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Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Page: 120

Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (19:25): For the short time I have, I also rise to speak on the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020. Labor has said that it will support this bill. I do support the amendments moved by the shadow minister, particularly in relation to those staffing caps, which have made it very difficult at Services Australia for the many functions they carry out. Those staffing caps are a false economy. They undermine the quality of government services, especially those services that are delivered by Services Australia.

This bill sets out the proposed framework or structure for a newly established agency. The bill seeks to retrospectively abolish the Department of Human Services and establish, in its place, Services Australia. Labor supports modifications to governance structures across the public sector that lead to improved outcomes and services, particularly those services that Australians rely on. However, what we don't agree with is this cruel Liberal-National government's attempt to impose the arbitrary staffing cap on the Public Service. We also condemn the government for their massive underfunding of Centrelink services. So many people—our pensioners, seniors, veterans, people with disability, families, carers, people seeking work, and students—rely on the essential frontline services that our local Centrelink provides, including Medicare services. More recently, so many more have come to rely on Centrelink services due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the Morrison recession.

This bill proposes several changes that aim to both modernise the terminology associated with our social services and streamline the process associated with transitioning to Services Australia. Regrettably, this bill fails to address the fundamental, core issue at the centre of Services Australia: this arbitrary staffing cap imposed across the public sector that's led to an over-reliance on labour hire, external contractors and outsourcing to consultants. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Services Australia was already under severe strain from trying to keep up with demand. Indeed, the staff at Services Australia have managed a massive workload in recent times, from dealing with the bushfire response in January to managing the surge in new applicants for the JobSeeker allowance that has arisen from the ongoing economic crisis. Services Australia staff are there for Australians in their moments of greatest need and sometimes their greatest despair, whether it's providing financial relief to those unable to work or those needing to access counselling and social work services, or helping jobseekers find work. They do an incredibly remarkable job and I'd like to commend them for the work they have been doing.

Over the last few months we've seen some very heartbreaking images of many people waiting in long lines outside Centrelink. These images of desperate Australians, unfortunately, may only grow. It is a devastating economic situation. The COVID-19 crisis is both a health crisis and an economic crisis, and the impact has been devastating in my region—devastating for local workers losing their jobs, especially because so many are ineligible for JobKeeper. This is one of the many issues I've raised here before. Many in my region who have been hit very hard by this crisis have been ineligible for it.

For those on JobKeeper, we know that the Morrison government's September cuts mean that 33,000 local workers across the Richmond electorate are worse off, and more than $30 million will be ripped out of the North Coast economy every fortnight. That's 33,000 local workers on JobKeeper, and that will be cut. That's devastating for our region. Here we are in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, neck deep in the Morrison recession, with mass unemployment at historic highs, and all we're seeing is Liberal-National party cuts when it comes to those Centrelink services, and that really is devastating, particularly for regional areas. In terms of the cuts and changes to JobKeeper, they come in from Monday 28 September—

Debate interrupted.