External scrutiny

In 2017–18 the ANAO tabled five performance audit reports involving the department and made a total of one recommendation to the department.

External awards

In 2017–18, the following public sector and private sector industry association awards programs recognised individuals and teams from the department:

  • Public Service Medal:
    • Karen Gooden for outstanding public service in the improvement of outcomes for job seekers
    • Ian Jamieson for outstanding public service in Commonwealth aged care policy, programs and delivery
    • Natasha Dawes for outstanding public service in leading and delivering Medicare initiatives
    • Clayton Trevilyan for outstanding public service through the creation of more inclusive and accessible workplaces for APS employees with a disability.
  • 2017 Association of Corporate Counsel Australia In‑House Lawyer Awards—Government Lawyer of the Year:
    • Annette Musolino
  • 2017 Step Two Intranet and Digital Workplace Awards—silver award:
    • Ensuring the quality of internet content
  • 2017 Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management—finalist:
    • Agile Approach Achieves 97% Medicare Digital Claiming initiative
  • 2017 Pacific Services Group Holdings Indigenous Female Employee of the Year Award—finalist:
    • Sheree Glastonbury
  • 2017 Australian Association of Graduate Employers AAGE Graduate Recruitment Industry Awards—finalist for Most Popular Integrated Marketing Campaign (public sector):
    • National Graduate Program
  • 2017 Australian Public Service APS Diversity and Gender Equality Awards—special mention:
    • Sreta Mrkic for mentoring a staff member who acquired a brain injury.

Reviews of social welfare payment decisions

Internal review

The department’s review and appeals systems consist of internal and external review mechanisms.

Under the internal review process, the department conducts only one customer‑initiated formal internal review of a decision.

There are three steps in the internal review process:

  • the customer or their nominee requests a review of a decision
  • a subject‑matter expert undertakes a quality check of the decision and ensures the customer is given a thorough explanation as to why the decision was made
  • if the customer disagrees with the decision, an Authorised Review Officer (ARO) conducts a formal internal review.

A formal review of a decision by an ARO is an independent process undertaken by an officer who was not involved in the original decision. The ARO can affirm, vary or set aside the original decision.

In 2017–18 the department received 61,347 applications for formal internal reviews.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal review

If the customer is still dissatisfied after the internal review process, they can apply for a merit review by the Social Services and Child Support Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)—an ‘AAT first review’.If the customer remains dissatisfied after the AAT first review, they can request a further review by the AAT General Division—an ‘AAT second review’.

The types of decisions most commonly challenged in the AAT in 2017–18 were:

  • rejection of a claim for a payment (such as Disability Support Pension)
  • raising or recovering debts, including Family Tax Benefit reconciliation debts
  • participation failure
  • start date of payment
  • rate of payment.
Table 59: Social welfare payments merit review applications
Applications

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

Applications received for formal internal reviewSee footnote(a)

105,786

83,143

61,347

AAT first review

11,198

12,767

8,920

AAT second review customer applications

2,178

2,179

1,658

AAT second review Secretary applicationsSee footnote(b)

81

88

72

  1. The counting methodology for formal internal reviews changed in November 2016 following the introduction of a business model under which reviews finalised by a subject‑matter expert are no longer considered to be formal internal reviews.
  2. Refers to the Secretary of any department where the relevant minister is responsible, under the Administrative Arrangement Orders, for that part of the social security laws that allows for appeal of a decision to the AAT.
Table 60: Social welfare payments merit review outcomesSee footnote(a)
 

Unchanged decisionsSee footnote(b)

Changed decisions

Applications

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

Formal internal review

62.5%
60,963

63.2%
60,345

63.1%
37,358

37.5%
36,617

36.8%
35,207

36.9%
21,848

AAT first review

74.6%
8,195

75.5%
8,716

73.3%
7,681

25.4%
2,788

24.5%
2,830

26.7%
2,799

AAT second review-customer applications

79.2%
1,542

79.2%
1,621

75.7%
1,481

20.8%
404

20.8%
427

24.3%
475

AAT second review-Secretary applicationsSee footnote(c)

50.0%
43

46.1%
41

50.8%
32

50.0%
43

53.9%
48

49.2%
31

  1. A social welfare payments merit review application can be lodged in one financial year; however, it may not be decided in the same financial year. Due to this, the numbers of social welfare payments merit review applications are not comparable with the numbers of social welfare payments merit review outcomes.
  2. Unchanged decisions include reviews that were withdrawn.
  3. Refers to the Secretary of any department where the relevant minister is responsible, under the Administrative Arrangements Order, for that part of the social security laws that allows for appeal of a decision to the AAT.

Reviews of child support decisions

Under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988, a parent can apply for review of most child support decisions through the department’s objection process—a legislated internal review process for child support decisions.

Before the department makes any decisions in the objection process, both parents are contacted. To ensure procedural fairness, both parents have the opportunity to provide information. This helps the department to ensure that review decisions are accurate and based on individual circumstances.

To help to improve future decision‑making, the department provides feedback to the original decision‑makers on the outcomes of objections.

Table 61: Child Support objections received and finalised
 

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

Number of objections received:

16,698

16,590

16,530

Percentage relating to care

35.8%

37.9%

37.6%

Percentage relating to change of assessment

16.8%

17.4%

19.9%

Percentage relating to estimates

13.3%

14.4%

12.2%

Objections to change of assessment

The objection rate to the department’s decisions to change child support payment assessments was 17.32% in 2017–18. In 41.72% of these cases the department changed the original decision as a result of the objection, most commonly because parents provided new information.

Table 62: Change of assessment applications finalised and objections received
 

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

Change of assessment applications finalised

17,232

18,024

19,022

Change of assessment objections received

2,888

2,891

3,295

Administrative Appeals Tribunal review

The AAT is responsible for independently reviewing objections to child support decisions. It received 2,396 applications for first reviews of child support decisions in 2017–18.

The two most common reasons for parents seeking review by the AAT were change of assessment decisions and disputed care arrangements for their children.

To improve service delivery and policy outcomes, in 2017–18 the department continued to analyse child support review decisions to identify any systemic procedural or operational issues.

Table 63: Child Support Administrative Appeals Tribunal review outcomesSee footnote(a)
 

Unchanged decisionsSee footnote(b)

Changed decisions

Applications

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

AAT first review

555

541

513

806

703

799

(a) The number of reviews finalised does not equal the total number of applications received, as finalised numbers do not include applications that are withdrawn, dismissed or still in progress.

(b) Unchanged decisions are those made by the AAT affirming the original decision by the Child Support Registrar. Unchanged decisions do not include withdrawn or dismissed applications.

Judicial decisions and tribunal appeals

In 2017–18 there were no judicial decisions that had a significant effect on the operations of the department. A large number of the department’s decisions are subject to merit review by the AAT.

External audits: Australian National Audit Office

In 2017–18 the ANAO tabled five performance audit reports involving the department and made a total of one recommendation to the department. The department agreed to this recommendation.

When the ANAO made recommendations involving responsibilities of policy departments, the department worked with its partners to respond effectively to the recommendations.

The department maintains a collaborative and productive relationship with the ANAO and welcomes the audit and assurance activities it undertakes.

The department views the ANAO’s performance auditing as complementary to the internal audit program. The ANAO’s audit work program for 2017–18 helped the department to plan for maximum audit coverage while minimising duplication of effort.

The department works closely with the ANAO throughout the annual financial statements audit cycle and closely monitors implementation of ANAO performance audit and financial statements audit recommendations.

The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit is required by the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951 to examine all Auditor‑General reports tabled in parliament. The department was required to attend public hearings of the committee during 2017–18 relating to ANAO performance audits. During 2017–18, officers from the department were invited to attend hearings of the committee relating to Report No. 19, Australian Government procurement contract reporting, tabled 6 December 2017.

Relevant ANAO audits tabled in parliament in 2017–18

Report No. 13, Decision‑making controls for sustainability—National Disability Insurance Scheme access (a cross‑entity audit also involving the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)), tabled 19 October 2017

Report No. 14, The design and implementation of the Community Development Programme (a cross‑entity audit also involving the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the then Department of Employment), tabled 31 October 2017

Report No. 22, Administration of Medicare electronic claiming arrangements, tabled 19 December 2017

Report No. 35, Management of special appropriations, tabled 17 April 2018

Report No. 41, Efficiency through Contestability Programme, tabled 21 May 2018.

The complete ANAO audit reports are at the Australian National Audit Office website.

Independent Review of Health Providers’ Access to Medicare Card Numbers

On 10 July 2017 the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, and the then Minister for Human Services, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, announced the Independent Review of Health Providers’ Access to Medicare Card Numbers. The review was commissioned following media reports that Medicare card numbers were available for sale on the ‘dark web’. These reports were referred to the Australian Federal Police, which is investigating them.

The review panel was led by Professor Peter Shergold AC. Its other members were Dr Bastian Seidel, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; and Dr Kean‑Seng Lim, Deputy Chair of the Australian Medical Association Council of General Practice, representing Dr Michael Gannon, President of the Australian Medical Association.

The panel considered how to balance appropriate access to Medicare card numbers for health professionals to confirm patient eligibility for health services with the security of patients’ Medicare information.

The final report, publicly released on 14 October 2017, made 14 recommendations. The Australian Government gave immediate in‑principle agreement and on 16 February 2018 released its detailed response to the report. It agreed without qualification to 13 recommendations and agreed in principle to one recommendation, pending further engagement with the health sector about implementation options.

The government committed to implementing seven of the recommendations by 30 June 2018 (all seven have been implemented), a further four by 31 December 2018 and one by mid‑2019. The remaining two require no changes to current practice.

Parliamentary inquiries

In 2017–18 the department supported a range of parliamentary inquiries, including by providing written submissions, attending public hearings and private briefings and submitting answers to a large number of supplementary questions. Further information on some of the inquiries is below.

The hearing health and wellbeing of Australia

On 2 November 2016 the then Minister for Health, Aged Care and Sport referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport the matter of the hearing health and wellbeing of Australia.

The committee tabled its report on 13 September 2017. The department is working with the Department of Health to finalise the government response to this report.

Medicare information available for sale illegally on the ‘dark web’

On 9 August 2017 the Senate referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee the issue of the circumstances in which Australians’ personal Medicare information has been compromised and made available for sale illegally on the ‘dark web’.

Departmental representatives attended a public hearing on 15 September 2017, and the department provided a written submission to the inquiry on 5 October 2017. The department coordinated the government response to the report, which was tabled on 22 February 2018.

The digital delivery of government services

On 16 August 2017 the Senate agreed to an inquiry by the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee into the digital delivery of government services.

The department provided a written submission to the inquiry on 5 October 2017. Departmental representatives attended a public hearing on 23 March 2018 and subsequently responded to a series of supplementary questions.

The committee tabled its report on 27 June 2018.

JCPAA Report 452: Natural Disaster Recovery, Centrelink Telephone Services and Safer Streets Program [Review of Auditor‑General’s Reports Nos 24–50 (2014–15)]

On 7 December 2015 the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) tabled its report on the Natural Disaster Recovery, Centrelink Telephone Services and Safer Streets Program.

The department responded to five of the report’s recommendations on 28 September 2016 and supplied further information/updates on 16 March 2017 and 6 October 2017. On 7 February 2018, departmental officers met with the committee and subsequently responded to a series of supplementary questions.

Commonwealth contracting [based on Auditor‑General’s Report No. 19 (2017–18)]

The JCPAA is conducting an inquiry based on any items, matters or circumstances connected with Auditor‑General’s Report No. 19 (2017–18)—Australian Government procurement contract reporting.

The department made a written submission to the inquiry in February 2018. Departmental officers attended a public hearing on 23 March 2018 and subsequently responded to a series of supplementary questions.

JCPAA Report 461: Commonwealth risk management

On 10 May 2017 the JCPAA tabled its report on Commonwealth risk management. This inquiry was based on Auditor‑General’s Report No. 18 (2015–16)—Qualifying for the Disability Support Pension.

The department and the Department of Social Services jointly coordinated the government response to eight of the report’s recommendations, which was tabled on 21 December 2017. On 4 May 2018, both departments provided another consolidated response after the committee sought further information.

National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and related bill

On 10 May 2018, the Senate referred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018 for inquiry and report.

The department provided input to a consolidated Australian Government written submission which was submitted to the committee on 30 May 2018 by the Department of Social Services.

The committee tabled its report on 15 June 2018.

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018

On 22 March 2018, the Senate referred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 for inquiry and report.

Departmental representatives attended a public hearing held by the committee on 24 April 2018.

The committee tabled its report on 7 May 2018.

Future of work and workers in Australia

On 19 October 2017, the Senate established the Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers to inquire into and report on the impact of technological and other changes on the future of work and workers in Australia.

Together with representatives from the Department of Social Services, a departmental representative attended a public hearing held by the committee on 4 June 2018.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The department maintains a collaborative and productive working relationship with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The department monitors the implementation of recommendations from reports published by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In 2017–18 the Commonwealth Ombudsman opened 608 investigations relating to the department. This is a decrease of 4.3% compared with 2016–17.

The department provides timely, high‑quality responses to investigations. In 2017–18 the department responded to 94.6% of requests within the required time frame.

In 2017–18 the Commonwealth Ombudsman published no reports about the department.

Page last updated: 1 July 2019

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