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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3785

Ms BURNEY (Barton) (11:02): Tuesday night's unfair budget confirmed where the government's priorities lie. The government will take an axe to Centrelink, while giving a cut of $80 billion to big business. The government will axe 1,280 staff from the Department of Human Services. Australians are finding it more and more difficult to contact and access Centrelink. Ask any Australian who has had to try to contact Centrelink to manage their payments or their applications for payment and they will tell you their personal nightmare. We have heard horror stories of people being forced to wait hours on the phone to speak to someone. We have heard stories about people who have waited weeks for their payments to be approved, sometimes even months. We have heard stories about thousands of people being issued with false or erroneous debt notices and being threatened with legal action.

The truth is that Centrelink is understaffed and underresourced. Last year, the government cut 1,200 jobs from DHS, and unanswered calls to Centrelink doubled to 55 million and call wait times increased. The government then announced it would outsource 1,250 jobs to labour hire companies. The government is selling off Centrelink jobs to labour hire firms piece by piece. The government's announcement of $50 million to address the shocking call wait times is not new money. It is nothing more than a head fake of concern about call wait times. Centrelink need permanent staff. They need full-time staff who are properly equipped and trained to manage the complex issues facing income support recipients. The issues and circumstances confronting income support recipients are often complex, and Labor recognises this complexity.

The government is only interested in demonising income support recipients. The goal is clear—to make it so difficult and so painful to access income support, people simply give up. At a time when we are hearing some horrendous examples of unethical behaviour within the government, and within the banks through the royal commission, on top of the 1,280 job cuts, the government will resume its pursuit of drug testing welfare participants, double down on robo-debt, begin police checks on income support recipients—I will speak more about that later today—and make it more difficult for Australians to contact Centrelink. Therefore, we are looking at a fundamentally unfair budget and a government that really is going to force people into homelessness and crime. (Time expired)