Human Services: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Department of Human Services is committed to ensuring all Australians, including those in remote and regional areas, have access to a range of high quality, flexible and convenient Australian Government services. The Department provides services to people living in regional areas through regional service centres, as well as agents and access points in remote locations. Further outreach services are provided by the Department’s remote servicing teams and mobile service centres.

During 2016-17, mobile service centres visited over 381 towns, travelling more than 70,000 kilometres and helping over 11,000 people. Services for regional Australians are also provided through the Department’s nationally networked call centres and certain Centrelink numbers can also be called free of charge from a landline or Telstra mobile.

The Department continues to expand its digital services. For example, faster and easier self-service options are now available for people to make claims for a payment or concession, update personal details and changes in their circumstances. The Department also provides a range of mobile applications allowing simple transactions such as reporting income to be done quickly and easily using a range of mobile devices. This allows people located in regional areas to engage with the Department without the need to travel to service centres.

The Department also delivers payments and services on behalf of the Australian Government across regional and remote Australia during natural disasters such as floods and bushfires. In 2017, the Department’s Emergency Reserve members and mobile service centre teams worked alongside others assisting Queensland and New South Wales communities impacted by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. Additionally, in January 2018, the Department provided community support, along with the Northern Territory Government, to assist people evacuated from the Daly River Community due to flooding.

New Initiatives

Modernising the Health and Aged Care Payments System

From 1 July 2018, the Australian Government will invest $106.8 million over four years as part of the first stage of work to stabilise, consolidate and secure the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that deliver health and aged care payments. At the same time, it will become easier and quicker for consumers, aged care providers and health professionals to transact with the Department.

This measure will support customers, health professionals and aged care providers that interact with Medicare and the aged care systems by ensuring the Department’s systems are stable and secure, and make it easier and quicker to transact with the Department.

GovPass

GovPass is a whole-of-government initiative that will make it easier for people to prove who they are to government. Led by the Digital Transformation Agency and being delivered in partnership with the Department, the service will allow people to prove their identity online when conducting business with government, without having to present paper documents in person.

When delivered, GovPass will enable people in regional and remote areas to prove their identity and access government services in an identical manner to those people who live in metropolitan areas. The ability to complete identity verification online in a way that protects privacy and personal information will allow people accessing government services from regional and remote areas to be less reliant on mobile services, agents and access points, or having to travel to larger centres.

GovPass will complement existing online services by supporting end-to-end transactions to be completed online, at a time and place that suits an individual’s needs.

Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche Three

The Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT)—Tranche Three measure builds on the success of the previous tranches and provides $316.2 million in funding over four years to progress the overhaul of Australia’s social payments system from July 2018.

When fully implemented, Tranche Three will provide regional and metropolitan Australians with further integrated delivery of payments and entitlements, simplified business processes, and smarter access to and re-use of information.

Regional Australians’ access to and willingness to use digital services will be an important consideration for the program. Given this, consultation with the Digital Transformation Agency will be undertaken before and during the design and implementation of the program with a focus on user pathways.

Additionally, through the WPIT Program, the Department is leveraging the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Marketplace and promoting it to small and medium-sized enterprises. The Digital Marketplace’s purpose is to make it easier for smaller businesses, including those based in regional Australia, to compete for government expenditure on information and communications technology products and services.

Current Initiatives

Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche Two

Tranche Two of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Program has been focusing on developing new payment processes and services, starting with the administration and delivery of student payments. Tranche Two will not, itself, have a significant direct impact on regional Australia. However, when subsequent tranches of the WPIT program are fully implemented, building on foundational work completed in Tranche Two, Australians will benefit from the integrated delivery of payments, simplified processes and smarter access to services. The program will be underpinned by a digital service model and will enable the majority of transactions to be completed online and reduce the need for people in regional Australia to travel large distances to access face-to-face services.

Online Servicing

In 2016-17, over 68 million transactions were completed via online and the Express Plus mobile apps (compared to 61 million in 2015-16).

The Department‘s website (humanservices.gov.au) is a convenient way for regional Australians to access information and conduct their government business online. Every month the Department’s website has over 2.1 million visitors.

The Payment Finder tool makes it easy for people to discover payments and services relevant to them. Payment Finder on humanservices.gov.au is used more than 340,000 times each month.

Once they have authenticated themselves, users can conduct many of their transactions with the Department online at a time and place convenient to them. In 2016-17, an average of more than 185,000 transactions were completed online each day.

A range of Centrelink payments are also claimable online, taking advantage of a streamlined claiming process which pre-populates the claim with already known information, and uses dynamic questioning to ensure that only necessary questions are asked. For some payments, the online process now accounts for 80 per cent of new claim activity.

myGov

The myGov digital service is a simple, secure way for all Australians to access services, including in regional Australia. For customers living in regional areas, the ability to access multiple government services online is a convenient way to do business and minimises the need to travel significant distances to regional service centres and multiple government agencies.

There are now over 12 million active myGov accounts providing people with secure access to a growing range of Australian Government online services using one username and password.

With a myGov account, people can link a range of Australian Government services to do their business online, including lodging claims and accessing correspondence, to updating contact details quickly and easily.

In 2017, 97.8 million digital messages and letters were sent to myGov. The myGov ‘Update Your Details’ function enables myGov account holders to choose to update selected contact information and share it with participating linked myGov member services in a single transaction from their myGov account. In 2017, one million updates were made using this service.

Through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government is committed to making services digital by default, and leading cultural and technological change in how those services are delivered. With the high volume of transactions made through the myGov digital service, the modernisation of myGov and its future direction is central to these efforts.

The Department considers myGov to be a critical enabler of service delivery, particularly to people in rural and regional areas. The Department continues to innovate and refine the myGov service to meet users’ new and evolving needs.

In May 2017, myGov was modernised with the implementation of a redeveloped customer interface. The changes provided a service that was intuitive, highly accessible to customers of all abilities, and provided a mobile-first platform. This work also saw improvements to how customers create accounts and sign-in to their existing accounts.

In October 2017, mobile authentication improved to allow myGov member services to use the myGov authentication service for their mobile apps.

‘myGov Access’ is a mobile app that was released in December 2017 and provides a security code for myGov customers who choose to use two-factor authentication for signing into myGov. After its initial set-up, ‘myGov Access’ does not require an internet connection. This feature is particularly useful for customers travelling overseas or in rural or remote areas, where mobile phone range for SMS-based two-factor authentication can be problematic.

Express Plus Apps

The Department’s Express Plus mobile apps continue to be popular with people wanting to access government services. The apps for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support provide the option to complete many transactions on-the-go from any location, without having to call or visit an office. These mobile apps provide a convenient, flexible option to do business with the Department, including uploading documents, reporting income, claiming Medicare benefits, viewing balances and making Child Support Payments.

As at 31 January 2018, Express Plus mobile apps have been downloaded more than 12.2 million times. In 2016-17, over 14.6 million transactions were completed through the Centrelink Express Plus Mobile App. The Department continues to deliver enhancements to mobile apps to improve their effectiveness. In addition, the Centrelink Express Plus Lite version enables the reporting of earned income in English, Arabic, Chinese, Persian (Farsi) or Vietnamese.

Electronic Claiming of Medicare Benefits

Electronic claiming from point of service is the most convenient way for people to lodge claims for Medicare benefits.

The Australian Government is actively working with medical practitioners, software vendors, financial institutions, health insurers and members of the public to increase the availability and use of electronic claiming of Medicare benefits, including in regional areas.

Health Professional Online Services

Health Professional Online Services is a fast and secure service that enhances and improves the interaction between the Department and healthcare providers and their administrators (health professionals). It offers health professionals a single entry point to a range of health-related programs and online services. In the Health Professional Online Service, health professionals can do a range of business and administrative tasks, including submitting claims, managing provider details, retrieving statements and reports, verifying patient information, and authorising and managing delegations.

The Health Professional Online Services is now accessed using a Provider Digital Access account. Provider Digital Access is a secure online authentication system that replaces the use of Medicare Public Key Infrastructure certificates. It is a portable, digital end-to-end solution that requires no additional hardware or software, making it easier for the health professional to interact with Medicare when delivering services in regional and remote communities.

Prioritising Mental Health—Improving Telehealth for Psychological Services in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia

The Department implemented changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to allow mental health professionals including psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists to access Medicare benefits for video consultations with clients who live in rural and regional Australia. This initiative came into effect on 1 November 2017, and has increased access to psychological services for those living in rural and remote areas.

Improving Access to Medicines—Maintaining Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services Pharmaceutical Dispensing

Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services (RAAHS) are able to order and dispense medicines directly to patients at no cost as part of the Australian Government’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023. This ensures remote Indigenous Australians have access to the medicines they need, when they need them.

This measure, implemented on 1 January 2018, simplifies arrangements by enabling pharmacists who supply individually labelled and packaged medicines to RAAHS to directly invoice the Department for payment.

Agents and Access Points

The Department has 346 agents and 240 access points across rural and remote locations. They provide essential services to customers where accessing service centres is difficult.

Access points provide free self-help facilities where people can conduct their business with the Department. This includes services such as certifying proof of identity documents as well as access to phone, photocopying, fax and internet facilities.

Agents provide the same facilities as access points with the addition of staff who can support people to do their business with the Department, primarily through digital channels.

Government Remote Servicing—Continuation and Extension

Remote servicing ensures a person can access Australian Government payments and services, regardless of their location.

The Australian Government’s investment of $117.4 million over five years from 2015‑16 supports the continued delivery of government payments and services in remote locations in Western Australia, Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania. The Department continues to provide direct access to services through remote service centres, agents, access points and remote servicing teams.

Remote servicing is also a source of employment in remote communities, especially for Indigenous Australians. For example, the large majority of staff in the Department’s Northern Territory remote service centres are Indigenous Australians.

Mobile Service Centres

The Department operates a number of mobile service centres that travel to rural and regional communities to provide information and access to Australian Government services.

These fully equipped mobile offices travel on pre-determined itineraries in regional areas to communities located more than 50 kilometres from a service centre. Mobile service centres are an important part of the Department’s emergency response service delivery capability. In 2016-17, the fleet visited over 381 towns with the additional aim of partnering with other Australian Government agencies where possible to improve service delivery.

Remote Smart Centre Services

In April 2014, Remote Smart Centres were established to streamline processes and deliver effective and efficient services. As a result, there are more staff on hand for general enquiries, with many enquiries handled by specialist staff with training and experience in the complexities of Indigenous specific payments and programs.

The Department also offers deaf and hearing impaired customers the option to book in-person Auslan and sign language interpreter services in service centres. 

Videoconferencing in Regional Locations

The Department is trialling delivery of limited specialist services such as Job Capacity Assessments and access to Financial Information Service Officers via video conferencing in a number of regional locations, including:

  • Geraldton in Western Australia
  • Port Lincoln and Whyalla in South Australia
  • Dubbo, Bega and Griffith in New South Wales
  • Swan Hill in Victoria.

Farm Household Allowance

The Department delivers the Farm Household Allowance payment. The Farm Household Allowance is a time-limited payment which can be paid for up to three cumulative years (measured as 1,095 days). Farm Household Allowance recipients are required to complete a Farm Financial Assessment and enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement to assist them to increase their financial self-reliance.

Since the commencement of the program in 2014 up until 2 March 2018, over 7,800 customers have been granted Farm Household Allowance.

The first group of recipients began exiting the program in late June 2017 when they had received their full entitlement of Farm Household Allowance payment. The Department has implemented a range of additional mechanisms to support recipients as they exit the program. These include website updates and social media messaging promoting other support services, such as the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

An Operational Framework has also been agreed with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Rural Financial Counselling Service to strengthen and coordinate the support provided to people receiving the allowance. The Operational Framework will be implemented by 1 July 2018.

ABSTUDY

ABSTUDY provides financial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from secondary school (including boarders) through to Masters and Doctorate studies.

The Department has significantly simplified the ABSTUDY claim process by removing the need for Indigenous students to complete and return paper claim forms.

Indigenous Students can now complete a binding verbal declaration, meaning that the entire claim process can be completed over the phone and more claims can be finalised faster. The trial actively supports the Australian Government's Closing the Gap commitments for Indigenous education outcomes.

Regional Citizenship Testing

The Department has been working with the Department of Home Affairs to make citizenship tests available in regional locations. Staff of the Department of Home Affairs previously visited regional centres to conduct tests, usually on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Since 2012, an average of 13,000 tests have been taken annually in regional areas, assisted by staff from the Department. Each week about 300 tests can take place across 33 service centres in regional areas across Australia, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Mackay in Queensland.

National Indigenous Coalition

The National Indigenous Coalition is the Department’s internal peak Indigenous forum. The National Indigenous Coalition is consulted to ensure the effective development of strategies that support and secure outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and employees.

Strategy, Innovation and Design

The Department’s Innovation, User Experience and Design branch provides customer insights, research and design capability support through the engagement of customers via face-to-face interviews, small group conversations or large design sessions. The aim of the engagement is to seek customers’ input into new processes, service delivery improvements and system design. In 2017-18, customer engagement activities were undertaken in many regional areas, including:

  • city, central coast and far north Queensland
  • New South Wales central coast
  • mid and north South Australia
  • city, Mornington and Bellarine Peninsula areas in Victoria
  • city and regional areas in Tasmania
  • urban and remote areas of Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The Department engages with customers in regional areas to ensure overall design and delivery meets the needs of all citizens, and recognises the unique requirements of regional Australians.

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