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Secretary's Review

Portrait photo of the Secretary, Renee Leon

Our organisation is the door to government for millions of Australians. Every day, we deliver vital payments and services to customers across the country. Our vision is to provide trusted services that are respectful, simple, helpful and transparent. Today, more than ever before, we have the opportunity through new technology to make government more accessible for Australians. We are delivering the modern digital tools to enable our customers to interact with us at a time and place of their choosing, alongside the personal service available over the phone and at the counter. As we continue to transform the way we work, we remain committed to putting the customer first.


In May 2019, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of Services Australia, replacing the Department of Human Services. Work is underway to give effect to the Government’s vision for Services Australia.

We are committed to achieving excellence in service delivery. We continue to make service improvements across the breadth of our programs with the goal of making it as simple as possible for Australians to access the services they need.

2018–19 IN NUMBERS

  • Payments totalling $184 billion
  • More than 3.5 million social security and welfare claims
  • More than 429 million Medicare services
  • More than 63,500 aged care claims
  • Around 980 million interactions with individual Australians


Our department is adapting our delivery methods to meet our customers’ expectations for a convenient digital service. In 2018-19 digital assistants responded to over 4.6 million customer enquiries.

Across the organisation, new digital tools and process improvements are saving customers time and effort. We have reduced the average time to complete a student claim form from 36 minutes to 12 minutes, and more than halved the average time taken to register a newborn for Medicare. Busy signals on Centrelink call queues have fallen by 45 per cent since 1 July 2017.

Behind the scenes, we are working to stabilise and modernise our legacy payment systems and develop the platforms to enable our service improvement agenda. This increasingly frees up our staff to help customers who are dealing with complex needs.


Improving our services means listening not only to our customers but also to our staff. We recognise that often the best ideas about how to improve the customer experience come from the frontline staff who engage with customers every day. Capturing these ideas has been an important focus across the organisation over the past year, and our staff have responded strongly. We received more than 1,800 suggestions from staff through an Innovation Challenge in July 2018 and have progressed the highest potential concepts for delivery.

Our Face to Face Services Division has been using its ‘Innovate Us’ platform to turn staff ideas into action, and an initiative in our Smart Centres Operations Division has already resulted in more than 40 functional improvements to our business processes.

The Chief Information Officer Group held a strongly contested Battle of the Technology Innovators in June 2019, with internal teams competing from across the country. Our Adelaide contingent was victorious with their language translation concept, designed to help service staff interact more effectively with customers from non-English-speaking backgrounds.


Our service delivery responsibilities require a flexible, capable and connected workforce across the country, including in rural, regional and remote areas.

Our people perform complicated and specialised work and can mobilise quickly when they are needed. During the recent devastating floods in Far North Queensland, all our business areas released people from their core duties to manage emergency calls and process claims. Over 3,300 staff undertook targeted training to meet the demand so we could answer calls in just a few minutes. We placed service officers and social workers at recovery hubs and evacuation centres, with social workers on the phone ready to offer further support, including at weekends. Improvements to our systems made it possible to put emergency relief payments in the bank accounts of people in need by the time they left a Service Centre or hung up the phone.

The department has also continued to help drought-affected farmers access support, including the two additional Farm Household Allowance payments announced last year. In 2018–19, we paid more than $43 million to help more than 7,700 people through these hard times. The number of calls to our Farmer Assistance Hotline doubled, and we also delivered outreach services such as information sessions and Mobile Service Centre visits.

I am proud of how we rally quickly and effectively to support our communities through hard times.


A commitment to serving the Australian people is core to our department. Our staff are proud of the important work they do, helping millions of people every day, whether in a frontline role or behind the scenes.

Our collaborative culture is vital to ensuring we can best support our customers. It also means we can readily assist our colleagues across government when they need to draw on our expertise. During the federal election, for example, our Cyber Security Branch provided a secure internet gateway for the Australian Electoral Commission. The Branch was also on hand around the clock to monitor and respond to cyber threats before and during the voting period, contributing to a secure and smooth-running election.

We continue to work with our policy partners in co-designing simpler policy and legislation to deliver better outcomes for customers.

The key to getting the best out of our people is making sure we have the right leaders, and investing in leadership at all levels is a significant priority. In 2018–19, we launched Learn2Lead—a national initiative to develop the leadership skills of our supervisors. This investment aims to increase engagement, promote a positive workplace culture and raise the quality of leadership across our department.


I thank all our dedicated staff and colleagues across the APS for making possible our successes over the past year. I particularly appreciate the outstanding customer service our frontline staff deliver every day. They support Australians from all backgrounds, who are often in complex or vulnerable situations and I am continually inspired by the compassionate, professional way they serve our customers.

I look forward to us working together, with and for Australians, in 2019–20 and the years ahead to deliver the services our existing and future customers expect.