Centrelink would be 'shut down for fraud' over debt letters, says Malcolm Turnbull's former digital guru

Centrelink would be shut down for fraud for its conduct in the recent botched "debt" recovery efforts if it were a private company, according to the Commonwealth's former digital government chief.

Former Digital Transformation Office chief Paul Shetler also says the Turnbull government lacked the political will to push through its ambitious "digital transformation agenda".

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Joyce sympathetic, not sorry

There's been no apology from the Deputy PM over the Centrelink debt recovery saga, with Barnaby Joyce saying it's a necessary process to recoup money people aren't entitled to.

Mr Shetler, who resigned from his job in November, told ABC radio on Monday morning that a private company would be shut down for fraud by regulators if it had behaved like Centrelink in sending large numbers of demand for repayments of bogus debts.

"If that company, if it was operating in any sort of a free market, would go out of business, and if it didn't go out of business, it would be shut down by regulators for fraud," Mr Shetler said.

The former DTO chief executive, who was hired personally by Mr Turnbull in 2015, said the giant Department of Human Services must have know there would have been a high error rate before the letters started going out.

"The idea that they didn't know this, speaks to an incredible incompetence that is absolutely unacceptable, or is just not true," he said.


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Mr Shetler also shed further light on the reasons behind his resignation, which came just six weeks after the office was re-organised, renamed the Digital Transformation Agency and he was replaced as its leader.

He said he and Minister Angus Taylor had a fundamental disagreement over the role.

"Its extremely difficult to get a an incredibly Balkanised bureaucracy to decide that it wants to transform itself," Mr Shetler said.

"There's an awful lot of inertia in the system, it's built in.

"When you have a disagreement with your minister about the approach that you want to take, I believe in delivery, you can't do policy without delivery for one of the reasons you just saw here with Centrelink, you have to tie the result to policy.

"The idea that the DTA should just become a policy agency and essentially stop doing its delivery, that's not the way I want to work."


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