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Child support system the latest federal government tech-wreck

The Commonwealth child support system, which is supposed to support more than 1.2 million Australian children, has fallen victim to the latest federal government tech wreck.

A $104 million project to replace the ageing technology which supports payments of more than $3.2 billion a year is late and in disarray, with about 3000 public servants at the Child Support Agency still trying to work with technology that was declared obsolete four years ago.

The giant Department of Human Services, which runs the agency, pledged to have a new system up and running by mid-2016, but despite being given $104 million to spend on the replacement, cannot say when the job will be done or how much of the money has been spent.

Human Services, which has been plagued by a string of failed IT projects, is the department responsible for the troubled myGov web portal and has been entrusted with $1 billion to replace the main welfare payment system in a giant undertaking called WPIT.

The broader Australian Public Service's reputation for technical competence has been shredded in the past year with the Census debacle, the crash of the Tax Office's online systems and the Prime Minister's pet project, The Digital Transformation Agency, forced to go back to the drawing board.

Another technology-led Commonwealth project, the "robo-debt" data-matching of Centrelink and ATO records has seen Human Services and its political bosses engulfed in a storm of criticism and protest.

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Fairfax in December revealed the government had also walked away from its dream of one massive website to replace the 1500 sites currently run by the Commonwealth amid bickering among Canberra bureaucrats.

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The current child support platform, known as "CUBA", has been in use since 2002 and contains all of the Child Support Agency's electronic customer records and supports transactions for assessments, payments and data exchanges with other government departments.

But even four years ago, CUBA was considered a "deficient capability", which was "unable to fully or easily support Commonwealth government initiatives and directions," according to the department.

DHS claimed in 2013 that it could have a replacement up and running by December 2015 but more than 12 months after the mooted launch date for the new system, Child Support workers are still using CUBA and are still in the dark on the fate of the replacement project.

In mid-2016 agency staff were promised a stop-gap solution, the continued use of CUBA, but with modern, bolted-on front screens using technology supplied by German tech giant SAP and acting as a "wrapper" for the older CUBA technology.

But Fairfax understands that nothing has come of the promised SAP screens with insiders reporting that a "deathly silence" has fallen over the entire child support system replacement (CSSR) project.

Human Services did not answer questions about when the replacement system would be up and running or how much money had been spent so far on the CSSR.

But spokesman Hank Jongen said the project was still underway.

"The department is currently working on the replacement of CUBA," the spokesman said.

"The current focus is to build improved processing functionality for departmental staff, to better assist customers, and online functionality for external users.

"The front end of the system replacement is being delivered in SAP which has been selected as the department's common processing and payments platform, so this aligns with our strategic direction."

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