Speech - Centrelink

18 October 2016

As hard as it is to follow the big guns opposite, I will give it my best. Listening to those

opposite defend Medicare and Centrelink delays is like thinking the Attorney-General gets on with the Solicitor-

General or that the Prime Minister looks forward to tweets from the member for Warringah! Nonetheless, let's

put some facts on the table. The minister gave us a great history lesson but did not actually deal with the issue:

under this government 5,000 people have been sacked from Centrelink; on your watch 5,000 people have been

sacked. We have heard attempted lectures from the member for Flynn about waiting times. The minister was

happy to talk about the report from the Australian National Audit Office. He was proud to say waiting times had

gone to—was it 11 minutes? Well, what has happened under your government? Waiting times have gone to 16

minutes! With 13.7 million calls unable to be answered in the last 12 months, Centrelink managed a miserable

waiting time of 16 minutes and 53 seconds. How about you look at your own record before you start lecturing

anyone else! And, worse still, the ANAO estimated that around 30 per cent of the 43 million calls that did not

get the busy signal were abandoned—that is, the customer hung up without resolving the reason for the call.

The member for Flynn says this is as good as it gets. Well, it is a shambles. It is about time this government had

a lecture about what they are doing to the human face of their decisions. Today, I stand very proudly to support

the Centrelink workers—brave men and women who have had to put up with the cuts from those opposite and

sit by for three years because this government will not sit down and negotiate in good faith. They have had to sit

by for three years while an arrogant government has refused to honour its commitment to equal pay and decent

conditions. This government expect more and more while they cut more and more. Those on this side of the

House stand proudly alongside those men and women who provide outstanding service but are not given the

tools or resources by those opposite to help millions of Australians.

We also know that, under the 2016 Turnbull budget, we have seen cuts of around $80 million in funding to

Centrelink. We have seen the casualisation of the workforce, which means staff have no career development

prospects. The way these hardworking officers are treated by this government is shameful. And we have seen

under-investment in IT resources. Centrelink has a 40-year-old IT system. The Turnbull government abandoned

the long overdue replacement of this system despite admitting Centrelink cannot serve customers properly. Only

a matter of weeks ago we heard whistleblowers within Medicare who have now belled the cat for those opposite.

They have now shown that the interface between customer service officers and payment recipients is now gone.

The government is dismantling Medicare one step at a time.

We know this because we listen to the customers who are feeling the brunt of the so-called reforms by those

opposite. We are seeing chronic service delivery problems—22 million calls went unanswered in 2015 and clients

spent lengthy periods of time on hold. You need only look at some of the coverage around this issue: '33 hours

on hold: Centrelink clients vent their rage over customer service performance'; ' Centrelink blocks 60,000 calls

a day'. We see this time and time again. The whistleblowers are apparently saying we will not even have a

Medicare drop box. The little old ladies will have to fill in a form and post it—and we already know how much

mail goes missing.

This government is incapable of providing basic services to those who need them. It is all very well for the

minister to give us a history lesson today. It is all very well for the minister to want a pat on the back. But the

consequences of the decisions that you are making are having a real impact on some of the most marginal and

frail in our community.

We on this side of the House will always make sure that we do what we can to support those in need. We know

the secret plan of those opposite is to hollow out Centrelink, hollow out Medicare and hollow out education

services so that they can provide big tax cuts to those who need them the least. We on this side will always stand

shoulder to shoulder with those in need—and the people of Australia are seeing those opposite for what they are.