turnbull on Medicare with new online portal
                    [post_excerpt] => Medicare still major battleground. 
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                    [post_content] => were taken in hospital.
Can new federal Health Minister Greg Hunt take the pressure?

 

 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has immediately been lobbied by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Opposition in his new job, in an early indication (if one were needed) that managing his new portfolio is going to be as tough as some of the seven marathons he has run. 

Health was one of the key battlegrounds during last year’s federal election when Labor Leader Bill Shorten accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of having a secret agenda to privatise Medicare, holding up the possible outsourcing of Medicare payments as proof and wheeling out ex-PM Bob Hawke to star in an ad about it. The government denied the charge but damage was undoubtedly done to the Liberal vote.

Decisions about health budgets and policies have often become political hand grenades, think back to the $7 GP co-payment in Joe Hockey’s 2014 budget or Tony Abbott attempting to wind back Kevin Rudd’s hospital funding agreements with the state and territories in the same budget.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon welcomed Mr Hunt’s appointment, beginning by buttering him up and listing his past achievements, including being named Best Minister in the World at the 2016 World Government Summit. There is no doubt that Mr Hunt represents a safe pair of hands and it doesn’t hurt that both his mother and his wife are nurses.

Mr Hunt was Minister for the Environment between 2013 and 2016 and Shadow Minister for six years before that. He was appointed Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science in July last year.

A major issue for the Association and its members is the ongoing freeze on Medicare rebates, begun by Labor in 2013 and projected to last until 2020.

The Medicare Benefits Schedule lists all the services the Australian Government will pay rebates for and the rebate is a percentage of the Medicare schedule fee. For example, the rebate is set at $37 for a GP consultation.

Doctors have argued that neither the Schedule fees that doctors who bulk bill agree to charge, nor the rebate, have kept pace with the real costs of providing these services by medical practitioners, squeezing them from both sides.

While doctors who don’t bulk bill can set their own fees the Medicare rebate covers a portion of these, leaving the patient to cover the gap.

For an excellent explanation of the Medicare rebate freeze on The Conversation click here.

Dr Gannon said he was keen to meet Mr Hunt as soon as possible to discuss policy and funding, particularly in the context of the upcoming budget in May.

“The AMA would like to see Mr Hunt get off to a flying start by scrapping the government’s freeze of Medicare patient rebates, which is causing great hardship for patients and doctors,” he said.

Labor has pledged to end the freeze and restore indexation.

Dr Gannon said Mr Hunt also needed to get across the reviews set in motion by former Health Minister Sussan Ley, principally the MBS, but also the review on private health insurance examining whether it is delivering value for money or not.

He also flagged public hospital funding, indigenous health, mental health, and prevention as areas that needed fixing.

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King also demanded the government abandon the Medicare freeze, which she said was “already having an impact on bulk billing rates and will drive up out-of-pocket costs”.

She accused the Turnbull Government of ‘changing their salesperson’ but not their health policy by appointing Mr Hunt and said she would be taking the new minister to task on cuts to pathology and bulk billing and cuts to dental programs for children. She also challenged him to drop the zombie cuts, such as the planned increases to PBS co-payments for general patients, concession patients and those with chronic illnesses.
                    [post_title] => Is the 'Best Minister in the World' a panacea for Health?
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                    [post_content] => phone hammer drop 


One year on and Human Services clients are still tearing their hair out in frustration over the Department’s dysfunctional, bug-ridden mobile apps.

According to user reviews, the three main apps -- Express Plus Centrelink, Express Plus Medicare and Express Plus Child Support -- are still giving users headaches and holding up benefit payments and Medicare claims.

Government News covered this sorry state of affairs in March last year and it appears few improvements have been made over the last 12 months. The same problems continue to occur and many customers remain disenchanted.

Apps designed to save time for customers and DHS staff end up driving people to despair and into their nearest DHS office or phone queue, twice as frustrated as before.

This app is crap photo1_opt (1)Express Plus Centrelink 

The Centrelink app was probably the most complained about of the three apps, with many reviewers hitting their caps lock and exclamation marks to vent their spleen. It is also probably the most heavily used, by students, job seekers, seniors and families to update family income estimates, report wages and update study details.

The most frequently mentioned gripes - using only current reviews from February to April 2016 - were:
  • Log-in problems
  • Long loading times
  • Difficulties reporting earnings or hours or updating personal details
  • Bugs in the registration screen, where users could not see the whole password they entered (Tip: if your password is longer than 8 characters keep typing then hit submit)
  • Frequent crashing
  • Poor layout
  • No notices about maintenance or outages
Customers had some choice words for the Department and its apps and many people were upset that they could not use the app to report their earnings or their hours. One Centrelink customer said: “It’s constantly down. Hopeless app. Hopeless system that keeps referring us to use the broken app. How is it that a department that so many people have to report to keeps getting it wrong?” Another said: “Tells me to report. Tells me I have not reported. The list goes on.” One enterprising wag suggested drug-addled rodents would do a better job: “Warning to anyone who plans to download this app: don’t, it will not let you report. A hamster on speed could report for you better. FFS!” “Had to spend an hour on the phone just to report my earnings because this app wouldn’t let me. Should have had this running properly before shutting down the job seeker’s app, which worked perfectly fine!!! Doesn’t even deserve one star!!! NOT HAPPY,” said another unsatisfied customer. Some people complained that they were not allowed to report their income until after the reporting date, at which time the app informed them they were too late: “Constantly down, won’t let me report yet tells me daily I’m overdue for reporting.” More seriously, some people said they had missed their benefit payments because of glitches in the app. “Says report has been submitted but not processed and I haven’t been paid. Will have to spend hours on the phone. Grr,” one frustrated person said. Another had also missed out on payments: “Not sure Centrelink are getting my updates for the past month. I updated my study twice. Now I’ve missed out two fortnights of payments so I’ll be expecting back pay. Says my claim is incomplete so I click on it and it won’t do anything. I’m going to have to go into office and get it sorted.” One Express Plus Centrelink user said: “If DHS employees had these many hoops and roundabouts to get paid there’d be a senate inquiry. Alan Tudge sir, you suck!” There were a few words of cold comfort for Human Services, “Yeah, not bad. Considering that this is a government app it appears to work ok.” “App has improved recently and is really helpful” and “very well laid out application. Easy to report my income using the timesheet option.” Express Plus Medicare The Express Plus Medicare app, which can be used to claim Medicare benefits and view information such as immunisation records and your Medicare Safety Net balance, came in for a bit of a serve too. Claimants reported difficulty installing and opening the app, constant crashing and over-compressing images of photographed documents so that claims could not be read or processed. Comments included: “Can’t even take clear photo of invoice through app (photo is pixelated). What is the point if we can’t take a clear picture? This app is really terrible. Please get your act together and stop wasting the taxpayers’ money and produce an app that functions as it should. The government wants us to use these news tools to innovate but can’t even write a simple app!” “Stupid app is stupid. When are claimants going to be able to claim Medicare rebates easily?” One Medicare user said it took him four attempts to claim resulting in him receiving a Medicare letter by post demanding more information: “this app is so buggy it makes going to a Medicare office the quick and easy option.” “Even giving it one star is favouring it. The most useless app ever.” “The level of suckyness (sic) of this app is unending.” “Your stupid app only crashes and your staff insist I use it and won’t help me in person.” “What a convoluted process to try and make a claim. Linking accounts, have a My Gov account, need a user names, password, secret questions, PIN! Need to go to the My Gov website, will not accept personal details! Dozens of prompts in help section! You cannot be serious about citizens using this app!” Express Child Support There were similar but fewer rotten tomato reviews for the Department’s child support app, with users complaining about loading problems, log-in difficulties, limited functionality and not being able to load documents. One said: “Worst app of all time … doesn’t ever load. Need to check apps before u (sic) make them available.” “This app has never opened since I installed it. It keeps saying “unfortunately child support has stopped working. EVERY SINGLE TIME I OPEN IT!!” This app won’t log in at all.” “So far it’s still downloading and has been for five and a half hours.” An app developer's view App developer Danny Gorog from Outware took a look at the Express Plus apps and gave Government News his verdict, one year on from his last comments. Mr Gorog, who is currently designing apps for Transport NSW, said he could see little improvement since he last reviewed the apps for Government News in March 2015. He said the user interface (UI) remained very complicated. “It’s a non-native app … it feels very clunky and it feels like a situation that no-one is really taking seriously,” Mr Gorog said. “I’m sure they’ve spent a lot of money on it but it feels like it has been built as a cross-platform app, using the same code for Android and Apple.” He was also heavily critical of the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities, such as vision impairment. “Apple and Google have very strict accessibility guidelines so people with disabilities won’t find it hard to use. The accessibility and the UI should be thought through. “I had a look at it and I’m disappointed,” he said. “It needs to conform to iOS and Android guidelines of how apps should look and work on the platform and this doesn’t conform to any of them. I would be building native code.” Mr Gorog said those responsible for developing the app needed to trawl through customer complaints and start fixing things. “The truth is that it’s often hard for government. They’ve got a budget for app development for the year. The number is normally too low and the government wants cheaper solutions. “[they might say] “we are over budget and you can’t spend any more.” Response from Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen (in full) Government News  sought comment from Human Services regarding the user experience and performance of the department's apps. Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said: "The multiple award winning Express Plus mobile apps continue to be a highly popular way for our customers to self-manage their routine business with the department, with the number of downloads approaching 7 million as of February 2016. "As technology evolves, we continue to make enhancements to our mobile apps to ensure they remain world class and continue to provide superior digital access to services for our customers. "We’ve added new functionality like booking appointments and Income Management to enable our customers to use mobile apps for more services. Further improvements are planned for next financial year and will be communicated to customers when they become live. "Our apps have proven to be hugely popular with our customers and demand continues to grow with more than two million new app downloads and more than 54 million transactions made using the apps in the 2015-16 financial year to date. At any one time we have an average of 80,000 concurrent connections through our gateway. "All customer complaints and feedback made through our feedback channels are responded to in accordance with the DHS complaints and feedback policy. While we do monitor customer feedback on iTunes and Google Play, we do not respond to comments, leave reviews or post information in the reviews section. "We work as one digital team across the Department and in close collaboration with the Digital Transformation Office. This approach ensures all digital products are developed in multi-disciplinary teams that include insights from technologists, specialist, and frontline staff and often directly from our customers as well. This ensures an end-to-end solution approach and greater uptake." [post_title] => Best of 2016: This app is STILL crap: Centrelink and Medicare clients [post_excerpt] => One year on: "The most useless app ever". [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => this-app-is-still-crap-centrelink-and-medicare-clients [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 16:44:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 05:44:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23640 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 9 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25870 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-12-19 17:22:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-19 06:22:39 [post_content] => Sydney, Australia - August 6, 2013: People entering and leaving a Centrelink and Medicare service centre in Mount Druitt, western Sydney. Centrelink is the Australian government agency responsible for administering social security benefits, while Medicare assists in subsidising health care treatment.     As the complete reimagining of the way welfare payments are processed in Australia enters its delivery phase, Government News looks at the risks and opportunities this quantum cultural and technological leap presents. The Department of Human Services (DHS) will splash out more than $1 billion and spend seven-years rolling out what has been billed as a once-in-a-generation business transformation under the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT). Work began in July 2015 and will be delivered in five tranches, finishing in 2022, with suppliers competing for a piece of the action in each tranche. SAP has been chosen as the preferred core software vendor and will co-design and build the new system while the lucrative systems integration contract will go to either Capgemini or Accenture. There will also be a panel of “top ranking firms”, which could include the firm that comes in second place, who will be asked to bid for the other project stages. Panel members could be engaged to supply services around data migration, systems integration and other support services.   Dangers Overhauling the welfare payments legacy system is a labyrinthine undertaking and an incredibly sensitive task. There are 30 million lines of code to disentangle and 40 different core payments, along with 38 add-ons. Delays or stuff-ups could affect the benefit payments of millions of people, many of whom might be vulnerable and living hand-to-mouth, and work must also be managed so that it can be rolled out gradually while keeping the current system going. CEO of business management systems company Holocentric, Bruce Nixon, said that overhauling the DHS’s 30-year old legacy system was a “massive and incredibly complex” piece of work but a necessary one, particularly as the public’s expectations of interacting online with government and with businesses continued to increase. Nixon says it is encouraging that the DHS is talking about the overhaul as a major business transformation, not just a systems upgrade. Getting the planning, scoping and design stage right initially would have been essential and this will become clear as the project advances, he said this would have meant understanding where you are starting from and knowing what you want the new system to achieve, “It’s a business transformation, not a systems transformation.”  
  • Partners working separately, not in unison
Nixon says that because multiple companies are involved in delivering WPIT, there is an increased risk that they may fail communicate their progress to one other. The key, he says, is to have transparency and maintain good documentation using a system where everybody can see what work is being done. “The translation of information adds to the risk. How do you make sure that everybody is working to the same agenda? You need a blueprint,” Nixon said. “[It should outline] the processes people need to follow, the role they will play, system design, decisions made and the impact on welfare recipients. There needs to be a single source of truth about how things are going to work in the future and everybody refers to it.” Hammering out expectations and detailing how performance will be monitored are also important. “Misunderstandings about what needs to be delivered and pressure can make things worse,” he said.
  • Avoiding inflexibility
Governments change their budgets and their policies and this can often have a big impact on welfare payments and entitlements, which makes it important to design a flexible system that can incorporate these. Nixon said flexibility was achieved by understanding the current system inside out and being across all the different parts of the work required to redesign it. Project partners will also need to be flexible, for example to take advantage of new capability and technology, because a great deal could change during the seven-year life of the project.
  • Communicating with staff
Business transformation is not just about IT, it will also be about DHS staff and taking them on the journey too. DHS Deputy Secretary John Murphy said last month that winning over Human Services’ 36,000 workforce to new ways of working would be a bigger challenge than mastering the technical side of things. Nixon agrees and said what people resent most is being kept in the dark about new processes and systems and then ordered to use them. Communicating early on is key: “It is critical in any business transformation, to provide clarity for people, giving them an understanding, being transparent.” The trap some businesses fell into was blowing most of the budget on technology, he said, “You’ve spent money on the systems’ changes and none left to invest in the people side.”  
  • Lack of disaster planning
Nixon says that CensusFail was a cautionary tale for government departments and agencies about risk management, procurement, contract design and monitoring. He said that risks should be anticipated and contingency plans built into the program of work by getting a deep understanding of how the system will be used, how the public will interact with it, what the processes are and the system’s capability. Opportunities The greatest potential the WIPIT program has is to light a rocket underneath the behemoth department’s much-maligned service delivery. Done well, it could reduce the frustration many people feel when they interact with the department, whether it’s using a PC, at a customer service centre, via an app or over the phone and make services more convenient, equitable and reliable.   DHS has long been plagued by criticisms of the service it provides, from people not being able to log into the MyGov portal, the skittish mobile apps and payment processing delays to tortuous  hours spent waiting on hold. The services the department provides, Centrelink, child support and Medicare, touch millions of Australians’ lives and people have no choice but to interact with it. The federal government’s eventual aim to follow the UK and make Australian government digital by default cannot ignore Human Services, the largest Commonwealth government department. Nixon said as well as creating greater satisfaction for the customer and showcasing the government’s digital transformation agenda, the changes could also make it easier for staff to operate more effectively behind the scenes and increase their job satisfaction. Indeed, John Murphy has said that upgrading the processes and systems has the potential to free up benefits staff to deal with the more difficult, specialised inquiries rather than fending off routine inquiries, for example, about entitlement to various benefits or the progress of claims. [post_title] => Dismantling Human Services’ legacy system [post_excerpt] => What could possibly go wrong? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25870 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 12:28:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 01:28:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25870 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25680 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-11-29 10:43:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-28 23:43:58 [post_content] => scrooge1_opt Prime Minister should give up being Scrooge, says union.      Union members from the 35,000-strong Department of Human Services (DHS) will go out on strike on four days before Christmas in protest over the federal government’s fixed stance on their pay and conditions. The strikes will affect union members at Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support and include workers at call centres and customer service centres at various times on Monday, December 5, Friday, December 9, Monday, December 12 and Friday, December 16. It is the latest shot across the bow from union members at DHS who have already rejected three agreements over the last three years, most recently in mid-November with a 74 per cent no-vote. They had already rejected the government’s proposed enterprise bargaining agreement in February 2016 (by 79 per cent) and September 2015 (by 83 per cent). Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) National Secretary Nadine Flood said workers were striking as they faced their third Christmas without a pay rise because they were “frustrated and worried by the Turnbull Government’s mean and illogical public sector bargaining policy”. She said that the harsh impact of the long-running APS bargaining dispute has been laid bare during a Senate inquiry which received 600 submissions – many of these personal - and ran public hearings, where APS workers told of the hardship and distress the dispute had caused them. Ms Flood said: “DHS staff work every day to help ordinary Australians but they’ve been doing it pretty tough themselves for three long years as the government’s frozen their pay while trying to strip essential rights, such as the family-friendly conditions that allow a call-centre worker to balance shift work with raising a family. “These workers are among the lowest paid in the Commonwealth public sector, and stand to lose the most under the Government’s policy. They want to go on strike, even though they can’t really afford to but they are absolutely desperate for Government to do something. It really underlines how nasty this bargaining mess is.” Industrial action was a last ditch attempt to  highlight their plight, she said. "It’s the same reason why hundreds of them made personal submissions to the Senate inquiry into public sector bargaining, telling their personal stories of financial hardship and their worry that the enterprise agreement being pushed by their bosses will force them to choose between their job and their family.” In a Dickensian Christmas appeal to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Ms Flood said “Surely there’s no better time than Christmas for the Prime Minister to stop playing Scrooge and change the public sector bargaining policy to allow a fair and reasonable settlement".   Details of the strikes Monday, December 5 7am – 11am local time: Limited impact on administrative functions 1pm – 6pm local time: Possible impact on ‘Smart Centre’ call centre and processing services   Friday, December 9 7am – 11am local time: Limited impact on administrative functions 1pm – 6pm local time: Possible impact on ‘Customer Service Centre’ face-to-face services   Monday, December 12 7am – 11am local time: Limited impact on administrative functions 1pm – 6pm local time: Possible impact on ‘Customer Service Centre’ face-to-face services   Friday, December 16 7am – 11am local time: Limited impact on administrative functions 1pm – 6pm local time: Possible impact on ‘Smart Centre’ call centre and processing services   [post_title] => Four-day strike at Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support before Christmas [post_excerpt] => Stop playing Scrooge, union tells Turnbull.   [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => four-day-strike-centrelink-medicare-child-support-christmas [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-29 10:45:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-28 23:45:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25680 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25675 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-11-28 16:41:05 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-28 05:41:05 [post_content] =>   Gold Coast, Australia - April 25, 2010: Two elderly, unidentified, Australian military veterans wearing suits adorned with service medals make a speech at an ANZAC Day memorial service. This image focuses on body language and medals, no faces are visible.   State and territory governments and the federal government have agreed to work together to collect better data on areas such as veterans’ suicide, homelessness and incarceration rates and to press for a new military service question on the next Census. Veterans’ Affairs ministers from every state and territory have agreed to co-ordinate their efforts to give governments more accurate and meaningful data about veterans’ lives after they leave the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and transition to civilian life. A recent parliamentary inquiry by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee highlighted the current paucity of data on ex-service men and women. The Committee’s report, due on March 30 2017, is likely to recommend better data collection about the lives of veterans in order to track trends and to better target support services. It is likely that rates of suicide and poor mental health among veterans is under-reported. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) told Government News last week that it did not have a complete picture of suicides among veterans. “While Defence records all incidences of suspected or confirmed suicide among current serving members of the ADF, DVA does not have a complete picture of suicides in the ex-serving population. This is because DVA only becomes officially aware of a death by suicide of a veteran if a claim for compensation is lodged by a dependant in respect of the death of a veteran.  In this case, a cause of death must be investigated to establish a relationship with service," said the DVA. Data improvements agreed by the ministers:
  • Ask for a military service-related question in the next Census
  • Developing standardised military service history indicators to use in data collections for suicide and homelessness
  • To meet with state-based and national ex-service organisations to discuss better coordinating efforts addressing homelessness and other services
  • NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia currently collect data on veteran incarceration; other states and territories will investigate following suit
  • NSW and Victoria to share information on their veterans’ homelessness programs
  • State and territory governments to provide information on their services as part of every ADF transition session for those leaving the military
  • Commonwealth to advise states and territories when ADF personnel are medically-discharged to help plan support services
  • Commonwealth to ensure all medically-discharged veterans have a Medicare card when they leave the ADF
The federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan said the first ever meeting of Veterans’ Affairs Ministers had underscored their joint commitment “to re-double our efforts tackling the challenges faced by our veterans".  “All levels of government are providing important support and services to our veterans that recognise their service and sacrifice but we have to ensure we are coordinating our efforts,” Mr Tehan said. “Our veterans will benefit from a more unified approach as a result of getting all the relevant ministers together in one room to better coordinate services and gather important data.”   [post_title] => State governments to co-ordinate veterans' data [post_excerpt] => Military service question on Census? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25675 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-29 10:45:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-28 23:45:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25675 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25574 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-11-16 13:30:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-16 02:30:20 [post_content] => john-murphy-dhs_opt     The hardest part of welfare payment reform will be getting staff on board, said Human Services Deputy Secretary John Murphy at the GovInnovate summit yesterday (Tuesday). DHS is spearheading a massive shake up of the way it processes benefit payments, embarking on an ICT overhaul courtesy of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation, WPIT for short. The government will drop around $1.5 billion over seven years replacing the creaky Centrelink payment system, which was built in 1984.    But Mr Murphy said replacing the technology was likely to be “the easiest part of the journey” and that the biggest challenge of the change program would be engaging and winning over the Department’s 35,000 staff and effecting the great leap forward culturally. “Given enough time and money the technology is the area that we would be the most confident about,” he added. The Deputy Secretary is right to be nervous. On Tuesday DHS staff voted down a new enterprise bargaining agreement for the third time, this time by 74 per cent. The long-running dispute over pay and the proposed dilution of working rights and conditions will not play well for the government, which will have to push through transformative change in the face of flagging morale, resignations and further strikes. Mr Murphy said that while the legacy ICT system still worked it was coming under increasing pressure, which would only intensify. WIPIT represented a "complete reimagining" of the processes behind welfare payments for the past 30 years. The statistics would give anyone pause for thought. In the 1980s DHS delivered $10 billion in welfare payments to 2.5 million people each year. Now the same system delivers $100 billion in payments to some 7.3 million people each year. Payments are projected to hit almost $191.9 billion in 2019-20. “Like most things, I’m sure the architects of the original system couldn’t quite envisage the amount of change and growth the platform would need to support,” he said. “The platform is not broken per se but we do recognise that it is not going to be able to do what we want it to do over the next 20 years.” Welfare payments is a vast and complex system that has been built up over decades. There are 30 million lines of code, for example, and 40 different core payments with 38 add-ons. The ecosystem also includes looking at the volume and nature of phone calls to DHS and how they are dealt with, visits to shopfronts, as well as online interactions through the website and mobile apps. Mr Murphy said he wants to avoid specialist staff fielding calls about answers that could be supplied automatically, for example, on the progress of individual benefit claims. “We want them [DHS staff] to spend more time talking to welfare recipients about their needs rather than answering questions [such as]: ‘I lodged my claim three weeks ago. When will it be processed? A lot of calls are very routine. I want to focus the efforts of those people on helping people who are the most in need.” The vision is to have omnichannel, straight-through processing with better real-time data and analysis. It involves the capture and multiple reuse of data from many sources, such as the ATO or education and training providers, so that clients only have to provide information once. For example, DHS could use the information universities hold on enrolled students so that the student would not have to contact the Department about starting courses or changing course hours. Mr Murphy said the focus would also be on individuals and how they communicate with the Department when their circumstances change. “We are very much looking to adopt the philosophy [that] we’ll play back information to welfare recipients and ask them to confirm it, rather than [having] many, many forms, questions and definitions of incomes. “It is incredibly difficult for citizens to understand what they’re entitled to and what information to tell the department. We want to make it easier for people to understand what they’re entitled to and tell them straight away that they’re not eligible.” At the moment, he said the system was clunky when it needed to respond to policy changes which affected welfare payments, “It is challenging to implement them. Even relatively simple changes take six to 12 months. In anybody’s language, that is not a sustainable position.” There is no doubt on the side of all of the main political parties – or the public - that reforming the payments system is a challenge that has to be taken on, given the exponential rise in claims and long-running problems faced by DHS with calls going unanswered, apps not performing and websites crashing.   Progress so far The changes will be delivered in five tranches and began in July 2015. It will finish in 2022. Suppliers will compete for a piece of the action in each tranche. It is an iterative process designed to be rolled out piece by piece while keeping the current system going. “We need to provide the services that we do today at the same time that we’re looking to redefine, reimagine and transform both delivery of welfare and the technology,” Mr Murphy said. Planning, scoping and design, alongside appointing key commercial partners has been the focus of the first stage. SAP has been chosen as the preferred core software vendor and they will co-design and build and new system. It has been an interesting, quite progressive procurement process so far. Last year, the government asked ICT firms to come up with ideas on designing a new system. They also talked to welfare recipients about how it could work. Meanwhile Capgemini and Accenture are currently duking it out to secure the lucrative systems integration contract for the first tranche. In a ‘try before you buy’ scenario both consultancies have been asked to outline how they would tackle the work and to demonstrate their partnering potential with SAP. There will also be a panel of “top ranking firms”, which could include the firm that comes in second place, who will be asked to bid for the other project stages. Panel members could be engaged to supply services around data migration, systems integration and other support services. Mr Murphy said DHS was also likely to engage bespoke specialist change management firms: “It’s a very large program of work. We feel like we are well set up now to move into the delivery phase.” [post_title] => We need to win over staff: Human Services Dep Sec on welfare payment reform [post_excerpt] => DHS tech transformation. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25574 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-18 11:16:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-18 00:16:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25574 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25154 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2016-10-04 09:41:10 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-10-03 22:41:10 [post_content] => medicare-office_opt   By Dr Chris Culnane, Dr Benjamin Rubinstein and Dr Vanessa Teague, Department of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne This story first appeared on Melbourne University's Pursuit.   Using only publicly available information, we have been able to decrypt the service provider ID numbers in the 10% sample of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) published recently at the Federal Government’s data.gov.au website. We did not decrypt Patient ID numbers. This research work is aimed at understanding mathematical facts about encryption and anonymization, in order to ensure that the security of government data is preserved in the face of the inevitable efforts of external parties who may be prepared to break the law and attempt to re-identify the data. There are numerous benefits to open government data, but it’s important to understand the mathematical techniques for protecting that data, so that the benefits can be derived with a clear understanding that individual privacy is not breached. The department of health has made their own announcement about this work today. We notified them on 12 September, 2016 about the problem. The Department of Health then immediately removed the dataset from the website, opened lines of communication with us to further understand the issue and conducted their own careful investigation of the problem. The MBS 10% sample dataset does not include names or addresses, but the implications of exposing individual provider IDs are still serious. The encryption algorithm was described online at data.gov.au. That was the right thing to do, because it made it possible for us to identify weaknesses in the encryption method. Leaving out some of the algorithmic details didn’t keep the data secure ­– if we can reverse-engineer the details in a few days, then there is a risk that others could do so too. Security through obscurity doesn’t work – keeping the algorithm secret wouldn’t have made the encryption secure, it just would have taken longer for security researchers to identify the problem. It is much better for such problems to be found and addressed than to remain unnoticed.

BACKGROUND ON THE DATASET

The MBS 10% sample was constructed by choosing a random 10% of Medicare patients. For each person selected, almost all Medicare claiming activities from 1984 to 2014 were included in the data. A separate dataset lists Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) claims for the same patients. Most of the data are not encrypted, including Medicare item codes for tests and doctors’ visits, pharmaceutical benefits (PBS) item codes, and other information such as pricing and location. The codes describe what medical activity occurred, for example a particular kind of test, a particular prescription, or a visit to a GP or specialist. The ID numbers describing who received or provided the service are encrypted. The dataset does not include names or addresses of patients or doctors – the MBS dataset includes an encrypted patient ID number and provider ID for each activity. Note that the patient’s ID number is not the number written on their Medicare card, and that the PBS dataset does not include the prescribing doctor’s ID. The website states that: “A suite of confidentiality measures including encryption, perturbation and exclusion of rare events has been applied to safeguard personal health information and ensure that patients and providers cannot be re-identified.’’ Strictly speaking, the method of obscuring patient and provider ID numbers is not encryption, though we will use that term to refer to it for consistency. RECOVERING INFORMATION There are two main ways of trying to identify individuals in this kind of dataset: Linkage attacks use the unencrypted data to identify people by linking the record with other known information; and Cryptographic attacks reverse the encryption algorithm to recover encrypted data. This article concentrates on successful cryptographic attacks. Linkage attacks have been demonstrated on other datasets, for example location data, social network data and US health data, but we have not attempted them here. Partial details about the linkable encryption algorithm were described online at data.gov.au, but were later removed at the same time as the dataset. Although neither the exact algorithm nor the details of subsequent processing were described in detail, we could guess those details for provider IDs and use the dataset to check our hypothesis. We were able to decrypt every service provider ID in the MBS dataset. The details for patient ID numbers are different. We have not decrypted them. CONCLUSION Publishing data can bring great benefits to research but also great risks to privacy. The mathematical details matter: it’s a technically challenging task to understand whether a particular algorithm securely encrypts data or not. Datasets containing sensitive information about individuals clearly deserve more caution than others, and may not always be suitable for open public release. The Australian Government’s open data program provides numerous benefits, allowing better decisions to be made based on evidence, careful analysis, and widespread access to accurate information. Decisions about data publication itself should follow the same philosophy. We have some important decisions to make about what personal data to publish and how it should be anonymised, encrypted or linked. Making good decisions requires accurate technical information about the security of the system and the secrecy of the data. Details about the privacy protections should be published long in advance. They can then be subject to empirical testing, scientific analysis, and open public review, before they are used on real data. Then we can make sound, evidence-based decisions about how to benefit from open data without sacrificing individual privacy.   Since notifying the Department of Health of this issue, the authors have been in discussions about potentially being contracted to research the extent of the problem and possible mitigations and solutions for the future. [post_title] => Understanding Medicare maths crucial for protecting privacy [post_excerpt] => Data encryption. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => understanding-medicare-maths-crucial-protecting-privacy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-10-04 10:14:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-10-03 23:14:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25154 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25108 [post_author] => 670 [post_date] => 2016-09-26 21:48:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-26 11:48:34 [post_content] => centrelink-medicare Following an article in The Daily Telegraph on Sunday 25 September, in which the paper claimed that “leaked Medicare documents have revealed patients face long delays for cash claims after the Turnbull government outsourced processing to new centres and closed Medicare shopfronts,” Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King MP, and Acting Shadow Minister for Human Services Senator The Hon Doug Cameron, said face-to-face Medicare claims processing will completely cease in Centrelink offices and Australians will be forced onto already over-stressed postal and online claim queues. The article reports that “whistle-blower public servants have come forward to warn that patients can expect an end to face-to-face claims and to claim they have been banned from telling patients that their Medicare claims will be sent off-site for processing.” But the government insists only 20 per cent of claims not lodged online face longer waiting periods, with the overwhelming majority of patients now claiming online. In response to the claims, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said services for people who are unable to use digital services will remain the same. He said 82 per cent of claims lodged manually at a service centre are processed within 10 days. “There has been a huge reduction in demand for face-to-face claiming so we are consolidating ‘back of house’ processing work to ensure we provide high quality, consistent services. “Nationally, 96 per cent of all Medicare claims are lodged electronically — this is saving time for millions of Australians who no longer have to visit a service centre to claim.’’ But Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King MP expressed concern for those on the edges of society: “These are barriers our health system cannot afford – as a recent study showed, many people with chronic health conditions are already being forced to forgo treatment because of the costs of medications and appointments,” she said. The Australian Department of Human Services currently lists a number of options available for claiming Medicare reimbursement, one of which is the printed Medicare form that may be lodged at Medicare shopfronts, either in person to a staff member or deposited in a drop box at a service centre. It is the loss of these two options, often used by elderly pensioners and those less familiar with, or unable to access, digital services, that are quoted in the Telegraph article as being at greatest risk. “We were told yesterday in a team huddle that by December there will no longer be any face-to-face Medicare services, customers will only the able to claim digitally or through the service provider,’’ a source is quoted as saying. “Apparently, we won’t even have a Medicare drop box, the little old ladies will have to fill in a form and post it and we know how much mail already goes missing. Who knows if they’ll get their forms through?’’ The Medicare Public Branch confirmed in an email to staff that the changes will include an end to on-site processing and trained Medicare staff being asked to field Centrelink questions on welfare.   Service NSW hours to be cut back From Monday 26 September Service NSW outlets across the state have had their opening hours cut, expectedly making it much harder for people to access them outside work hours. In an effort to cut costs, Premier Mike Baird is winding back the hours Service NSW centres will open, creating serious fears that staff lay-offs will occur. In June, the NSW Budget revealed Service NSW is already understaffed by 112 full-time employees – despite raking in $91 million for the government, according to Clayton Barr MP, the NSW Shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property. At the time of the establishment of the Service NSW network, the NSW Government in July 2013 said: “The new centres will be open from 7am to 7pm during the week and from 9am to 3pm on Saturday – making it easier for people to do their business with the government at a time that suits them.” Following this announcement, around half of all the motor registry sites across NSW closed down. But from Monday 26 September 2016, just one Service NSW centre will stay open until 7pm on weeknights at Wynyard in Sydney’s CBD. Five others will stay open until 7pm on Thursday nights, and some will stop opening on Saturdays altogether. Interestingly, the Service NSW website currently contains confusing information, showing the contradictory old and new times for some registries, on the very same web page. The Services Minister has provided little to no communication on the new opening hours for the other 58 Service NSW centres, leaving many in the community confused about when they can access them, according to Clayton Barr MP. [post_title] => More services facing cutbacks: Medicare, Service NSW [post_excerpt] => Online or in your work hours. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25108 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-26 21:55:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-26 11:55:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25108 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24936 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-09-07 15:30:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-09-07 05:30:16 [post_content] =>  Border protection strike_opt Antagonism between the major public sector union and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has reached critical levels on the eve of widespread public service strikes. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said that the Department’s latest proposed enterprise agreement “sunk to a new low” by retaining cuts to working rights, conditions and allowances and reducing the pay increase offered from 6 per cent to 4.7 per cent over three years. But the Department has hit back, insisting that its latest pay offer is between 6.4 per cent and 10.7 per cent for “the majority of staff.” The DIBP’s 13,500 staff have been waiting for a pay rise since 2013 but the public sector enterprise bargaining agreement process has dragged on for them - and many others - with a promise there will be no back pay. In March this year, union members resoundingly rejected the Department’s offer of 6 per cent over three years, with 81 per cent of votes cast saying ‘no’. An earlier offer in September 2015 of 3.4 per cent over three years (one of the lowest in the Australian Public Service) was rebuffed by 91 per cent of staff who voted. Discontentment has been bubbling up within the ranks of the DIBP for a while. CPSU members staged a 24-hour strike on Friday August 12, which included the country’s international airports, and the union has promised “more action” in the months to come. Union National Secretary Nadine Flood said the recently tabled offer had “achieved the near impossible by further stoking the anger of staff” and aggravated an already tense situation. “This offer is worse for thousands of staff than the one they overwhelmingly rejected six months ago, still stripping away the rights and conditions of all staff while cutting take-home pay for some,” Flood said. “CPSU supports pay parity but not at the expense of some staff still facing actual cuts to their current take-home pay while others will get just 4.7 per cent total from 2014 to 2019, or less than 1 per cent per year.” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash recently underlined that the government will not alter its stance; the latest enterprise agreement proposed by the DIBP is likely to be another red rag to union members. It appears there will be some come back for the government. Flood said: “Our members are now planning to get the government's attention, following up on August’s 24-hour strike at international airports and other sites.” A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that the pay offer was a combination of general pay rises applying to all employees and increases to top of range salary rates for all classification levels to address parity concerns raised by staff [Immigration and Customs were merged in 2015]. The spokesperson said “Overall, the offer delivers an average of 6 per cent across the Department” and the Department would continue to protect take home pay through ‘grand-parenting’ of allowances, as proposed in the last offer. The Department has said that voting on the enterprise agreement would be as soon as possible with further meetings scheduled next week. This week’s strike includes a handful of DIBP staff who are union members, including some from the Australian Border Force, who will take part in a three-hour stoppage.   The twenty-four hour strike on Friday mostly involves other departments including Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, the Tax Office, Defence, Agriculture and Water Resources and Prime Minister and Cabinet and will begin from midnight tomorrow (Thursday) and last until midnight on Friday September 9. [post_title] => Union and Immigration at loggerheads on eve of public service strike [post_excerpt] => Pay cut or pay rise? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => union-immigration-loggerheads-eve-public-service-strike [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-08 13:56:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-08 03:56:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24936 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26832 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-04-06 14:50:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-06 04:50:22 [post_content] =>   Exasperated staff at Human Services will intensify strikes at Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support from Thursday next week in an attempt to break the three-year deadlock with the federal government over pay and conditions and sign a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members begin two weeks of industrial action from Thursday April 13 until April 26 with longer strikes between 7am and 8.30pm, except for April 13. These are rolling strikes, which means strikers can chose to strike for as little as half an hour or for their entire shift. Recent strikes have involved shorter periods of time, from 1.30pm to 8.30pm or 12.30pm to 8.30pm. Human Services and the CPSU appear to be no closer to a resolution and a new agreement than they were last year, despite the Fair Work Commission overseeing the discussions. DHS staff have already voted down agreements three times: by 83 per cent in September 2015; 80 per cent in February 2016 and 74 per cent in November 2016. CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said a fortnight of strikes in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support showed how frustrated workers were. “We’re talking about thousands of people with bills to pay, many of them part-time working mums on around $40,000 a year,” Ms Flood said. “DHS workers really aren’t asking for much. All they want to do is hold on to rights and conditions that have been in place for many years and allow them to balance their working and family lives. She said ‘slow but steady’ progress made by other Commonwealth agencies but talks with DHS had achieved little. “Our team has worked tirelessly trying to negotiate through this mess with DHS management. Those talks are ongoing and are currently being overseen by the Fair Work Commission, but there’s been no movement from DHS’s bosses or in fact any sign whatsoever that they actually want to resolve this.” She said the strikes came at a period of high demand for DHS services and were expected to cause ‘significant disruption’ to the department and its clients. It is not known whether the strike will affect DHS’ Mobile Services, which are helping people get emergency help in flood-hit areas of Queensland. In the past, the Department has requested the union grant exemptions to strikes on the grounds they could cause unnecessary hardship to claimants and the CPSU said they had always agreed to these requests. A CPSU spokesperson said it was difficult to predict the effects of the two-week strike because it depended on DHS’ contingency plans as to where the impact would be felt. DHS General Manager Hank Jongen said that the strike action, which includes Easter and Anzac Day, was designed to disrupt DHS' face-to-face and telephone services. He said it was an attempt by the union to make it 'even harder' for people who used its services but that it would not succeed, predicting that the impact of the industrial action would be 'minimal' and there would no disruption to existing payments. "Our priority is ensuring that the those most vulnerable or with urgent queries get the support they need," Mr Jongen said. "People can also access services through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps – these will not be affected by any stoppages." He said the union's actions would not change the department’s bargaining position around the new Enterprise Agreement. "The department and the CPSU are currently making progress in bargaining before the Fair Work CommissionWe are disappointed the union is initiating more industrial action while we continue to bargain in good faith. "In our most recent offer we committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all our family friendly entitlements. We are also offering staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards."   [post_title] => Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support staff step up strikes [post_excerpt] => DHS says bargaining position won't change. 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