For insight into just how easy it is for Centrelink to set you up for a criminal prosecution or a fraudulent tort action against you in five years time, just check out the above redacted example of Centrelink’s newest “Receipt” that is provided when welfare recipients report their income to Centrelink.
- All that you get is a receipt number – WHERE are the details of what you reported?
- Buy groceries from Coles or Woolworths, or a new TV from Harvey Norman and the receipt will have a number and a date.
- HOWEVER, the receipt that these retail stores provides to you MUST contain specific details of the purchase if it is to be legally valid.
- if the receipt does not contain details of the purchase, how could you exercise your statutory legal rights if the product that you purchased was faulty?
- Without the specific details of the transaction, any receipt is useless,
- So how come Centrelink’s senior manager, who get paid $388,000 per year, ($14,923 per fortnight or $1063 per day!) doesn’t know how to make a valid receipt?
- What you are about to read comes from HANSARD, the official record of debate by federal politicians.
BELIEVE ME – YOU NEED TO READ IT – ALL OF IT – EVER LAST WORD!
HANSARD: 24 OCTOBER 2014 – A Community Affairs Legislation Committee hearing of Department of Human Services issues. Download from:
Senator Cameron – “THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – ISIS” (Centrelink’s computer management system.)
EXTRACT: Ms Kathryn Campbell, the Secretary (the boss) for the Department of Human Services, testified: “One of the best stats that summaries the system is that it was originally built to run one batch a day an evening. We now run around 21,000 per day to keep it in sync” (See Pages 20 onwards of the actual minutes.
Senator CAMERON: So you have this integrated system called Isis?
Ms Campbell: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: With a number of platforms a number of different types of software?
Ms Campbell: I think that is the case. But again Mr Sterrenberg will be able to—
Senator CAMERON: What binds it together? I would rather you tell me than Mr Sterrenberg; I might understand it. What binds it together and makes it talk to each other?
Ms Campbell: There is an underlying platform of software—model 204 software—and that brings it together. Then we have been developing recently some SAP elements, and those also interface into the system.
Senator CAMERON: So that means the system can talk across the system?
Ms Campbell: It can talk across the system, but, because of those complex pathways, for want of a better term—that is what makes it quite tricky to build new applications within it new programs or changes to older programs.
Senator CAMERON: I think Mr Sterrenberg described it as ‘a workhorse’ last time. It got the job done.
Ms Campbell: It does.
Senator CAMERON: Is it antiquated?
Ms Campbell: It is mature. It is over 30 years old. There are a number of words that have been used to describe it on various occasions, yes.
Senator CAMERON: If the government said to you, ‘There are changes that need to be made’, are there any changes that would take six years to implement?
Ms Campbell: The changes we are talking about—to rebuild the whole system?
Senator CAMERON: No, I am talking about—the system stays as it is. I understand you cannot get rid of the system right away.
Ms Campbell: No.
Senator CAMERON: That is the reality. The system is going to be there. It is going to be a legacy system for some period of time. We do not know what is going to replace it until we get the results of the scoping study. Is that correct?
Ms Campbell: That is right. Government will receive that advice, yes.
Senator CAMERON: Say all the 60 budget proposals passed parliament tomorrow—and this is not hypothetical; I doubt whether it will happen, but it could happen. That is what the government wants. It wants all its budget measures passed through parliament. If the budget goes through parliament, how long will it take you as a department to implement those budget changes? You must have looked at this. How long would it take you to implement the changes in the system so that you can effectively implement the budget?
QUOTE – UNQUOTE – Check this out!
From Page 22 , “we cannot guarantee the integrity of being able to do that, because of the construction of the current system.”) See below:
Senator CAMERON: So you engage with the government and obviously the government says to you, ‘If we do this, can you manage it?’, and you said, ‘Yes’.
Ms Campbell: We say yes. And sometimes we say we may not be able to do that, depending on the complexity of the changes envisaged. So the code is quite complex, and, if government were looking for quite significant changes, sometimes we might say that it might take a lot longer or that we cannot guarantee the integrity of being able to do that, because of the construction of the current system.
Senator CAMERON: So then the government has to make a choice about whether it proceeds with a specific issue—or it says: ‘Okay, the time frame to practically implement is this, on the advice of DHS. That is when we practically implement’?
Ms Campbell: Yes.
(Further on in the debate)
Ms Campbell: Senator, I do not think government has made final discussions on what McClure is, to categorise it as that, but the initial reporting around a much simpler system, a much simpler policy framework, what be very difficult and to implement under the current frame work.
Senator CAMERON: Impossible?
Ms Campbell: We would be spending money on a platform, the model 204, which is used by very few other people in the world and which we know has problems. We have issues with it now. I could not advise government that it would be a sensible decision to do a completely new framework in that system.
(Page 22 still but further on)
Senator CAMERON: Common sense would tell you there would be some aspects of the McClure report, whatever it ends up being. If you were given the job and you were told you have to do this, you would have to do it, would you not?
Ms Campbell: Depending on time frame, depending on what is decided, depending on the complexity of the measure. It also depends on how many payments it touches. There are a number of payments in the system at the moment and we often find that once we touch one area it may have unintended consequences elsewhere, so it would be better to know.
Senator CAMERON: So for a layperson I would have said you have this conglomerate of work horses, which is the Isis system, operating with a range of software with some kind of coordination. I do not what to know the details; I only want to know how it drives. I do not know how you build the engine. So how then, if you simplify, does it make it harder?
Ms Campbell: Mr Sterrenberg will be able to give you more technical detail, but let me give the non- technical detail. We have a very complex system with all these payments and there is a citizen, a costumer, who may access a number of payments and they have to go off to different databases. If the system was more simple and the citizen only was accessing one or two payments, it would be better to build a new system, where the integrity of the data was assured rather than going through a variety of routes to get to that data, to have direct links to a more simple system.
Senator CAMERON: Yes, sure, it would be better to do that and probably cheaper—
Ms Campbell: Less risky; it would not impact on customers getting their payments.
Senator CAMERON: If there were a decision, ‘We have to do this’—
Ms Campbell: It would depend on what the complexity was. We would look at what was being proposed and we would provide advice to government on what we could do and what we could not do, the time frames and the risks involved in using the existing system to do—
Senator CAMERON: I do not know what advice you have given, but this is an act of consideration. I would think it would be keeping Mr Sterrenberg awake at night as to how we deal with this.
Ms Campbell: That is our job: to provide advice to government on these matters.
Senator CAMERON: So you are actively engaged in that at the moment?
Ms Campbell: Yes, we are engaged with our colleagues on that.
Senator CAMERON: In reality, it does not matter whether you move to McClure, as it is being outlined, from what we read. The issue is getting a more flexible system. Isn’t that the fundamental issue?
FROM PAGE 23, I.E. page 27 of the PDF file:
Senator CAMERON: What are the risks under the current system?
Ms Campbell: The current system has a lot of complex coding and complex hardcoded elements. For example, sometimes we will make a change in one place and, because the code has links elsewhere which may have been developed 20 or 30 years ago, which may not be well documented, it has inadvertent consequences. One example a couple of years ago is that we made some changes to make disaster recovery payments. We made those payments and it inadvertently stopped someone getting their family tax benefit the next week. That was because there had been some sort of link, which we had not been aware of and it had not been documented. We do not have many other people using Model 204 in the world. It is sort of patched together. It takes longer, as I said, than ministers and governments would expect for us to make changes in those systems.
Senator CAMERON: So we made a decision 10 years ago and you were not part of that decision, I assume. It was as decision 10 years ago, Mr Sterrenberg—
Senator Payne: Nor was Mr Sterrenberg.
Senator CAMERON: yes, but Mr Sterrenberg knows the history—to continue with the Isis conglomerate. That was a 10-year contract under the Howard government to take as to 2014.
Mr Sterrenberg: Yes, it was 10 years ago that their contract was signed.
Senator CAMERON: So we were locked into the system basically for 10 years, unless we chopped it midstream, with contracts in place for 10 years.
Mr Sterrenberg: Yes.
Senator CAMERON: We extended some contracts again, didn’t we, just recently?
Ms Campbell: We have.
Senator CAMERON: How long does that run for?
Mr Sterrenberg: My understanding is that it is for three years.
Senator CAMERON: Is that to get us through the period between Isis and a new system?
Ms Campbell: These matters are still for consideration by government. We received funding in 2013-14 to undertake the scoping study and we will provide that advice to government and government will take decisions.
Senator CAMERON: I understand what you are saying—the government will make that decision—but there are decisions being made now which lock us into the Isis system for another three years.
Aloha Airlines Flight 243 (AQ 243, AAH 243) was a scheduled Aloha Airlines flight between Hilo and Honolulu in Hawaii. On April 28, 1988, a Boeing 737-297 serving the flight suffered extensive damage after an explosive decompression in flight, but was able to land safely at Kahului Airport on Maui. There was one fatality, flight attendant Clarabelle “C.B.” Lansing, who was swept overboard from the airplane. Another 65 passengers and crew were injured. The safe landing of the aircraft despite the substantial damage inflicted by the decompression was due to the skill of the pilots in maintaining the aircraft in a ‘stable’ flight mode.
Centrelink’s ancient IBM 204 is about as “stable’ as the 737 above, i..e. it works, but who would want to rely on it? 10 years ago, to save money, the Howard Government decided to stick with this dinosaur system, falling-apart-at-the-seams computer system.
In February Ms Campbell again testified before the Committee and described the computer system as “a turbo-charged Commodore 64 with spoilers”.
PAGE 24 OF MINUTES
Senator CAMERON: What sorts of issues are starting to emerge as the challenges for making an effective transposition from one to the other?
Ms Campbell: In all large business transformation and ICT projects there are a number of like issues. One of the officers at the table might be able to take us through those challenges. The advice we have been receiving is that this is similar to any other large transformation program, whether it be a bank or a large system. In fact there is probably a little more complexity in ours, because it is a unique type function. There are no other functions that look like the social security system of Australia anywhere else in the world. We might talk about some more generic transformation issues.
Mr Sterrenberg: I can give you use some of the technical aspects, Senator. If the government should proceed with this, clearly one of the major issues that will need to be confronted is the sequence of how the technology building blocks will need to be put together. It is not something you can do just randomly. The choices of that sequence will, in a large way, drive the outcomes that we get. Another issue is around data. We store enormous amounts of data in the system. But probably the most challenging one is going to be the transition—to carefully think through the transition steps to make sure that we are able to continue to provide services to the Australian public. We have to make sure that the time lines of implementation of each of the pieces of the new system are aligned with the various payment cycles, and there are various other technical things that we have to do.
PAGE 25 THIS IS TRULY UNREAL – “The back-end saystem cannot cope…”
Senator CAMERON: Are you aware of the problems with the IT transformation in Quebec?
Mr Sterrenberg: No, not that specific one. I am obviously aware of other lessons that have been learnt globally.
Senator CAMERON: I was advised that there were some issues there and I have read some stuff about that, but that is another area.
Mr Shepherd: The secretary has talked a lot about the issue of agility. The current system has an impact on our customer servicing. I will give you a couple of examples. You will be well aware of the digital technology we have our customers using now. They can transact with us from their app or on a computer but, unlike the banks or when you want to book travel or order a pizza on a Friday night, they do not get an instant reply from us. That is because the back-end system is not capable of it. You cannot get updates on how your claim is tracking. One of the reasons is that the back-end system cannot cope with that. One of the impacts is that customers have continuously to ring us to ask, ‘Where’s my application at?’, because the back-end system cannot talk in real-time to the front-end digital systems.
The other issue is that every time you apply for something with us we usually treat you as though we do not know you. Every time you start a claim you start from zero. Our customers get very frustrated and think, ‘Why am I doing this again? I’ve told you this over and over again.’ One of the reasons why is the issue that the way the system is built is payment by payment by payment.
Senator CAMERON: There is no history?
Mr Shepherd: There is, but the way the system is organised you cannot bring it forward like you would in a bank or with the ATO, which calls it pre-filling. We cannot go, ‘We know you. This is what we know about you. What’s changed?’. The reason we cannot is that the structure of the system behind it is structured around individual claims not the person.
Senator CAMERON: There are frustrations for the customers. What are the frustrations for the staff?
Mr Shepherd: They have to re-handle work. They have to re-key and re-process work that on a sophisticated would be able to be processed, that would deal with the sections and the complex stuff they want to be dealing with.
Senator CAMERON: How much re-work is involved?
Mr Shepherd: It is different across the different pensions, but some of the analysis we are doing as part of the business case development is on what we are doing manually because we cannot do it in an automated way like the banks or other agencies do.
Senator CAMERON: Have you done any calculation about the productivity losses in DHS as a result of this re-work?
Mr Shepherd: Part of the business case is to provide the benefits case around not only the staff effort but the customer effort. It is articulating how much less effort there is for our customers to access our services.
Senator CAMERON: Surely, regardless of the business case, there has been some analysis, Secretary, about what this means for productivity?
- ISIS is out-moded and antiquated.
- It is only in use because the Howard Government did not want to spend a Billion dollars on a modern system.
- It makes mistakes because there is 30 millions lines of code developed over 30 years and some of the people who wrote that code are either senile or dead.
- That is a problem because these people did not document what they did and now, a change to one part of the sysytem can totally stuff up other parts of the system so much that just to change a line in a form letter can take 30 programmers 3-months to do!
- That this dis-functional system is still in use is incredible; however, it is used to produce “evidence” that Centrelink and Crown Law use in criminal trials and civil tort actions.
- If the Courts knew just how bad this system really is, NO EVIDENCE produced by the ISIS system would be acceptable in courtroom trials because the system is so unreliable.
- Making a bad situation even worse is the lousy programming, e.g. the “Receipt” that Centrelink is now issuing to welfare recipients when they report income on-line.
- Without specific details of the transaction that would be acceptable in a Court of Law, those “receipts” are worthless.
Ditto for the fraudulent problem of “For your security, this call will be recorded.”
If Centrrelink’s over-worked staff stuff-up and make a “Commonwealth error”, rather than admit this mistake and waive any over-payments as is required by Section 1,237A of the Social Security Act, the phone call recording will be withheld or ‘lost’ and the welfare recipient will either be prosecuted for fraud or else sued to recover the alleged “debt”.
ISIS – A LETHAL OUTFIT IN MORE WAYS THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.
As soon as I can find it, I shall post the Hansard minutes where you can read about Senator Cameron getting stuck into Ms Campbell because TONY ABBOTT has made the executive decision that supporters of ISIS (the head-choppers association in Iraq and elsewhere) who go off to fight for ISIS overseas will continue to receive a Centrelink benefit until such time as Mr Abbott is satisfied “Beyond a reasonable doubt” that they should not receive this benefit.
- In the meantime, Centrelink will continue to prosecution both criminal convictions and debt recovery torts through the courts and the SSAT/AAT using information contained in the ISIS system whilst hiding the flaws in this system that produced the Commonwealth errors that resulted in the alleged over-payments.
- At the same time, the Social Service Minister, Scott Morrison, and other members of the Abbott Government, aided by Australia’s mass media, will still foster predjudice and bias in the community by referring to the growing number of (Centrelink) ISIS victims as “rorters.”
1. If you live in New South Wales, some Legal Aid agencies are now providing free advice on how to handle some of Centrelink’s spurious claims.
2. Some states have a Welfare Rights advocacy centre. Check to see if your state has one and if so, point them to this website if you are having hassles with Centrelink. Try: http://www.wraswa.org.au/ for Western Australian citizens.
Ronald Medlicott – A Christian lay advocate for real Justice in Australia.