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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 39

Senator GREIG (2:58 PM) —My question is to Senator Kay Patterson as Minister for Family and Community Services. Can the minister advise whether Centrelink staff have been instructed to increase customer referrals to Job Network members before Christmas by strongly encouraging disability support pensioners and parenting payment customers to accept a referral and to avoid telling them that their participation is not compulsory unless asked? Minister, are Centrelink staff required to conduct any assessment of a customer's suitability for referral to a Job Network member?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —I do not know the answer to that question, Senator Greig. Mr Hockey would be able to answer that in more detail. I do not know about any instructions that Centrelink staff may or may not have been given. I do not always take for gospel something that is told to me by a constituent or in a telephone call. It may or may not be correct. I will ask Mr Hockey for any information, so I may respond to your question. I will get it back to you as quickly as possible, most probably after question time tomorrow.

Senator GREIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister to check also whether the minister can advise whether Centrelink customers with a disability are informed about services available to them through specialised disability employment services. If they are, at what point are they informed and are they freely able to migrate to these services once a referral to a Job Network member has been accepted?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —I will get an answer to that question as well. People who visit Centrelink now are treated very differently from when they visited the old DSS offices before 1996. They are totally different places. Because of the initiatives of former Senator Newman in the first instance and then the work that was undertaken with the development of Centrelink, people now get much better services than they ever got under the old DSS.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.