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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23395

Mr TANNER (9:00 PM) —The government proposes to close two Centrelink offices in my electorate, one situated in Richmond and the other in Fitzroy. In their place, the government proposes to open a single office over in the very eastern part of my electorate, close to the leafy suburbs of Kew and well out of the way of the clientele that the two existing Centrelink offices serve at the moment. This is an outrageous proposal and it will have a very negative effect on a very large number of disadvantaged people in my electorate.

The current Centrelink offices in Richmond and Fitzroy serve a very large number of people, particularly those in the high-rise Victorian housing division estates and others who are very seriously disadvantaged. Many of these people have significant problems with mobility and, as a result of this decision to close these two Centrelink offices and create a new one in the out of the way area of the very eastern part of Richmond, they will encounter very serious problems in accessing Centrelink. It will also mean substantially increased travelling times for many Centrelink clients, which will increase the stress on families and, amongst other things, reduce the amount of time and money that people will have for things like job search activities. It will impose additional barriers for people with language difficulties who seek to use Centrelink's services, who often bring with them a family member who has better English skills.

It will impose difficulties on families who sometimes need to take children with them on visits to Centrelink because of difficulties in having them minded. The long journeys will be particularly stressful for single mothers with young children; they will have to make journeys that are quite substantial and that will sometimes involve two separate means of transport as well as a substantial amount of walking. Refugees on temporary protection visas, who do not have concession cards, will be forced to pay the full fare for the additional trips to Centrelink. Also, if this proposal goes ahead, particular minority groups in my electorate will face difficulties in adjusting to the travel arrangements that will prevail.

This proposal is due to take effect in March 2005. There has been substantial community dissent, demonstrations have been held and a very large number of community organisations in my electorate, such as the Brotherhood of St Laurence, are organising to try and persuade the government to change its position on this issue. Because of the additional travel associated with this proposal, people on very low incomes will be faced with substantial extra costs. It will also mean a substantial cost in people's time. It will mean that a significant extra burden will fall on many community agencies in my electorate because people who are currently going to Centrelink will be in greater difficulties; some of them will fall off the Centrelink process and inevitably end up in the care of those voluntary community agencies—and this will impose an increase in the already very substantial workload being experienced by these agencies.

I do not believe the outreach of Centrelink services to those community organisations—which in some way is supposed to alleviate these problems—will be successful. There will be a whole range of associated difficulties such as security issues and problems with clients who will not be able to access the same range of services at outreach centres that can be accessed at genuine Centrelink offices. There will be a lot of frustration, anger and distress as a result of this change, and I call on the government to reconsider it.

Although a relatively limited geographical area is involved, a very large number of people in my electorate, particularly those in the housing estates, are Centrelink clients. Many of them are extremely disadvantaged, being on very low incomes and having a range of problems including psychiatric disabilities, lack of English skills and many other issues that mean they are disadvantaged in accessing Centrelink services. Many of these people will suffer significant further disadvantage if this proposal is implemented as a result of not being able to access Centrelink with the same ease as they can currently.

People in North Carlton will be forced to go further north and possibly have to take two separate public transport trips. This will add substantially to their costs of just going to the Centrelink office to comply with their obligations. This will apply even more so to people in North Fitzroy who seek to access the new centre over in the very east of Richmond. It will impose a lot of difficulty on many people in my electorate—people in our society who are most vulnerable, most in need and require the most assistance. This is a very retrograde step, and the government should abandon this proposal. (Time expired)