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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 94


Ms COLLINS (Franklin) (19:30): As MPs, one of the things that we do frequently in our role is deal with constituents who contact our office. The largest volume of constituent work that's coming through my office at the moment is in relation to Centrelink. We've seen today a report by Anglicare that talks about the amount of assistance people are needing to get through the Centrelink system. I want to put on record that I understand that this is not due to the staff at Centrelink, who work extraordinarily hard, who have a very difficult task and who are trying to deal with a huge workload under enormous pressure. The staff at Centrelink are doing their very, very best to help those Australians who need the support of government support payments. But the Anglicare report that came out today talked about the additional support that non-government organisations and, indeed, our offices are providing those people who can't get through the Centrelink system. Indeed, Anglicare reports that a survey of 218 of its staff conducted in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia has found that an equivalent of 6.6 full-time employees on their staff are spending their time dealing with just Centrelink issues. So there is no doubt that there is a serious issue with Centrelink and its systems at the moment. I really don't think the government quite understands how much this is hurting ordinary citizens.

In my electorate office in the last two to three weeks we have dealt with a very large volume of these. But what's really concerning is that some of my constituents tried to contact Centrelink about their payments and hadn't received a response. Some of their payments were taking months and months and the response they were getting from Centrelink was very inconsistent. They were also being told: 'Our waiting times have blown out a little bit. It's probably just the waiting period. Just sit tight and I'm sure we'll get to it.' But when my office took these calls and intervened it turned out that in some of these cases that was not what was going on. In some cases, people had actually provided Centrelink with all the information Centrelink needed but Centrelink's system didn't recognise it because it was in some sort of file somewhere or something hadn't been processed or somebody hadn't hit the right button. Some of my constituents have had significant back pay because of this.

I want to draw to the attention of the House some of these examples from the last three weeks alone, because some of them are extraordinary. My office has had contact with one constituent who put in for an age pension and had been waiting for four months got back pay of $5,135. Another one who had been waiting over four months got back bay of $7,936. Then there was the back payment of the carer payment and allowance for another constituent who had had her application in for over 12 months. She got back pay of $23,000. That's $23,000 that she needed that she didn't have because of Centrelink's system. She had to wait a year for it. Another one was back paid $3,955 for a wait for carer payment and allowance. Another one received four months back pay of youth allowance of $2,385. An age pensioner who had been waiting four months received back pay of $3,161. Another constituent who had age pension arrears but also was eligible for the pensioner bonus scheme had been waiting for about 4½ months. He got a back payment of $44,495 that he had needed but didn't have because of the Centrelink system being broken.

I really think that the government needs to turn its attention to dealing with these waiting periods and the systems of Centrelink. There is clearly something going on when I as an MP or NGOs like Anglicare are having to intervene continuously to get constituents money that they are entitled to and, importantly, actually need to survive. Some of these pensioners and carers were borrowing from family members who they are having to repay. Some of them were at risk of homelessness. They couldn't get the money that they needed from Centrelink, which they are entitled to, because Centrelink's system was so broken. They tell the stories of getting on the phone to Centrelink and waiting an hour or an hour and a half on hold, trying to get their application processed. They go around in circles. They are told, 'No, you just have to wait. We are behind on our waiting list. We'll get to it,' when actually there was a problem with the system and, if they hadn't contacted my office, they would never have got this money. They would have been waiting longer and longer to get this money. This is money that they really, truly needed and that they are entitled to. The government needs to fix this. (Time expired)