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Transcript of interview with Fran Kelly: ABC Radio National: 28 October 2013: Centrelink and Australia Post; NSW bushfires; DisabilityCare; Foreign Affairs; Disaster Relief Payments

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Subjects: Centrelink and Australia Post, NSW Bushfires, DisabilityCare, Foreign Affairs, Disaster Relief Payments.

Fran Kelly: Just discussing a story in the financial review today suggesting a way the commission of audit could come up with a way that would mean Australia Post would take over Centrelink shopfronts. This could mean the closure of hundreds of Centrelink services and of course job losses. Doug Cameron is the shadow minister for human services. Doug Cameron, good morning.

Doug Cameron: Good morning Fran.

Kelly: Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s office has confirmed the proposal will be considered by the commission of audit. Considering the geographical spread of Australia Post outlets something like 4,400 retail outlets of Australia Post, does it make sense to amalgamate it with Centrelink? To put Centrelink available via Australia Post offices?

Cameron: I don’t think so. I think Centrelink is a very specialised delivery of benefits to Australians and I know my local post office would in no way be capable of delivering that service. Many of these small, privately owned post offices, private contractors, are not capable of that type of delivery.

Kelly: Perhaps not all of them, but when you say Centrelink is a specialised servicer deliverer, it is of course at one end but at the other end it’s just a lot of people rocking up and putting in a form isn’t it?

Cameron: I don’t think it’s as simple as that, I think that oversimplifies the role that Centrelink plays and the Department of Human Services and all the connections

between the different services deliveries. When there is a problem such as in the Blue Mountains. Who do you get to fix it? You bring the Department of Human Services and Centrelink in.

Kelly: Joe Hockey recently made the point that Centrelink is quote ‘using obsolete technology and antiquated processes’ and given that roughly 10 per cent of GDP is delivered through Medicare, Centrelink and some other Government agencies. Is it time we at least looked at updating the 20th century technology that is perhaps slowing things down and to have another think about how social security payments can be delivered?

Cameron: Well the first point I’d make on that, have a look at some of the technology in your local post office and it’s certainly not state of the art technology.

Kelly: Fair enough.

Cameron: Secondly, the issue of technology is always under review as I understand it with the Department of Human Services they continue to look at their technology, they are open to changing technology and one of the issues about technology is the cost and you just can’t hand that over to Australia Post and say you carry the cost because we’ve got an ideological view that were outsourcing government services.

Kelly: Yeah, but it’s all about cost to some degree and trying to save money where it can be saved with efficiencies, we also know the Government is also looking at the notion of handing responsibility for the new National Disability Insurance Scheme called Disability Care by Labor to Medibank Private. In your view does it make a difference who administers DisabilityCare?

Cameron: I think it does in terms of making sure the focus is on DisabilityCare delivery and it’s not about some profit, how do you make a profit from this process we are undertaking as a private company. That’s why Governments all over the world have their equivalent of the Department of Human Services and Centrelink because it’s not something that should be driven by profit.

Kelly: No. Not something driven by profit necessarily, but again to use the words of the Treasurer ‘does Australia want to see another massive new bureaucracy?’

Cameron: I think this is the rhetoric you are going to get from the Coalition. It’s all going to be about trying to demonise government services, demonise public servants. They have got a lot of form on this so I’m not too fussed about that sort of argument. What you have to do is have a proper approach on this, and we need high level Government capacity to look after people who are down and out. Let’s see what this is about, it’s about people who can’t find work; it’s about people who have significant personal problems in some cases. I don’t think the local post office is capable of dealing with that.

It’s not simply about rocking up you know and getting you’re payment, there are other services and other issues that go with the Centrelink and that’s why we’ve got professional public servants and face to face delivery with the public.

Kelly: Doug Cameron, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Washington Post late last week the Labor government was ‘wacko,’ the direct quite was ‘welcome to the wonderful wacko world of the former Government’ in reference to a question on the NBN, are you embarrassed to have the Government you were a part of described in way by the Prime Minister?

Cameron: No, I’m more embarrassed to have a Prime Minister who behaves like that when he’s overseas. If you want to use the adjective ‘wacko’ I think you should look close to the Prime Minister on this one.

Kelly: Are you critical of the Prime Minister for this?

Cameron: Absolutely. I mean this is Prime Minister who just can’t get out of opposition attack mode. If he is the prime Minister of this country he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of the country and start putting our national interest first.

Kelly: To matters closer to your home, Labor looking at new ways of behaving, Bob Carr has resigned from the Senate, rank and file member Michelle Moran is trying to crowd source the entrance fee to apply for that position, $750, to run against the rights anointed candidate. Do you support Michelle Moran in this enterprise because in casual vacancies like this the left and right factions vote together and basically shut out rank and file candidates. Is this where reform should be starting?

Cameron: Look, I’m a strong supporter of more democracy in the party. I think that it’s important that we have as much rank and file involvement that we can. Whether this is the one we start with I think is a moot point

Kelly: That’s always an answer for inaction, whether we should start with this one, why not start with this one is what I’m asking you?

Cameron: I think there is a lot of work to be done within the party, this whole argument about more democracy in the party, is still a fraught argument within the party. I’d like to see it handled in a sophisticate political astute way and I certainly call for more democracy, I’d be happy for senators to be elected by the rank and file but there has to be some thought about how this can be done.

Kelly: Okay, so in the future, not this time?

Cameron: Yeah I think so, I think the important thing now is you have parliament about to start, the senate is going to be so important to stop this nonsense we are hearing about this morning from Joe Hockey, a lot of action in the Senate and we

want a highly experienced, effective players in the senate to take it up for the opposition.

Kelly: How will it look though, you know, Labor’s efforts to democratise the party and get rid of the faceless men, if a talented local losses 30-nil against a factional pick in this election?

Cameron: I think I’m happy to put Labor’s recent experience and form on democratising the party up against any other party. We are serious about it. It is important that we democratise the party and it will be done but it’s important we take people with us.

Kelly: Senator Cameron, you’re a resident of the Blue Mountains, the opposition leader Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister wanting him quote to urgently amend and extend the eligibility criteria for those $1,000 relief payments to bushfire victims. Who’s missing out, what’s Labor’s concern?

Cameron: Our concern is that people of Blue Mountain are being treated differently from every other Australian who has been involved in an emergency situation in recent years. The people who are missing out are the people who could not get to their homes for three or four days in Yellowrock, people in Springwood who that couldn’t go back to their home because they have asthma and couldn’t get back for days.

People who had no water and no power, had to go out and buy their kids school uniforms and shoes to get them to school.

Kelly: And there not eligible?

Cameron: There not eligible. It’s an act of political stupidity I think to have done what the Coalition have done. In fact one of the arguments they put up was they tried to prioritise payments to those who had lost their house because of getting it done quickly. Centrelink have advised me that they are capable of providing any of the payments made quickly and efficiently, so I just think Tony Abbott should re-consider this position very quickly. Get money into the Blue Mountains, many people are on their knees in the Blue Mountains. They need Federal Government support and this is not good for the Federal Government to have a cost cutting, penny pinching approach to this payment, it is not a lot of money.

Kelly: Thank you Senator Cameron for joining us.

Cameron: Thank you.