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Wednesday, 6 June 2001
Page: 27465

Mr DANBY (9:40 AM) —Last week, senior local management of Centrelink visited my office for what we thought was to be a routine visit. My staff thought the improvement of services to Centrelink clients who use South Melbourne Centrelink would be the topic of the meeting. Can you imagine my surprise, Mr Deputy Speaker, to learn later that the purpose of the visit was to inform our office of the closure of South Melbourne Centrelink just two hours before they announced it to South Melbourne staff? I find this decision to be a breach of the minimum duty of government. As my constituents will discover, on 10 March last year, the Minister for Community Services wrote to me, informing me that:

Centrelink had the approval to secure new accommodation for the South Melbourne office in 2000-01 which will enhance the provision of services and facilities for customers. I assure you—

the minister informed me—

that South Melbourne customers will continue to receive full customer service from Centrelink South Melbourne, including emergency assistance when required.

This was confirmed in Senate estimates hearings last week, when the shadow minister for community services intensively questioned officials from Centrelink, who explained that Centrelink services were to be provided in South Melbourne and were now being withdrawn to Windsor Centrelink, in the Treasurer's electorate. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will understand, especially after I had received the minister's assurance that the South Melbourne Centrelink would not be closing, that I wonder why I was not informed earlier. The prospective shift of South Melbourne Centrelink had apparently been developing for more than a year.

Centrelink management advised my electorate officer that it was their inability to get suitable accommodation that was behind their decision to shift to Windsor. The attempt they made to get alternative accommodation was via a newspaper advertisement. This also raises the question of the government's commitment to providing public services. I ask: what was the cost of this real estate budget and fitout allocation in the minister's assurance of last year? This closure will affect over 17,000 people, including 5,699 disability support pensioners and 5,535 age pensioners.

As I told the minister when I wrote to him immediately after discovering this, and last year, most of the people will now have to catch two or three forms of public transport, such as trams, to get to Windsor Centrelink, the new place where they propose to dispense these services—over five kilometres away. I have also discovered that Centrelink customers are not even to be advised of this by letter. Some of them are simply getting a handout over the counter. How will the 17,000 citizens find out about the closure? No minister would agree to the proposal to outsource private details of Centrelink users to a commercial outfit to advise pensioners by telephone. Centrelink does not want to do a mass mailout because they would get an abundance of incoming phone calls. My goodness, Mr Deputy Speaker, they would! I vehemently oppose the closure of South Melbourne Centrelink and I ask the minister to urgently reconsider this decision.