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Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Page: 7234


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (14:21): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Government Services. My constituents are spending hours on hold to Centrelink, only to have their calls go unanswered. Just this morning at the Mount Barker Centrelink office, constituents were locked outside, standing in the wind and the rain, with only four at a time let in despite the very large office space. When Australia was first hit with the COVID pandemic, APS staff were deployed to Services Australia to ensure support was delivered to impacted Australians. The pandemic isn't over. Will the government please reinstate the APS deployment?

Mr ROBERT (FaddenMinister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:22): I thank the honourable member for her question. Services Australia has mobilised some 18,000 internal and external staff to ensure calls and claims for the current COVID-19 disaster payment are processed as quickly as possible. As at close of business on Monday, staff deployed to undertake payments include 13,000 internal service delivery staff trained to both deliver this function as well as maintain the critical social security, welfare, child support and health department payments. Over 4,000 other staff have been redeployed. Over 250 staff from across 13 different APS departments and agencies have now been redeployed to Services Australia as part of the Surge Reserve force, and over 600 new employees and personnel engaged by our service delivery partners have also been added to the team. As the member knows, all service centres are open—327 service centres, which is a huge workforce of just under 20,000—to ensure we maintain a significant presence to help all vulnerable Australians.

It's important the House also understands that the number of Australians allowed within those service centres is determined by state and territory public health orders. We are required to comply with that. During the last COVID outbreak, state police helpfully, over 200 times, came and ensured Services Australia was indeed complying with that. It is unfortunate we can't use the full space within our service centres, but we are required to comply, in this case, with South Australia public health orders. But that applies right across the board. All service centres are open to deal with, answer questions for, serve and support all vulnerable Australians.

I would also like to remind Australians that all major payments are online for them to claim using myGov, which is the biggest authenticated platform in the country. I'm pleased to report to the House that, as at midnight last night, over 1.51 million claims have been received nationally and processed by Services Australia. That includes 1.23 million claims in New South Wales alone, 215,000 in Victoria and 60,384 claims in South Australia, in the member's home state. That's 58,000 unique claims in the member's home state, with the vast bulk of them already granted. Over $31 million has gone to South Australia.

It is a difficult time. All our service centres are open. All our call lines are being managed, with people answering them. All payments are online. There is a degree of patience needed; all Australians need to understand that it is difficult for so many Australians. Let me thank the Services Australia staff for what they're doing as everyone puts their shoulder to a difficult wheel.