Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Everyone in the House would know the diverse range of inquiries and questions we as members of parliament get at our electorate offices. But, during the last two years, some of the biggest complaints to my electorate office have been in two particular areas, unfortunately. The first is problems with the NBN. I will go into that another time. The second is complaints about the dwindling customer service from Centrelink. We know that, while the government has been focused on corporate tax cuts to the big banks and other multinational companies, they’ve chipped away at Australia’s safety net for those on income support, those on pensions, those who deserve support from government. One of the biggest complaints that I get in my electorate is that they cannot even get through to Centrelink. They need to ring my electorate office to try and cut through and get through to Centrelink. That is simply not good enough. We know that experienced front-line Centrelink staff are getting the chop, with their positions being outsourced to labour hire companies. This is having an impact on desperate people who need support and need an answer.
There are many people that spend hours upon hours on the phone, waiting to get through, and months and months waiting for their applications and claims to be processed. One of these individuals is Adrian of Hackham, who contacted my office about his Newstart and parenting payment application. He said, ‘I have called twice and been on hold for just over an hour both times. The last time I called I was informed that they were waiting for someone who was able to look at both applications at the same time, and these people were few and far between.’ Stories like Adrian’s are not unique. This is happening right across my electorate and right across Australia. The many Australians that rely on Centrelink services every day are just not able to get through.
Last year, the government took an axe to the Department of Human Services, and we saw that 55 million times people called Centrelink for help or advice and did not receive it. People are telling me it’s taking months for their applications to be processed. The cynic in me would think that maybe it’s this government, the government of robo-debt calls, the government of drug testing vulnerable people. The cynical person in me would suggest that maybe they just don’t want pensioners to get assistance. Maybe they just don’t want people to be able to access the payments that they need. It’s time the government properly resourced Centrelink and ensured that people get the support they need.