Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
I begin by commending the member the Newcastle for her contribution to this debate on the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020. Like so much of the Morrison government's legislation, this bill is more about window-dressing and cost-cutting than about service improvement. The bill re-badges the Department of Human Services as an executive agency called Services Australia that will have oversight of Centrelink, Medicare and child support registration. In the future, the departmental head will no longer be referred to as the secretary but as the chief executive officer.
These are largely superficial changes that will incur considerable implementation costs, including new titles, new structures, new contracts and extensive rebadging, which will all be worn by the taxpayers. I believe that none of these things will provide better services. I suspect the real reason behind these changes from the Morrison government is to bury its robodebt, COVID app and data breach bungles and the appalling difficulty people have experienced over recent years in dealing with those departments—and that's not because of the people who work within the departments. As other speakers have quite rightly pointed out, it's not the staff who are at fault here, but rather the fact that they have been working underresourced and undersupported for way too long.
There are two Centrelink offices in my region—one at Modbury and one at Salisbury—and I can only applaud the staff at those offices for what they have been doing during the time I have been the member for Makin. They have always been helpful and supportive. I know that they've always gone out of their way to deal with difficult situations. But when you don't have the support you need and when you are not allowed to do what you think is the right thing to do then obviously it means poor services for the people who need those services.
That all comes down to the number of staff who have been cut by this government since coming to office in 2013 and the staff caps that have been put in place by this government. We know that some 19,000 staff have been cut from the Public Service over the life of this coalition government. I note that only in March the Prime Minister announced that there would be some 5,000 staff reinstated. My questions to the government are: How many of those 5,000 have been reinstated? Are they full-time positions or part-time positions? Are they casuals or permanent staff? I don't know. Indeed, it would be interesting to know exactly what has happened since that announcement because the implementation of many of this government's announcements never seems to eventuate.
The staff cuts have meant that not only the officers have been left underresourced but also they have been relying heavily on temporary staff, as other speakers have pointed out time and time again. The problem with that, as I'm sure anybody would appreciate, is that temporary staff do not always have the experience or the familiarity with the issues that they are having to deal with on a daily basis, nor do they have the long-term knowledge of the people they are trying to assist. It means that when people go to those offices quite often they are dealing with one person on one day and a different person on another day and often getting different advice because of that.
Indeed, only yesterday I responded to constituents in my electorate who had been attempting for three years to resolve a matter with Centrelink. Over those three years they had got conflicting advice time and time again. This is probably because different staff have had to deal with the husband and wife each time they contacted the Centrelink offices. It was finally resolved as a result of intervention from my office. That was after a three-year period. I'm also aware that, in addition to the issue of staffing that has been referred to in this place by me and other speakers—