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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 96


Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (11:10): If you want an example of the glaring inequality that's occurring in this country and if you want to see some case studies showing what this government has done in regard to people trying to access social security payments, then look no further than our own electorate offices. I've been a member in this place for some 17 years, and, in that entire time, I have never seen the sorts of cases that are coming into my office in regard to accessing social security payments via Centrelink. I don't know whether Liberal MPs are experiencing this. Certainly, I have been approached by a number of people from outside of my electorate who are not represented by Labor members saying they have been told by Liberal MPs offices to go away. My office is assisting them, but we are absolutely inundated.

The most common request for assistance that my office receives is from people who are waiting for their income support claims to be processed by Centrelink. On average, my office receives more than one new request for assistance every single day. Last year, the government axed nearly 1,200 jobs from Centrelink in the budget, and the number of unanswered calls to Centrelink increased from 29 million to 55 million. Because they did such a sterling job with this, in this year's budget, they've now axed a further 1,280 jobs from Centrelink. The Nationals were conducting an inquiry and trying to say, 'Let's get more government jobs into regional centres.' How about replacing the ones that you've actually axed so people can access government services? That would be a good start, National Party! Centrelink needs permanent full-time staff who are familiar with, and equipped to deal with, often complex circumstances facing income support recipients. But what this government is doing is replacing long-serving, dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced staff with labour hire staff who are being sent here, there and everywhere in attempts to patch up gaping holes in the system. And the situation for labour hire workers is that they're employed in insecure work contracts, they receive none of the workplace entitlements that are afforded to full-time workers, such as sick leave or annual leave, and they're often in the frontline, bearing the brunt of dealing with increasingly frustrated Centrelink customers. The government is forcing the casualisation of the Centrelink workforce by stealth, and they're wasting taxpayer money on contractors to do the work that should be done by permanent staff. If this isn't bad enough, a report released by Anglicare this week showed that the government's digitisation and automation of the Centrelink system is making it more difficult for Australians to access Centrelink because there hasn't been sufficient effort put in to actually transition to that support.

I want to particularly focus on a couple of case studies from my own electorate. A perfect storm is developing. Processing time for the age pension has increased from a medium wait time of 36 days to 49 days, and this translates to older Australians, after working their whole lives, being made to wait for access. Over the past month, we've received a large number of calls. I know one of them, in particular, is from someone who has been waiting for well over six months. It's a similar situation with the carers payment. A woman came to my office recently, frustrated by the lack of progress with her carer's payment. She is the carer for her mother. She first applied in November 2017, but, after months of delays with Centrelink, she'd finally had enough and contacted my office. Luckily, we were able to intervene and get that processed more quickly.

Young people are also experiencing significant delays with their payments to assist them with their income for university studies. I had a young woman who recently emailed my office out of desperation. She's the first in her generation to attend university from her family. She's been waiting five months for her youth allowance claim to be processed. Her income comes from a part-time job, which only covers around half of her accommodation expenses on campus, let alone food or other expenses. In May she found herself thousands of dollars in debt because of failure to pay her rent because she didn't have the money, and she was contemplating withdrawing from university to try and work full time to back pay the rent that she owed.

This is an example of the real-life consequences of the decisions of this government. This government does not understand the real life of working Australians. It does not understand how tight people's budgets are. It does not understand what it's like to be on a government payment of some sort. It certainly has no interest in actually fixing this problem. It seems to want to cut Centrelink staff even further. The processing times are an absolute disgrace. Combined with that is this government's attempt to put $80 billion into the top end of town. It should be ashamed of itself.