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8.1 Emergency responses

The department administers the following payments on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs:

  • Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP)
  • Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA)
  • ex gratia payments to New Zealand residents
  • Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment (AVTOP).

Payments and social work services are delivered so that customers are supported during emergencies.

Services the department delivers during an emergency can include:

  • assisting individuals to test their eligibility for an income support payment or service
  • assessing and paying Medicare benefits
  • supporting Medicare providers
  • tailoring collection and assessment services to affected Child Support customers
  • providing social work services.

To support the government’s emergency response, the department also participates in state, territory and local recovery committees. Departmental services may be delivered from established relief or recovery centres with agreement from the relevant state or territory government.

In response to an emergency, the department can deploy:

  • staff to recovery centres
  • staff to take emergency calls and process claims for emergency payments
  • social workers to Australian and overseas locations to help Australians in emergency affected areas or when they return from offshore disasters
  • mobile computing support
  • Australian Government Mobile Service Centres to provide services in affected areas.

In 2018–19, the department began to use the New Payments Platform (NPP) to deliver payments in real time for customers who bank with organisations participating in the program, giving customers in crisis access to payments without delay. The department also responded to major emergency events in Tasmania, north Queensland and northern New South Wales. As a result of the NPP we are able to provide payments to customers in crisis without delay.

Major emergency events

In 2018–19, the department managed emergency events across multiple states and territories. Australian Government disaster assistance payments were activated for three emergencies, all of which occurred in early 2019: the Tasmanian bushfires, the Far North Queensland floods and the northern New South Wales bushfires.

In response to these three emergency events, the department:

  • answered more than 144,000 calls
  • completed more than 110,000 claims
  • issued almost $121 million dollars.

The Far North Queensland floods were particularly devastating, and unprecedented for the region.

The response to these events was a great example of collaboration across the department. All business areas released staff from their core duties to manage emergency calls and process claims, and over 3,300 staff were trained to meet demand.

The department has significantly transformed the way it delivers emergency payments. Customers now have easier access to services, allowing them to receive much‑needed payments quickly. For example, the NPP technology allows the department to make payments into bank accounts in real time.

The department now has the capacity to manage its emergency response virtually. Customers can claim over the phone and most claims can be finalised while we are talking to the customer. This is a more efficient way to deliver services. It reduces foot traffic in our Service Centres so that staff located on the ground in areas experiencing emergency events can support their community where it is needed most.

Our commitment to improving the customer experience and the success of our transformation can be measured by the volume of calls and claims we completed immediately following disaster recovery payment activation.

Customers have also responded positively to this change, providing direct feedback to staff about the easy access to services and speed of payments.

Emergency Reserve

The department maintains a register of Emergency Reserve departmental staff willing to assist in recovery efforts. Emergency Reserve staff can be called on at short notice to help the department respond quickly to emergencies.

There are 4,933 staff registered for the Emergency Reserve. Staff have a range of skills which are used in various roles, including:

  • assisting people affected by emergencies at field locations
  • supporting affected Service Centres
  • backfilling for staff deployed to provide emergency support.

In 2018–19, no Emergency Reserve staff were deployed.