John Wadeson, Centrelink CIO and Deputy CEO, found himself “in an interesting position” when he returned from leave early in February. Within a few days the Queensland floods and the tragic Victorian fires placed the agency at the centre of recovery efforts. Centrelink undertook this task with acclaim, largely because of some 'skunkwork' activity that first began as Centrelink prepared for the possible impact of Y2K.
Speaking at AIIA’s Canberra Managers’ Forum, Wadeson described how Y2K planning led to the development of a “small emergency payments system”. This system has since been deployed to support a number of disaster recovery efforts. Incremental improvements have been made after each use, “…but never with the last disaster in mind”. The trick has been to keep the system small and flexible so that Centrelink can rapidly deliver emergency benefits payments in extraordinary situations.
Victims of disasters are already under considerable pressure. It is important for Centrelink to quickly deliver the necessary government support, to free up emergency services personnel and other state government agencies to address the disaster.
Disasters never happen during quiet times. Centrelink’s disaster support performance also occurred at the same time as it delivered a range of additional payments to citizens as part of the Government’s, thus far, two economic stimulus packages. Wadeson revealed that the first of these, with payments made last December, led to “Super Monday”, where Centrelink’s web portal received a record 225,000 client logins in a single day.
Wadeson also provided an update on Centrelink’s response to the Gershon Report. Centrelink faces significant cuts to its BAU funding based on the Government’s implementation of the Gershon Report. Savings of $14 million will need to be achieved in 2009-10, rising to $40 million in 2011-12. Centrelink also plans to hold its contractor numbers to around 200, down from a peak of around 380 two years ago.
Wadeson is optimistic about meeting this challenge, too. But then he also spoke, with his trademark smile, about contemplating his retirement!