On the record

Corrections and facts about departmental information reported in the media.

20 March 2017– Correction of inaccuracies by BuzzFeed News

BuzzFeed’s article about collection agents recovering Centrelink debts (20 March, 2017) is misleading and requires correction.

Dun and Bradstreet and Probe Group are the only two companies currently providing collection services on behalf of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Neither of these use Detective Desk for DHS work. Neither do they use offshore paid data services for DHS activities.

Australian Receivables has not yet started recovering debts for DHS. It also does not use Detective Desk.

The headline is particularly misleading and does not reflect the facts contained in the article that DHS’s contract with external collection agents stipulates information is not to be disclosed, published or communicated to any unauthorised person in any form either during or after service with the Commonwealth – which includes sending information overseas.

11 December 2016 – clarification on ‘spousal benefits’

News Corp today reported on Centrelink ‘spousal benefits’ that included unverified quotes from an article published 2010.

The Department of Human Services does not administer ‘spousal benefits’.

The following information was provided to News Corp:

When granting income support, the department determines whether a payment is made at the single or partnered rate.

Being in more than one member-of-a-couple relationship has no bearing on that assessment – if you are in a member-of-a-couple relationship then you will be assessed at the partnered rate.

Eligibility is determined on an individual’s circumstances and there are no additional payments for having multiple partners.

Customers with multiple partners are assessed exactly the same as any other person, under Australian law.

The department does not hold data based on polygamous relationships or religion.

6 December 2016 - Letter to Down Syndrome Australia

Dr Ellen Skladzien, Chief Executive Officer, Down Syndrome Australia

Thank you for your letter of 2 December 2016. I would like to apologise for any concern or distress caused as a result of last week’s Parliamentary hearing. Please be assured of our understanding of the permanent, genetic and congenital nature of Down syndrome, and its capacity to produce physical and developmental outcomes including a level of intellectual disability. We also appreciate that many Australians are affected by Down syndrome and the role of your organisation is critically important in assisting them, and the general community, with support, information and resources.

I would like to offer some additional context relevant to the hearing in Canberra which may be of assistance to you. As you know, the focus of the hearing was on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) administered by the Department of Human Services (the department), including eligibility criteria and assessment processes. The central issue in DSP eligibility is the extent of any physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment affecting a person’s ability to work for 15 hours or more per week within the next two years because of the impairment. It is important to distinguish this issue from the separate issue of whether a person is likely to be cured of their condition or disability.

The department is very conscious that there can be significant variability between different people with Down syndrome in the level and types of impairment that they may experience. On this basis, we assess each claim for DSP on individual circumstances, with a particular focus on a person’s functional ability, rather than their disability.

In relation to the recently commenced series of medical reviews, which was an Australian Government measure in the 2015-16 Budget, the department is making every effort to avoid initiating a medical review for people who are manifestly eligible for DSP, or where we have information which indicates that they are likely to be manifestly eligible. Unfortunately, we do not always have complete or detailed information for all DSP recipients on our systems, especially if a person was granted DSP many years ago. This means that there are a small number of people contacted for review who then provide us with information indicating their manifest eligibility for DSP. We take every effort to immediately update our systems and provide reassurance to the person concerned that they will not be contacted for a medical review in the future. I would also note that a dedicated team of staff is available to respond to enquiries or concerns about the DSP medical review process, and can be directly reached by contacting the department’s enquiry line on 13 27 17 and choosing option ‘3’.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me outlining your concerns. I hope the information I have provided above has been of assistance. I would welcome your publication of this letter on your website, when you publish your correspondence to me on the same topic. The department will publish this response on our website.

Kathryn Campbell CSC

18 November 2016 - Letter to the Editor of The Canberra Times

I write to correct the latest example of lazy reporting by Noel Towell in The Canberra Times ('DHS change program tipped to be challenge', page 9, 18 November 2016).

Mr Towell misrepresented comments made by Deputy Secretary John Murphy at this week's GovInnovate conference which appeared in an appropriately balanced article from another publication. Your headline, which wrongly portrayed our staff, was outrageous. Had you properly researched the article, or even attended the conference, you would have found Mr Murphy spoke about "very talented, highly skilled people". We know our staff are up for the challenges ahead because the bond that drives our workforce is a passion for delivering the best possible services to the Australian community.

Again, we weren't approached for comment. Had you provided us with the opportunity we would have set the record straight on this point and other inaccuracies. For example, the replacement of Centrelink and Medicare payment systems are separate programmes - Mr Murphy spoke exclusively about the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation Programme, which will replace the Centrelink payment system. Further, our relationship with SAP is subject to further discussions on commercial matters, including value for money.

We expect Mr Towell and The Canberra Times to report accurately and fairly; to diligently check the facts and to provide us with a right of reply. We hope in future you can avoid more misinformation being reported as fact.

13 October 2016 - Correction of inaccurate claims in The Canberra Times

Reporting in The Canberra Times, 'PS disputes move to mediation' (13 October 2016) is factually incorrect.

The Department of Human Services has not been instructed by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to participate in mediation or conciliation sessions with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) on our Enterprise Agreement.

The department is currently defending an allegation made by the CPSU to the FWC that we have not met our good faith bargaining requirements under the Fair Work Act 2009.

We reject this allegation because we have consistently bargained in good faith throughout the process.

We have demonstrated a continued commitment to a draft agreement and pay offer that takes staff feedback on board and meets our service delivery obligations and the Government’s bargaining policy.

Our latest proposal is further proof that we continue to bargain in good faith.

In putting this offer together, we’ve listened, worked through the outstanding issues and carefully considered the feedback we received from staff since the last offer in February and we have made a further 27 changes to this proposal.

The pay offer is a pay rise of 3% on commencement, followed by a 1.5% increase on both the first and second anniversaries of the agreement.

3 May 2016 - Clarifying student claims assessment processes

The department is not “auto-rejecting” student claims. Each claim is assessed based on the student’s individual circumstances, the eligibility criteria and the supporting information provided.

However, if a student’s claim is examined and does not meet the eligibility criteria and/or the supporting information or documentation is not provided, then the claim is required to be rejected.

Trained staff are working hard to process claims as soon as possible and students can be assured that all claims are individually considered.

The department’s quality checking framework for claims has remained in place throughout the peak period to ensure claims are being assessed correctly.

21 March 2016 - Clarifying rostering and flexible working arrangements for our staff

This morning the Community Public Sector Union made claims that under the proposed Enterprise Agreement, staff can be forced to change their hours and work location every four weeks, and work split shifts. These claims are not correct.

The department absolutely supports flexible working arrangements for our staff and we will take into account individual needs and preferences. The proposed agreement makes clear that we will consult with employees where the department proposes to change an employee’s regular roster or ordinary hours of work. Working hours for rostered employees will apply for a four week period and may be negotiated up to 12 weeks in advance. These conditions remain unchanged from the existing agreement.

The department supports working parents and the proposed agreement maintains the right for parents with child care arrangements to request flexible working arrangements. Both the current and the proposed agreement allow staff to agree a regular pattern of hours for a period of up to 12 months to give them certainty over their personal arrangements.

There are very few shift workers in the department and the proposed agreement outlines working arrangements for shift workers. The proposed agreement explicitly states that shift workers will not be required to work split shifts.

Contrary to the union’s representation, the department is seeking to sensibly balance customer service priorities with staff rostering arrangements.

The department supports flexible working arrangements for our staff, however our role is to deliver services to the community and we need to be able to respond to the needs of all Australians.

17 March 2016 - Statement on IBM contract

The IBM contract announced on 11 March 2016 provides for a range hardware, software, and IT support services to be provided to the Department. Under the contract these services are being provided to the Department as a whole, not to a specific project or initiative.

Contrary to recent media reporting, the cost of the previous contract with IBM over the past five years was $484 million. This is equal to $96.8 million per year.

The value of the new contract with IBM over five years is $484 million.

The new agreement provides greater flexibility over how contract funds are used to ensure value over the life of the contract term.

9 March 2016 - Letter to the Editor of the Canberra Times

The following Letter to the Editor was provided to the Canberra Times in response to an article that had incorrect information about the access to support and leave for employees affected by domestic and family violence.

The Department of Human Services is not removing the right for staff to take time off when experiencing family and domestic violence (‘Public servants lose domestic violence leave’, 9 March). It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

Staff will always have access to leave, flexible working arrangements and support in the workplace when facing such serious circumstances.

The proposed staff agreement contains access to flexible working arrangements, specifying situations where ‘a person is experiencing violence from a member of the employee’s family’.

This department is taking a lead role across the public service to guide a whole of government approach to providing support for staff affected by family and domestic violence.  Our Family and Domestic Violence Strategy outlines the approach to supporting both staff and customers impacted by this issue.

We have established an experienced family and domestic violence contact officer network to confidentially provide information to staff about the support available, including leave and flexible working arrangements.

Our campaign titled ‘Enough’ encourages both customers and staff impacted by domestic violence to seek help. And we’re rolling out training across our 35,000-strong workforce so all staff are better able to identify where someone – customer or colleague – may need this kind of help.

Just as our frontline staff support people experiencing family and domestic violence, we are committed to ensuring every employee can access support when they need it.

Hank Jongen
General Manager, Department of Human Services

1 March 2016 - Advertisement in the Kingborough Chronicle

On 1 March 2016, an advertisement ran in the Kingborough Chronicle incorrectly advising that Centrelink and Medicare services at Kingston would move to Hobart.

This is incorrect. From late June this year, Medicare and Centrelink services currently operating from the Kingston Service Centre will be delivered from the Service Tasmania shopfront at Shop 87a in the Channel Court shopping complex.

This partnership with Service Tasmania will result in no change to the level of services offered.

In the meantime, the existing Medicare and Centrelink services at 9–15 John Street will be maintained.

24 February 2016 - Correction of inaccurate claims about the January 2016 draft staff agreement

The following advice was provided to the Community and Public Sector Union in response to a CPSU media release (Malcolm Turnbull making life harder for working parents, 22 February 2016) containing inaccurate claims about the Department of Human Services January 2016 draft Enterprise Agreement.

Contrary to the union’s claims, the January 2016 draft staff Agreement clearly specifies:

  • The needs and preferences of the employee will be considered in determining an employee’s ordinary pattern of hours.
  • The department cannot change rosters or ordinary hours of work for employees without consultation and giving genuine consideration to matters raised by the employee.
  • Personal circumstances will be taken into account and staff will be provided with reasonable notice of any requirement or request to work overtime. Employees have the right to refuse overtime for personal or caring reasons.
  • Staff will continue to accrue 18 days of personal/carer’s leave each year (pro rata for part-time employees).
  • The department will consult with employees once a decision is taken in order to mitigate any adverse effect of the change on employees where that change is likely to have a significant effect on employees.

19 February 2016 - clarification of Marketing and Design Panel tender

The Department of Human Services (the department) initially established a panel for Front of House Marketing and Design Services following the integration of Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support in 2011.

The department’s recent approach to market is an opportunity to review and refresh these arrangements. Contrary to recent media reporting, the tender is not the result of planned upgrades to all service centres.

As leases on existing service centres expire, the department looks for opportunities to redesign existing premises to assist the take up of self-service including the use of the department’s digital channels as well as identifying those opportunities to deliver services in one location.

The department accesses specialised design services to deliver a consistent approach across service centres and applies industry best practice in retail and digital signage; accessibility; and customer service.

3 December 2015 - statement on enterprise agreement voting timeframe

This statement was provided to media in response to questions about the decision to reschedule the staff vote on the revised agreement:

Following meetings with bargaining representatives this week, the department has decided to progress to a vote on the revised agreement next year.

We were working towards a vote before Christmas, but we believe that taking a few more weeks to consider feedback from representatives on the proposal is likely to result in a better outcome for both staff and the department.

We want to present staff with a proposal that addresses as many of their key concerns as possible, within the government’s bargaining framework.

We’ll continue bargaining in good faith and work towards a vote in early February 2016.

The decision to reschedule the vote was discussed with bargaining representatives including the CPSU.

The CPSU’s media release misrepresents the reasons for the rescheduling.

6 November 2015 - staff numbers

Staffing levels at the Department of Human Services have not decreased in 2014-15.

The department’s workforce increased by 117 - from 34,773 on 1 July 2014 to 34,890 on 30 June 2015.

The total number includes 31,094 ongoing and 3796 non-ongoing, as at 30 June 2015.

2 November 2015 - statement on Australian Hearing 'available for sale'

This statement was provided to media in response to questions about whether a decision had been made to privatise Australian Hearing, following the release of the Department of Human Services Annual Report 2014–15:

The Department of Human Services 2014–15 Annual Report contains a standard note on the administered investments of Australian Hearing, that they are ‘available for sale’.

The ‘available for sale’ description is consistent with the Commonwealth Entities Financial Statements Guide and has been used in relation to Australian Hearing administered investments since at least the 2010–11 annual report.

Classifying administered investments as ‘available for sale’ does not imply that they are held for sale.

1 November 2015 - statement on casual staff penalty rates

The following statement was provided in response to questions about how casuals should be paid penalty rates:

In August 2015, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) raised a dispute with the department relating to the application of clauses F13 (Overtime) and F17 (Shift Work) of the Department of Human Services Agreement 2011-2014 (the Agreement) to irregular and intermittent (casual) employees.

The department takes its obligation to pay staff in accordance with the agreement seriously and considers that it is applying the overtime and shift work provisions correctly.

Casual employees are paid a 20 per cent loading under the Agreement. Where they agree to work a shift on Saturday, the department pays an additional loading of 50 per cent in accordance with the Agreement.

If casual employees are asked to work additional hours when they are already at work on a Saturday, they will be paid overtime (time and a half for the first three hours and double time after the first three hours) in accordance with the Agreement.

The parties have met to discuss the dispute, but are unable to agree on the operation of these clauses. The CPSU has escalated the dispute to the Fair Work Commission.

7 August 2015 - letter to the Editor of The Canberra Times

The following Letter to the Editor was provided to The Canberra Times in response to an article that overstated the number of vacant desks across the department’s leases in Canberra:

Dear editor,

The assertions made this week (Department’s lease liabilities add to plague of empty desks, 6 August) appear to be deliberately overstating the extent of vacancies across Department of Human Services leases in Canberra.

In the first instance, the article refers to a report prepared by the Department of Finance using September 2014 data and states the Department of Human Services has over 1000 empty desks in Canberra. I note the figures used in the report show the department actually had 770 vacant desks at that time.

The Doris Blackburn Building on Canberra Avenue was opened in 2012 after an expression of interest process to replace the existing out-dated accommodation on Canberra Avenue.

As we have already made very clear, Doris Blackburn is currently at capacity and overall our Canberra buildings are at 95 per cent occupancy. It is necessary to allow for some surge capacity—there is no wastage.

Hank Jongen
General Manager, Department of Human Services

Page last updated: 20 March 2017

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