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Part 2: About the department

The Department of Human Services pays $148 billion in entitlements each year, which is around 11 per cent of Australia's Gross Domestic Product, on behalf of partner agencies.*

Every day, the department makes 360,000 face-to-face contacts across more than 600 sites. This is equivalent to the Melbourne Cricket Ground filled three and a half times over. The department also answers 220,000 customer calls, the equivalent of the population of Greater Hobart, and processes over 130,000 online transactions.

* See Appendix A for details on the scope and range of payments made by DHS on behalf of other agencies.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is highly valued by the Australian community. It is the largest Australian Government department and touches the lives of every Australian at least once during their lifetime.

On 1 July 2011 legislative changes integrated Medicare Australia and Centrelink into the department, which had pre-existing responsibilities for the Child Support Program and CRS Australia. While these predecessor agencies had a common focus on the delivery of services to the public, they operated under different funding models, processes and enabling systems, and often served different customers.

The integrated department of today represents around 25 per cent of the Australian Public Service (APS) and manages close to 40 per cent of Australian Government expenditures. Furthermore, while its services often happen under the radar, any significant failure in DHS delivery mechanisms would have major implications for social cohesion and the financial wellbeing of many Australian citizens.

In the lead-up to and since July 2011 considerable work has been done to bring the department together as one, including by combining enabling services, implementing a single financial management system, negotiating a single enterprise agreement and commencing the process to integrate information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure of the department. Nevertheless, the integrated department of state remains a 'work in progress' while maintaining multiple outward facing brands.

Under its various programs DHS delivers over 200 different types of income, employment, education, job placement support, family, carer, health and disability payments and services. Australian Hearing remains a statutory agency of the department. The department also delivers a raft of other business and industry programs, including the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House and Early Release of Superannuation Scheme.

Customers can access DHS services by phone through call centres and face to face in service centres. An increasing range of services are also available online. Many service access points are co-located and some are co-located with state government offices and not-for-profit organisations. For customers with complex needs, the department is piloting new models—such as Local Connections to Work, and Case Coordination—and experimenting with new approaches such as Baylink', which all aim to provide more 'wrap around' services (i.e. services which treat the whole person organically as opposed to individual issues or symptoms of disadvantage).

The continuing confidence of government in the department's delivery capability is demonstrated in the expanding range of services and initiatives that have been required in successive budget initiatives—leveraging off the core capability within the department. As a result of the May 2012 Budget, for example, the department will implement 42 new measures.

The commitment of DHS staff to delivery is particularly well illustrated by their involvement in emergency responses, which requires swift and coordinated cross-jurisdictional engagement. They support individuals and families in affected areas by providing emergency payments as well as information and assistance. They work collaboratively with Australian Government and state and territory governments, other agencies and local community groups to coordinate the assistance provided to people and communities affected by floods, fire and other national disasters. This is in addition to maintaining services and payments normally provided to these communities. To the department's front-line staff 'public service' has special and particular meaning: helping the disadvantaged, contributing to the repair of the social fabric where it is broken and dealing with the human face of economic uncertainty.

The department's 2011 People Survey, conducted prior to integration in March 2011, showed that staff are highly motivated and prepared to 'go the extra mile' to do their best. Findings from the 2012 People Survey indicate that this continues to be the case after integration.

Statistically, the typical Human Services employee is a female aged 42 years who is an ongoing APS4 employee with 10 years of experience. She is likely to be working in a service delivery role, as 73 per cent of employees are in customer contact.

Strategic Workforce Plan 2011–2015, p. 15.

As the department shifts to delivering more self-managed services, online, via mobile devices and in other ways, the work that DHS employees do will change. The impacts will be experienced in different ways across various business areas and functions at different times. DHS faces people and culture challenges as it transitions employees from transactional work to relationship management and delivery coordination which have the customer at the centre. To assist in understanding these changes, the Strategic Workforce Plan 2011–2015, the first for the integrated department, was developed. The plan looks at the future workforce, including the capabilities and critical job roles which will be required. The integrated Learning and Development Strategy 2011–2015 sets out the learning and development requirements to support the staff as they transition.

The department delivers services on behalf of many Australian Government departments and agencies. This requires close collaboration on the implementation of policy and delivery options, which is managed through governance arrangements set out in formal agreements that also cover performance requirements.

The department also engages with a significant number of stakeholders, including medical professionals, businesses, professional associations and community and not-for-profit organisations. The department manages its relationship with these stakeholders through a number of advisory and working groups across its business. Engagement activities are conducted through a range of interactions—from information sharing to consultation, co-design and active participation in decision-making.

The department's first Strategic Plan released in May 2012 outlines the focus, priorities and commitments which are required to meet the department's goals. The strategic plan is supported by more detailed plans that focus on specific areas, such as ICT , Finance and People.

Prior to the release of the strategic plan the focus for the department was the Service Delivery Reform (SDR) budget initiative. As part of SDR there has been a move to co-design (i.e. meaningfully engaging with customers in the design of processes and services), co-location and the creation of online and telephony services, which encourages more self-management while providing intensive support for customers who need it. In the Strategic Plan 2012-16 SDR is no longer referred to as a discrete piece of work, reflecting an intention that the vision and outcomes that drove the SDR initiative should now be incorporated into how the organisation conducts all of its business.

In the opinion of the review team, the department is at a pivotal point in its evolution—a fork in the road.

The department has done well in its first year of operations. The opportunity now is to move forward boldly and confidently to maintain the momentum that has been generated since integration. With confident action the department will be able to push beyond its current integration agenda and develop its potential as the centre of excellence in government service delivery and the principal point of interaction with Australian communities on behalf of not only the Australian Government but, quite possibly, other tiers of government as well.

Last reviewed: 
17 May 2018