Former NSW department head Martin Hoffman to lead Services Australia transition taskforce

By Stephen Easton

Monday July 15, 2019

Martin Hoffman

Former New South Wales department head Martin Hoffman lost out in the state government’s recent machinery-of-government changes but is back working for the Commonwealth, planning the Department of Human Services’ transition into Services Australia.

Hoffman was formerly secretary of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation but was left without a department to lead after DFSI became the Department of Customer Service in this year’s massive post-election public service restructure, and former customer service commissioner Glenn King was appointed as its secretary. Both were high regarded and capable leaders, but it appeared there was only room for one.

Now the federal Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert has snapped Hoffman up and asked him to produce a strategy for the “ambitious reform” of DHS, hoping to leverage his understanding of how service delivery is done in NSW. This appears to be a short-term position that involves planning how the federal government can fulfil its big promises of better services.

Robert’s statement suggests the Morrison government still has a lot of work ahead to turn the department comprising Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support into a more citizen-centric organisation modelled on the relatively successful ServiceNSW, which runs the shopfronts and call centres dealing with NSW licenses, car registrations and all the rest.

He said the appointment was among the “first steps” in the change from DHS to Services Australia, which was announced shortly after this year’s election and also involved his appointment as the Commonwealth’s first cabinet minister for service delivery.

Hoffman, who was previously a deputy secretary in the Commonwealth Industry department, will spend the next six weeks devising a “comprehensive strategic plan” to turn the Morrison government’s words into deeds.

“He brings a wealth of experience to the role, including an extensive understanding of Service NSW’s customer-centric design, as well as a strong background in successful delivery of customer-focused services,” said the minister.

It’s a worthy aim but also a big challenge. One stark contrast — how quickly ServiceNSW answers the phone compared to even the best of the many phone lines run by DHS — illustrates how significant the differences are between the two agencies, not just in terms of their current service delivery standards but also in their roles and the quantity and complexity of the legislation they have to administer.

Read more: Is Services Australia the last great hope for federal digital transformation?

A big part of the NSW government’s well regarded service delivery reform ha been a focus on accurately measuring customer satisfaction — not just for the purpose of reporting nice-sounding statistics but with the genuine intention to make life easier for residents of the state. Meanwhile for the government in Canberra it appears that in at least one major service line — welfare payments — compliance is a higher priority than service.

“I am excited to make this announcement today, as Services Australia will bring in a new era in customer service, focused on the needs and expectations of all Australians dealing with government,” Robert said.

“The Prime Minister has made it a priority to ensure dealing with government is faster and easier for all Australians by putting them at the very centre of service delivery.

“In those important moments when Australians reach out for government services they rightly expect a simple and seamless interaction. Services Australia will be outcomes focused and will put in place the right structure needed to deliver that experience.

“Whether Australians are accessing government services digitally, in person or over the phone, in the future I want Services Australia to deliver a similar experience to what Australians are used to when dealing with everyday services, such as banking and shopping.”

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