Company 'transforming' Centrelink led $800m Tax Office bungle

The company set to lead the Turnbull government's "digital transformation" of Centrelink previously ran a botched $800 million overhaul of the Australian Tax Office that delayed tax returns to one million Australians.

On Wednesday, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge announced management consultancy firm Accenture would transform the department's $100 billion welfare payment system as the government looks to leave behind months of controversy over its automated debt recovery system.

But the last time Accenture undertook a major $820 million overhaul of the Tax Office it resulted in 17,000 public complaints, 500 bug fixes, and reams of unintelligible data being sent to Centrelink, the organisation it is now set to digitally transform.

The company will be responsible for developing Centrelink's new website and payment system and providing what Mr Tudge's office describes as an "end-state technology solution".

A Senate estimates hearing into the bungled Tax Office roll-out in 2010 heard taxpayers were issued tax debts when they were owed refunds because the supercomputer could not cope with negative figures such as "minus $5000" on a tax return.

The latest tender approval came despite Commonwealth procurement rules specifying the department must take into account "the potential supplier's relevant experience and performance history".

A spokeswoman said the company "has maintained a significant presence helping the Tax Office with various IT initiatives." A review from IT firm CPT Global said the 2010 implementation was "a significant milestone".

Mr Tudge would not comment on how Accenture had been chosen or how much the contract was worth but said in a statement the company outperformed other top-ranked firms to win the contract.

"The systems integrator tender ran by my department generated a strongly competitive response and I am confident we have secured the best option," he said.

On Tuesday, Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said his government was "doing transformative work to remedy past mistakes".

His spokeswoman said on Wednesday the Digital Transformation Agency was partnering with other agencies and departments to deliver improved services.

"The agency has an expanded role including oversight of the government's major digital projects and capacity to remediate projects if needed," she said.

In March, a Senate committee hearing into the so-called Centrelink robo-debt debacle heard that welfare recipients pursued for debt recovery had been targeted by debt collectors and threatened with jail over money that they don't owe.

The program has affected 200,000 people so far through an automated system that matches information from Centrelink and the Australian Tax office.

Department of Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell said the program would be "refined" but there were no plans to scrap it, with $300 million in debt expected to be collected.

WIth Noel Towell

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The story Company 'transforming' Centrelink led $800m Tax Office bungle first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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