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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31773

Ms HALL (11:49 AM) —Last Friday I met with three employees of a local minute market on the Central Coast of New South Wales. The store employs six workers, and, out of those six employees, three had problems with Centrelink. I would like to bring these complaints to the attention of the chamber. Before I detail the complaints that these three women made to me about their dealings with Centrelink, I have to say that the employer, the owner of the store, arranged for me to visit them at his premises. He was so concerned about the treatment his employees were receiving from Centrelink that he said that they were being harassed by Centrelink.

Firstly, I will deal with the case of a lady who works 24 hours a week. Her partner is on Newstart and he is very ill and unable to work. She received a Centrelink debt. Every month she receives correspondence from Centrelink, and sometimes she receives the same correspondence twice a month or every day and then she has to complete the information form. She feels that Centrelink are constantly checking on her, constantly disbelieving the information that she is forwarding to them. Once they have interviewed her, they will turn around and ask her partner exactly the same questions. When she submits the information about her work and her income, sometimes it takes her four hours to get through on the telephone to Centrelink. Her son has recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and she has had quite a considerable amount of difficulty being approved for the carer's allowance. She has been told one thing and then been given different information, and by the time she submits the form it will be a considerable time since she first approached Centrelink. So she has had these ongoing problems.

The next employee I would like to deal with is a university student who works eight hours a week. On a number of occasions she has had her Centrelink Youth Allowance payments stopped without warning. Her parents are very low income earners and she receives correspondence saying that her parents have earned too much money, only to receive more information the next day saying that she should be reinstated. The fact that she is only allowed to earn $240 a week she believes is a disincentive for her to work longer hours and she feels that there should be more of a sliding scale and that this should be tied to the CPI and increased from time to time.

The other lady I would like to talk about is a supporting mother who works 16 hours a week at the same minute market and has recently received a debt of $6,000. Centrelink just stopped paying her. She gets $210 a week in wages. From the first payment that she received from Centrelink after they discovered the debt, Centrelink took $200 out of her payment. My office will be negotiating with Centrelink because this lady is working 16 hours a week for $10. She believes she has always given the correct information to Centrelink and she feels that the fact that Centrelink make a cut in her payment and then notify her does not give her the opportunity to work out the problem or even to understand it. She still does not know where she incurred this debt.

To me, these instances say that there is an ongoing problem with Centrelink. They say that the systems are not working. I know the staff are very dedicated and do their utmost to provide a service for people in receipt of Centrelink payments. I call on the government to revise the systems that are not working to ensure that ordinary, average people who rely on Centrelink are not disadvantaged. (Time expired)