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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1981


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (17:03): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Department of Human Services' annual report for 2015-16 talks about the issue of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. When you look at said annual report, it makes a lot of comments. I would particularly like in the short time I have available to talk about the criteria to achieve face-to-face service level standards and also the achievement of telephony-service-level standards and the average speed of answer.

They make a claim—they also made this claim in estimates—that the phone services are answered within 16 minutes. If you take an average across every single line they happen to have into Centrelink, perhaps that is true. This figure seemed remarkable, given the complaints that I get into my office. Also, when you read the Ombudsman's report into Human Services and Centrelink, look at the average wait times. For somebody with a disability it is 24 minutes and 47 seconds, for employment it is 25 minutes and 33 seconds, for families it is 23 minutes and 25 seconds, for older Australians it is 17 minutes and three seconds and for young people it is 25 minutes and 35 seconds. As you can see, those are much longer than the 16 minutes that the department claims, so it is extremely misleading.

Let's go on to look at other telephone services from the Department of Human Services and from Centrelink. There were a total of 28,991,000 missed calls to Centrelink. There were 7,122,981 abandoned calls because people had been on the line for far too long trying to get through to Centrelink. By far, this is the biggest level of complaints that we get in my office because I am the spokesperson on Centrelink, income management and family and community services. We get a number of complaints about the length of phone calls and also the way that they have to keep making phone calls in.

The Ombudsman have done several reports on Centrelink and the Department of Human Services. They did a first report on the Department of Human Services called Investigation into service delivery complaints about Centrelink. They published that one in April 2014. They made 33 recommendations. They then followed that up with a second report One year on from the Centrelink Service Delivery Report: A report on the Department of Human Services' implementation of the Ombudsman's recommendations. Thirteen of them were implemented, eight were in the process of being implemented, one was being considered and 11 had only been partially implemented.

In the executive summary of the Commonwealth Ombudsman's report into the Department of Human Services they say:

Centrelink’s phone services are discussed in detail as they remain a primary concern of complainants to this office. In some respects, Centrelink’s phone services have deteriorated further as we now routinely receive complaints from people who have not been able to get through to the DHS Complaints and Feedback line to make a complaint about their phone experience on other Centrelink lines.

You cannot even get through to complain to DHS!

They then say:

While DHS has a Key Performance Indicator … for the speed at which calls to Centrelink’s numbers should be answered, we are concerned that the KPI is not a helpful indicator of customers’ experiences or likely wait time. We also note that the problems with Centrelink’s telephone services are likely to persist until such time as it is resourced to meet that demand or the demand is reduced as a result of improvements to digital service channels.

There you have it, folks. The technology they have for the telephone services is not satisfactory. In the meantime, instead of the government waiting until the rest of the services are up to speed and people are not waiting nearly half an hour, which is the average time for those lines, they are forcing people more and more to go online—and I have not even dealt with the online failures—and onto the telephone where people sometimes wait for hours! The department then says: 'It is because people hit redial.' Of course they are hitting redial if they cannot get through. Somebody who was e-mailing and Facebooking me about this said: 'If I need to talk to Centrelink, I have to write the morning off. I get a cup of tea and I just sit down, because I know I am going to get nothing else done.' This service is not good enough for the people who need Centrelink support. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

The PRESIDENT: To confirm, Senator Siewert, your documents up to No. 174, apart from those that have been discharged, will be retained.