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A Case for Professional Standards

Monday, 30 Jan 2017


In his first column for 2017, ACS President Anthony Wong explores the issues contributing to the Centrelink debt recovery furore, and how algorithms and data matching are changing the game.

Recent publicity over Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program has reignited the debate on how algorithms and data matching are used to inform decisions, in both the public and private sectors, and the need to ensure that human judgement continues to play a role.

The use of complex algorithms to automate processes might reduce costs, but ICT professionals need to ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place to achieve the desired result. 

No one would argue the Government’s right, and indeed, responsibility to protect public monies by ensuring that welfare recipients receive their exact entitlements and no more. The Government has clarified its approach, while making adjustments to soften the impact and ensure that recipients under the debt recovery program understand what steps are available to them and how to exercise their rights. 

Labor is pushing ahead with calls for a Senate Enquiry and demanding that Centrelink’s data matching system be suspended until a comprehensive review has taken place. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is conducting his own investigation after receiving a series of complaints. 

The critical question is: how do we apply a Duty of Care to ensure that automated systems are fit for purpose and the public is appropriately protected?

Retain the Human Touch

The issue of the validity of matching income data reported to Centrelink with information held by the ATO has been raised by Associate Professor Helen Hodgson of Curtin University. 

In an article published in The Conversation, she highlights the differences between the two datasets and how they were captured and managed. She suggests that Centrelink could learn from the ATO’s “light touch” approach of engaging earlier with taxpayers to resolve issues and support them in meeting their obligations.

Click HERE to read the full article.