Parliament – Centrelink

Friday, 13 December 2019

Many Australians, at some point in their life, receive support from Centrelink—whether they’re young, studying, doing it tough between jobs or raising a family, or whether they’re sick, have a disability or receive a pension after making their contribution to our country. Centrelink provides
essential payments that are often a safety net or extra support that people need, for vulnerable families, for those facing unforeseen hardship and, of course, just to help with the cost of living.

It has been incredibly disappointing that the Morrison government has taken a very cruel approach when it comes to support from Centrelink. We’ve seen mismanagement and a complete disregard for people on Centrelink, even to the point where we’ve seen the government demonise people receiving Centrelink payments. Their lack of empathy is demonstrated by their unlawful robodebt scandal, which targeted low-income earners, by the way that they have let Newstart stagnate below the poverty line, and by the childcare subsidy system glitches, which have left many families with a huge amount of debt. Even this week, we’ve seen their approach to cutting off pensioners from support.

The minister at the helm has shown complete contempt for people who need support through Centrelink, including pensioners. Minister Ruston said herself she believes the pension is ‘generous’! This is despite pensioners coming to me and saying they are struggling to make ends meet. I am really not sure what she’s talking about when she says how lucky pensioners are. Maybe she’s thinking they’ve never had it better.

Of course, there is also inadequate resourcing of Centrelink by the government. They have let Centrelink, and the support that comes from Centrelink, dwindle. As I regularly say, this is not the staff of Centrelink’s fault. They have been underresourced and not given the support that they need. The most recent wait-time data show that there have been significant blowouts in processing times, by 14.1 per cent. One of my constituents, Stephen
from Hackham West, came to my office for help out of sheer desperation. This is not an isolated case. He had applied for sickness allowance after he broke his ankle. While he had a job to go back to, his injury meant he had to take some time off work. He was struggling financially and he had nowhere else to turn.

This is a sign of a system that is broken. It is time the government took a different approach to income support and a different approach to supporting people when they need it. They need to actually resource Centrelink properly, get those wait times down, get those processing times down and give support when it’s needed.