Go to top of page

Australia: Stop blaming Centrelink debts on its IT systems

6 January 2017
Richard Chirgwin
The Register

It's pitched as an IT story, and there is an IT story there – but it's not the mainstream “Centrelink IT failure” it's presented as. Rather, it demonstrates that the government's blind faith in big data analysis is completely misplaced.


Since before he was prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull has consistently promised that cross-agency data-sharing will improve government services, deliver efficiencies, and all the usual shiny stuff Big Data believers promise.

Part of the rationale for the Office of Eternal Beta – including its frankly-astonishing $90 million-plus annual budget – is to create a single digital identity for Australians. This is central to cross-agency data matching.

The reason the Australian Bureau of Statistics wants to keep names and addresses? To become the repository for national-scale data matching.

The reason the Australian government looks to New Zealand for its welfare models? Because it believes “big data” will help it slash the welfare spend.

However, the complete mismatch between just two agencies – the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink – shows that blind faith and political blather don't translate into results.

In the case of the ATO/Centrelink data matching, it's a simple matter of timescales: the ATO's heart beats once a year, Centrelink's once a fortnight, and in spite of what Turnbull (apparently), Tudge and Porter believe, they are completely incompatible.

And that's just two agencies: citizens' data touches dozens of agencies and probably hundreds of systems.