'Went well': Human Services' analysis of robodebt program
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'Went well': Human Services' analysis of robodebt program

The Department of Human Services continues to defend the controversial robodebt system, telling a Senate committee it "went well".

In a hearing on Friday afternoon deputy secretary of integrity and information Jason McNamara disputed Senator Jenny McAllister's comment that "as it turned out, it wasn't a project that went that well".

The Centrelink robodebt program "went well" according to the Department of Human Services.

The Centrelink robodebt program "went well" according to the Department of Human Services.Credit:Erin Jonasson

"The department's view would be, we wouldn't agree with the proposition that it didn't go that well," he said.

The Finance and Public Administration Committee is holding an inquiry into the digital delivery of government services, including whether existing programs had delivered quality, reliability and value for money.

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Mr McNamara said the program, where debts are generated from matching Centrelink earnings data with Australian Tax Office data, was considered a success because it produced savings.

Committee chair Jenny McAllister read from the Commonwealth Ombudsman's report on the robodebt program, labelling it a "disaster".

"It produced incredible anxiety for a very large number of citizens," the Labor senator said.

NXT Senator Rex Patrick asked if any metrics of success were used by the department other than savings, referring to the experience of people who received Centrelink debt letters.

Mr McNamara conceded that many people were confronted by the experience, but not that the nature of the data-matching process contributed to their reaction.

For people who had "diligently" reported their information to Centrelink, but had mistakenly included their net income instead of their gross income they "quite rightly become upset," Mr McNamara said.

"Everything was done with the best of intent," Lesley Seebeck, chief investment and advisory officer at the Digital Transformation Agency told the committee.

Mr McNamara told the committee the robodebt program had so far saved the government $900 million and that $270 million had already been recovered.

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The committee heard that the program was developed by Human Services IT staff, consulting with compliance and frontline staff, but it was not clear how many staff outside the IT area were involved.

The department detailed changes that were made to the letters sent to Centrelink recipients after the original rollout of the program, saying the program had been "improved" since it first began.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

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