Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In Praise of Centrelink Mark Two

Since my last post on Sunday I have flown to Grafton that evening, delivered a full day workshop Monday and then driven to Armidale. Overnight there and then a drive to Tamworth for another workshop. Back to Sydney Tuesday night, today a full day metro workshop and then to Newcastle tomorrow for another workshop. Friday to Queensland for a conference.

In all, I am stuffed and had no intention of posting. Then I was provoked!

In Praise for Centrelink I commented on some of the new things that Centrelink is doing. Neil (Ninglun) responded with Personal Reflections: Praise for Centrelink. This led Benjamin Solah to comment:

I rather think Jim’s praise for Centrelink is a bit short sighted given thatn it doesn’t matter to most people if they can apply online or not when they don’t get their payment anyway, are harassed by Job Networks for jobs that cannot sustain them anyway, are asked to pay back money for Centrelinks mistake, staff are trained in how to breach clients but not how to refer them to assistance programs…

The list could go on. I think people’s hatred for Centrelink is very very reaching.

I know where Benjamin is coming from. However, I do feel obliged to add to my comments in Centrelink's defence.

Centrelink officials are there to deliver services and administer Government policy. When, as happened with the Howard Government, they get directives to do certain things, they respond. This is reinforced by the modern performance management techniques with their emphasis on the measurable. Change what is measured, and you change official performance.

Now my personal view is that some of the things that the Howard Government attempted to do via Centrelink was bad policy, while also being obscene in moral terms. I suspect that Benjamin and I might disagree on detail, but would still reach common ground as to thrust.

I was impressed about Centrelink's approach to e-services because there was a focus on making things easier for people, not just shifting processing load onto them.

Anybody who has been to Centrelink will remember the long lines until you reached reception. Who would want to repeat this? Frustrating, especially if you just have a routine processing matter.

To solve this, you give customers access so that they can alter details on line.

Not everybody has a computer, especially the poor. So you create self-service points at the front of the office. Here people can do their own thing. You also encourage people to use local libraries. And you enter into a deal with a not-for-profit to provide refurbished computers to Centrelink customers.

These computers come from firms such as Westpac as they upgrade. They are refurbished, new software added by Microsoft. This means that people can get a Pentium 4 with a full Office suite for $250. Demand has out-run supply, but thousands of computers are now being supplied around Australia.

Long lines still exist in some places. However, they have shrunk. Further, Centrelink sick days have also shrunk because staff no longer have to deal with so many frustrated customers.

In all this, the big demand area that has surprised Centrelink are the "elderly" such as Neil. Demand here has really pressed against Centrelink's ability to supply!


watchdoggie1951 said...

Jim : while at may have reduced queues, this online service is fraught with danger for the average " customer ". At some point in every customer's dealing with Centrelink, documents have been "lost" " deleted " or misplaced, at great inconvenience and often expense of the " customer". With an online entry, it will only take one keystroke to alter, delete or totally misrepresent a customer's details or information.

As we all know, the onus is on the customer to " get it right"; hence any mistakes will be allocated to the customer while Centrelink will remain blameless ( just as it is now).

There was a recent flurry of activity when Centrelink announced that as of July, 2008, cross-referencing of customers Bank accounts would be conducted. My contact with my Bank indicates that NO such legislation is in place, and Banks would be legally obligated to advise their customers beforehand if any such action was requested. Is this just Centrelink's way of " conditioning " customers to expect it, so that when it happens no-one will react, inspite of it being another illegal activity ??

Perhaps, if you have a moment spare, you could peruse our website, in which we highlight the oft times demonic treatment of its customers by Centrelink. Actual stories here would have you questioning just HOW an Australian Govt. Agency could treat its clients with such abyssmal contempt.

This is NOT a website for the faint hearted .. no punches are pulled.

Garrie Cleveland.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Garrie, because I am travelling just a short note to say that i will follow up on your post and visit the site.