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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1295

Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I refer him to a front page report that recently appeared in a newspaper in the Elizabeth area of South Australia. It related to long queues outside the local office of the Department of Social Security. Is the Minister aware that these queues are, of necessity, apparently, formed on the footpath along a busy highway and therefore very humiliating and embarrassing for the people concerned? Does the Minister agree that it is, as the headline said, `disgusting' that these individuals, often bread winners who have been made redundant, should be treated like this? Can the Minister give some assurance that this matter will be dealt with, first of all, by increasing staff levels on the two busiest days-that is Monday and Friday-and, secondly, by arranging for these queues to form somewhere other than in a public thoroughfare?

Senator TATE —I have seen in a local newspaper from the Adelaide metropolitan area the article to which Senator Haines refers. Without endorsing the use of every descriptive adjectives in the article or, indeed, in the question, it is the case that it must be embarrassing for those who are seeking the assistance of the Department of Social Security that they are forced to line up in queues in a public thoroughfare due to lack of sufficient accommodation in the Social Security office at particular times. It has to be realised that in Elizabeth, which is the area particularly referred to or highlighted in Senator Haines's question, every day some 900 persons are dealt with by that office, and honourable senators can imagine that, particularly early in the morning on a Monday, when people have been laid off on the Friday previously, there is quite a deal of congestion.

All that having been said by way of background, it is the case that the problem needs to be addressed. I am told that measures are being implemented to minimise the problems. They include increasing the number of counter reception points for clients returning benefit forms only. I notice that one of the young social security recipients mentioned in the article said:

You've got to get here early. They should have a box so you can just dump your form and go.

I do not know whether it is as simple as that, but certainly the reception points for that simple returning of a benefit form are to be increased. Additional counter staff are to be provided at peak times. Where possible an attempt will be made to alter the public contact areas to provide more room and interviewing facilities. There is also an undertaking to have a look for further leasing arrangements that might be entered into. There is a real problem and it is being addressed.