Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020 and commend the member for Cowan for her contribution to today's debate. I would have liked to have seen a few more members of the government actually enter the debate and talk about Services Australia—particularly in this climate of an economic recession, the Morrison recession, and the crisis that we're seeing with employment services and access to Australia's services in this country. I know the member for Cowan has been a long-term champion for access to income support. She's a lived-experience person, and I commend her for her courage in speaking out for the most marginalised and disadvantaged not only in her community but right across this country.
We know that the member, and every member on this side of the House, has horrific stories of people who have had terrible experiences with Services Australia. I was listening to the member for Herbert when I was in my office. I get quite angry, to be honest, when members of the government, and particularly the LNP in Queensland, parade themselves around as concerned and caring and commend the member for visiting Services Australia, and his office. He somehow wants to be congratulated for that. But I bet what he didn't do when he went to visit them was to say: 'I'm part of a government that cut the services by cutting employment in this organisation.' I'll bet he didn't go to them and say: 'Well, I was part of a government that cheered on when 5,000 employees were sacked, which made stress and strain unbearable for many of these workers.' I've met a number of people through the Community and Public Sector Union, and I pay tribute to the advocacy work that they have done, and it is horrific hearing some of the stories from frontline workers of the abuse, the violence and the intimidation from frustrated clients. These are people who don't have enough resources. Yet the government comes in here and says: 'Look at us! Look what we've done. We should be congratulated because we restored the 5,000 people that we sacked in the first place'! I mean, come off it!
Today's bill is an opportunity to raise my voice about concerns about the way Services Australia has been mishandled by this government—particularly in a pandemic where we've seen unprecedented economic turmoil, and now with the Morrison recession and what that means for the future of work in this country. I'm delighted that the member for Dobell moved this second reading amendment, because it allows us a voice on this piece of non-controversial legislation. It allows us to raise issues about the staffing cap, about the excessive use of consultancy firms and contractors and about—as the member for Cowan said: let's be honest—the privatisation of Services Australia and abolishing the ASL offset rule, which has the effect of capping average staffing levels within Services Australia.
This is a debate that should be had in this parliament, because of the impact of what Services Australia has gone through, through policy changes and through incompetence from this government and in particular the minister—I could be here all day talking about the incompetence of that minister—and what that means for millions of Australians who are now, through no fault of their own, forced to deal with Services Australia as they desperately look for income support.
So I just want to highlight the great work of Services Australia, the unbelievable commitment they've given to customer service—all those workers. I know in my own community, in the offices in Inala, in Goodna and right across the regional district that I represent through the Ipswich and south-west corridors of Brisbane, that in the 27 days from 25 March 1.9 million intention-to-claim forms were lodged online and 1.3 million JobSeeker claims were processed in the 55 days following the launch of JobKeeper. This claim volume would normally take 2½ years to process. Why? Because there wasn't the staff and there has never been the staff to deal with this kind of climate of economic uncertainty. At the peak, more than 53,000 claims were completed in a single day. Many of these new applicants had never accessed Centrelink support before in their life, as the member for Cowan illustrated, with one in eight new applicants needing to apply for a CRN.
In my electorate of Oxley around 19,000 people have been receiving JobKeeper payments via local businesses alone. That's approximately one in five businesses relying on some sort of income support, with another 5,000 people now receiving JobKeeper—25,000 people new, on the books of Services Australia. With many of these payments set to be rolled back in the next few months, I can tell you, the feedback from the workers I've sat down with and the businesses I've sat down with is that they are concerned about what that support will mean as they head towards the cliff in March. In the budget we saw a whole group of Australians being left out of the economy, which is a terrible thing, with the government more interested in the wrong priorities, I believe, and not providing long-term employment and support for those who particularly need it.
I want to touch briefly on the staffing cap that was placed across the public sector in 2013 without weighing up the capabilities or requirements of each agency department, neither at the time it was placed or looking towards the future. This has left agencies with no other choice but to outsource and spend an exorbitant amount on consultants. It's completely unfair and unnecessary to have two workers doing identical work but receiving different pay and conditions simply because one is lucky enough to have direct APS employment while the other is contracted to work through a labour hire agency. This becomes inequity in the workplace—