Human Services Portfolio
Department of Human Services
This chapter outlines key issues discussed during the 2012-2013 budget
estimates hearings for the Human Services Portfolio.
The committee heard evidence from the department on Tuesday 29 May 2012.
Areas of the portfolio were called in the following order:
- Australian Hearing Services
- Corporate Operations and Enabling Services
- Child Support
- Medicare Australia
Proceedings commenced with an opening statement by Senator the Hon Kim
Carr, Minister for Human Services.
The Minister outlined the scope of the services provided by the department and
declared his 'sincere appreciation' for the 'passion and professionalism' of
the staff across the country. The Minister also reaffirmed the Government's
commitment to closing the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, declaring it to be
'bad policy' introduced by the previous Government. The Minister noted that the
Government is working towards new arrangements and outlined retrospective
changes to the Dental Services Determination to 'establish more appropriate
compliance arrangements'. The Minister tabled the Opening Statement.
The committee asked about the jurisdictional responsibility for the
provision of hearing services in prison and the eligibility criteria for access
to those services. The committee also probed the departmental advice provided
to Australian Hearing and the costs of providing services to prisoners.
Minister Carr advised that he had received a charter letter from the
Prime Minister, but that he would need to take the date of receipt on notice.
Senator Fifield asked a series of questions about the tasks, membership
and costs of various advisory groups including the National Multicultural
Advisory Group and the National Place Based Advisory Group.
Minister Carr gave 'advice to government' as the reason that advisory
group minutes may not be made available to the committee. The Minister made no
claim for public interest immunity and the committee did not push the issue,
although it did place the request on notice.
Senator Fifield asked about fraud prevention and compliance
including both in relation to customers and also practitioners.
Senator Fifield congratulated Ms Kathryn Campbell, Secretary of the
Department of Human Services and Minister Carr about their reference to people
as citizens. Minister Carr explained that he had made a statement at the ACOSS
conference about the approach he was taking and that describing the Australian
public as citizens:
emphasises that the nature of the relationship between this
department and the people of this country is inclusive, and that is what the
department is doing ... the fact remains that the relationship that the
Commonwealth has with its citizens is not necessarily one of a commercial
nature, and the concept of 'customer' relates more often in the literature to
the notion of a commercial dialogue. People do not have a lot of choice, quite
often, when they deal with the officers of the Commonwealth. We want to ensure
that we are treating them in a manner which is consistent with, as I say, their
rights and their responsibilities, not just in terms of some sort of mythical
notion of the customer's democracy.
Senator Furner put on record that he had received 'highly commendable'
feedback about the response of the Department of Human Services to the flood
disasters in Queensland.
Senator Siewert returned again to the issue of guidelines for the income
management referral model for state child protection and housing officers and
was informed that this was a matter for the Department of Families, Housing,
Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The Department indicated that it was
undertaking some vulnerable income management referrals through its social workers.
The Department also pointed out that attendance at Centrelink was only
compulsory if the referral was through the Child Protection Agency or through
Minister Carr recommended that the Department of Human Services and the Community
Affairs committee meet to discuss the structure of the hearing prior to the
next estimates round.
Senator Siewert raised a series of questions about the operation of the
Centrelink hotline, tip-off line, and online application processes. Minister
Carr pointed out there has been a steady take-up of online services and that
Centrelink runs education programs on using online technology.
Mr Tidswell, Deputy Secretary also expected the National Broadband Network
would assist access in remote communities.
Senator Edwards examined the costs of administering the income recovery
subsidy associated with the live cattle ban. Senator Edwards pointed out that
the Department of Human Services administered $68,000 worth of payments at a
cost of $1.22 million and that this 'is not a good result in anybody's
governance terms'. Minister Carr replied 'that the costings were based on an
indicative number of claims and that number was a worst-case scenario.'
Senator Edwards requested a breakdown of the $1.22 million on notice.
Following questions from Senator McKenzie about the cessation of cash
payments from Medicare, Minister Carr pointed out that:
this was the last remaining program the Commonwealth has that
is paying in cash ... Cash payment as a method of transaction is declining
right across this society. The officers made it clear to me that, in terms of
the provision of security for officers on site, there was actually a better way
to proceed. On that basis we have followed the trials that were established in
17 service centres and we are now rolling out this program across the country.
Senator Di Natale commended Minister Carr for his opening statement on
the negotiations over a national dental scheme:
I think it is a really sensible thing to have done. I think
it is a really important step, particularly in terms of the current
negotiations going on over a national dental scheme. I know this is not a forum
where too many compliments are paid, but I think it is really sensible
decision, so I would like to put that on the record.
Senator Di Natale questioned the Minister and departmental
officers about the audit process into claims made by dentists against the
Commonwealth and Minister Carr stated that each case would be reviewed and
declared his intention to prosecute should that be deemed necessary. The
Minister also pointed out that the Government was negotiating with the dental
profession to get an administrative scheme that works effectively.
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