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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 6014

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Social Inclusion and Minister for Human Services) (20:23): Firstly, to the questions that were asked by the member for Menzies—and I thank him for those questions. The Medicare access points, for those people who do not know, basically provide a telephone booth where people can phone through their Medicare claims. They were begun by the previous government at a time when there were very few ways of claiming other than going and queuing up in a Medicare office. They were very useful at the time for that reason. But in the 2007 budget—the Howard government budget—there was a decision not to continue those access points beyond 30 June 2011. The idea at that time in 2007 was that these new forms of Medicare claiming would become much more useful. And, indeed, they have.

Through the service delivery reform agenda of this government we will see a doubling of the face-to-face Medicare points over coming years as more Medicare counters open in Centrelink offices. And, of course, we now have much better swiping facilities at the doctor's, so you are able to claim Medicare much more easily there. Over 500 access points have already been removed at the request of the host because they were not used at all or were not wanted. Of the 666 that have been removed this year, all were used fewer than 20 times a month over the last two years; 15 were not used at all; 115 were used on an average of less than once a month over the last two years; and 512 were used fewer than 10 times a month over the last two years. For those access points that continue to have high usage, we are looking at ways that we can help customers to transition over time to more convenient ways of claiming their Medicare entitlements, and that is why I have asked my department to keep open 174 access points that are used, on average, more than 20 times a month. We will work very closely with affected communities.

I do not want to spend my whole time talking about this but I think it is very important to say that, in many cases, where these access points are being removed there are very practical and easy alternatives—for example, visiting Centrelink access points or Centrelink agents or using Centrelink facilities in the very same spot that these Medicare access points have been offered. They can be literally in the same community organisation, literally in the same shopfront, and there are a number of examples—too many to go through. This is technology that has fallen out of favour with people. It is the beta videotape equivalent. It has fallen out of favour because it is not as convenient as many other options that we offer people today.

I will turn now to other questions that people have raised. The member for Braddon talked about Local Connections to Work. I am very pleased that he mentioned Local Connections to Work. Frankston, Ipswich, Burnie, Morwell and Maroochydore will continue, and there will be five new sites a year between 2012-13 and 2014-15. There will be a total of 24 sites around Australia by 2015. The most important thing about Local Connections to Work is that it has been much more successful in getting job seekers, particularly highly disadvantaged job seekers, into work. The Local Connections to Work sites have a 50 per cent higher success rate than for the equivalent group of job seekers in sites where there is no Local Connections to Work.

The member for Blair talked about mobile offices and mobile vans, as well as the assistance that Centrelink gave during the floods. I am very happy to report that we will have a third mobile office in coming years. The two that exist at the moment have been re-funded. They have mostly been out in the rural areas but they were very handy during the floods, and a lot of people used that service then. The member for Blair also talked about Centrelink workers doing outreach work. Of course, we already have 90 community engagement officers, and in fact another 20 have been funded in this budget. These are people who go out to boarding houses and homeless services. They sit on river banks with people and make sure that they are getting their proper Centrelink entitlements.

The member for La Trobe talked about case coordination. Case coordination is a very important new approach that Centrelink is trialling in 44 locations over the next three years, including the 10 sites we are focusing on in this budget where there are highly disadvantaged communities with large numbers of highly disadvantaged job seekers. The first 19 sites will be rolled out this year and the idea, as the name suggests, is to have Centrelink staff freed up to work intensely with highly disadvantaged job seekers and their families, because in a lot of cases there are intergenerational issues in a family. Those Centrelink workers will be linking those highly disadvantaged job seekers to all the supports that Centrelink can offer but also, more importantly, linking them to all of the community supports as well—to Alcoholics Anonymous, to financial counselling services, to gambling counselling services and to housing and homelessness services if job seekers are homeless. We believe that by overcoming some of those existing barriers, we will be able to much more effectively help highly disadvantaged job seekers move into the workplace.

The final comments came from the member for Throsby on the place-based initiatives that we have taken in this budget and young unemployed parents in particular. I was very pleased to visit Shellharbour with him. It is one of four locations so far that I have visited of the 10 that we will be focusing on with these place-based measures. I guess, in short, as time is short, it is important to say that we do expect more of people. You mentioned young parents in particular, the member for Throsby. We will expect them to come when their baby is six months old and engage with Centrelink and develop a plan to go back to school and to get back into the workforce. We are expecting more of them, but we are offering greater supports as well, because we do think it is important. Life does not finish at 19 just because you have got a baby. It is really vital to be able to provide for yourself and provide for your child and by supporting the parent back into school and study and the workforce we are also able to support children through Communities for Children—playgroups and preschools—to be school-ready as well so we do not see intergenerational cycles of poverty.