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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 6010


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (20:03): Firstly, can the minister provide the chamber with a list of all of the Medicare access points that are going to be closed and the timetable for the closure of those points? This is something that is of importance to many communities throughout Australia. Secondly, in relation to each of those closures, what consultation might have occurred with the provider of the service and, more importantly and more significantly, the local community where this service is being and has been provided up until now? I am also interested in the savings service by service and, in relation to that, I have a subquestion. I have been informed that in many instances the service provider, if I can call it that, has been prepared to continue to provide the service without any cost to the government. I would like to know, if that is true—if such offers have been made—why that has been rejected, because it would seem to be a win-win situation for local communities. I would like to know whether any survey was undertaken—or, if not, why not—in relation to the people in these areas around whether or not they are capable of using Easyclaim. I think the minister would recognise that there are many Australians whose ability to use Easyclaim may not be as great as the ability of people sitting around this room. I would like to know how many people in remote and regional areas are not able to access telephone or internet services, particularly the elderly and vulnerable members of society. I suspect that at least some of these people may well have written to the minister or to the agency on this matter and I would like to know what the response has been.

In a nutshell, I am seeking information about the basis upon which this decision was made, the consultation with local communities and particularly whether there has been any survey or consultation around whether people can use alternative forms to make these claims. I also have some questions in relation to other matters, so I do not know whether the minister wants to take them all now or deal with one subject at a time.

Ms Plibersek: I am happy to take them all now.

Mr ANDREWS: I understand other members wish to ask questions. I will not spend time on grand rhetoric; I will try to get to the questions I would like answers to. In relation to communications at Centrelink, answers were provided at Senate estimates last week that suggested that the General Manager, Communication, of Centrelink, Mr Jongen, 'works closely' with your office in the preparation of items for the media. How often is your office in contact with the gentleman in question? To what extent are his media activities directed by your office? How does this relationship work? One could cynically suggest that the gentleman in question is rolled out on programs like Today Tonight for puff pieces when there is other more significant and possibly bad news on the horizon.

Ms Plibersek interjecting

Mr ANDREWS: I will not respond to the interjection. I am interested in the relationship between the gentleman in question and your office, Minister.

Finally, in relation to the Centrelink disaster relief fraud task force, according to answers provided in Senate estimates in February this year, as of 23 February 2011 Centrelink reported that it had only recovered $124,735 more than it spent on investigating fraud of the disaster relief payments to that date. Can you update me on the figure of what has been recovered?

I end on an observation to which you might like to respond. There has been a lot of talk in the media about success, but $124,000 extra recovered, if that is the amount, is not a great amount as compared to the effort that might have gone into this. One might have expected, given the comments that have been made in the media about fraud in this regard, that more than that amount might have been recovered.