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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 1014

Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (19:49): I rise tonight to speak about the impact this government is having on Centrelink.

Those opposite often claim in this place to be business people. Well, they cannot run Centrelink, so I would hate to see them try to run a business. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if they are not deliberately making Centrelink so inefficient that one day, mysteriously, a market-disrupting private business will come along and they can privatise the whole system.

At least one in five debt recovery notices are false. This is a fail in any business. The human services minister, Alan Tudge, says that sending a letter to a non-debtor is not an error. It makes you wonder. The department 34,000 staff have been without a pay rise for 3½ years, despite increasing workloads, and they have also lost 5,000 jobs and had significant budget cuts. These workers are the frontline in the debt recovery debacle and are under the pump, with stories that they are told not to assist people when they make inquiries. The debt recovery debacle is on top of the DSP reviews being undertaken, as are changes to carers' and pensioners' claims and compliance.

I want to share Peter's story from my electorate as an example of the DSP review—the time and energy it is taking and the pressure it is putting on Centrelink workers. This is from my local newspaper, the Star Weekly. Peter was a full-time worker:

He worked full-time in a job that paid up to $2000 a week, he’d ride his bicycle for up to 40 kilometres …

But that all changed when … diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis three years ago.

A diagnosis of severe lumbar scoliosis soon followed, as did multi-level disc degeneration.

He began to shed weight - more than 30 kilograms … He now walks with a walking cane.

…   …   …

He also takes more than 20 different types of medication a day …

But despite all that, and letters from three different doctors and specialists saying that he can never work again, he is being forced to live on $270 a week, with his application for a disability pension refused by Centrelink.

He has appealed and it has been knocked back again, despite three doctors—three doctors!—saying that he can never work again. These are just some of the things that Centrelink employees are dealing with in this system.

There are also changes to pensions, as we know. In this place I have told the story before of a pensioner couple in my electorate, one in a wheelchair and one blind, who had to go to the city to get a new birth certificate because, even though they had been on the pension for 20 years, they needed to make a change. The compliance requirements were just outrageous.

Then, with the online system, there are the myGov failure rates. I have been on there myself. It took me an hour to register on myGov, with the system locking me out time and time again. It is an absolute disaster.

In my office last week staff had Centrelink hang up on them after they had been on hold on the phone for an hour and a half. Some people's claims are taking nine months to be processed. Last year students in my electorate waited until May for their youth allowance. What does that do to their capacity to pay rent, buy books and attend university classes? Last week I met with the National Welfare Officer for the National Union of Students, Jill Molloy. She told me firsthand about students who have contacted her in desperate situations because of the Centrelink wait times. Will that happen again this year? Will we have students dropping out of courses because they cannot get the support they need?

This government talks ad nauseam about red tape for business and how it wants to take away the red tape, but it thinks nothing of running down our social safety net. And it is going to get worse. Measures in the omnibus bill will introduce a minimum five-week wait for people to access Newstart—one week automatically and then four weeks in this legislation. Changes in Newstart mean some will be moved to youth allowance to take a 20 per cent cut. Just stop and think about that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Who is that going to hurt besides that young person? The person they pay rent to. Your famed investors will have people being evicted from their properties and they will not be getting their rent. There will be more change and more work for a system that is struggling as it is. Lo and behold, the government want to put a further layer of responsibility onto Centrelink. They want it to oversee the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The only light on the horizon, as far as I can see, is that community sentiment is growing. People are talking, and that means the broader community are becoming aware. In my electorate I am being approached about the good old days of the Commonwealth Employment Service because people are so disillusioned with the online and JSA system and what they perceive as mutual obligation and Centrelink compliance regimes that are draconian and inhuman. For a government paying lip-service to wanting to reconnect with people, they have no idea. (Time expired)