The agency running Australia's child support system is still using technology found obsolete nearly a decade ago, forcing Services Australia staff to use mail and faxes instead of email, union officials say.
A parliamentary inquiry into the public service's skills on Tuesday also heard Services Australia, which oversees Centrelink, has 600 fewer permanent staff compared to February 2020, despite the demands placed on it during Covid.
Community and Public Sector Union representatives told the inquiry that the government agency still relied on the outdated Cuba IT system to run its child support program, despite a prolonged and expensive effort to replace it.
It follows a bungled project costing more than $100 million to replace the technology with another system, Pluto, which hit problems after its launch in 2017 and was blamed for a blowout in call wait times.
CPSU official Emma White told MPs on Tuesday that Services Australia was still using Cuba but also had another IT system to run alongside the old technology in an attempt to improve and modernise its services for people receiving child support.
But staff had to switch between the two systems, which sometimes didn't have the same information.
The technology also didn't let Services Australia send correspondence securely via email to employers, Ms White told the inquiry.
"What we have is a situation where we need to contact employers and have conversations and send notices to request information; when we make contact with those employers, usually their first question is 'Can you email that to us?'," Ms White said.
"We unfortunately don't have a secure mechanism to be able to deliver that information to them via email."
Staff had to send notices via mail, while some employers were able to deliver letters and documents through the agency's system or myGov.
"When we talk to them about sending information, they need to do that via surface mail or upload, but we then send it back via surface mail or we're talking to employers and asking if we can fax that information," Ms White said.
"Depending on the age of the person you're speaking with, they may actually come back and ask what a fax is.
"By having to send information on surface mail, what we're looking at there is about a 28-day turnaround to give the customer time to receive it and then you obviously have time to respond to that and try get it back to us, which does obviously significantly delay any sort of decision that we're making."
Services Australia's deputy chief executive of transformation projects, Charles McHardie, told MPs the agency was entering the final stages of a major technology overhaul that would reduce three separate systems for Centrelink claims to one.
The agency was leading another eight major IT projects, including technology to improve the processing of compensation claims at the Veterans' Affairs Department.
Services Australia's general manager of the people division, Michael Nelson, told the parliamentary inquiry the agency had about 26,900 permanent public-service staff in June this year, compared to 27,550 in February 2020.
The agency was embarking on a drive to recruit permanent staff that would grow its count of public servants in coming months, Mr Nelson said - however he could not confirm whether that would restore staffing to the pre-Covid level.
About 14 per cent of Services Australia's workforce was labour-hire staff and contractors, Mr Nelson said.
The agency had offered direct public-service employment to about 1650 labour-hire staff in the six months to June 2021.
Union national president Alistair Waters said the number of permanent staff at the agency was continually falling.
"An enormous amount of the work that is done by the insecure workforce is clearly core ongoing work," he said.
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