Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
This government has let down the people who work for Services Australia and it has let down the people who rely on Services Australia. I agree with my good friend the member for Oxley, who says we need an apology for robodebt. I think I'm going to go for about 10 minutes; I'm happy to be interrupted at any point for that apology for robodebt. People have been treated incredibly poorly by this government when it comes to the debts they didn't owe but were hounded for for months.
We debate this bill, the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020, in the context of the budget handed down on Tuesday night, which showed that people who are relying on Services Australia still get no certainty when it comes to their JobSeeker payments after December of this year. On Tuesday we saw students who rely on Austudy payments being whacked with a 113 per cent fee increase for their university studies. We saw pensioners get some one-off cash-splash payments but no permanent increases. We saw nothing for child care, which of course is administered through the Services Australia architecture, and we saw nothing for social housing, which is often paid for out of people's Centrelink payments. I do find it very odd to have a piece of legislation called a 'governance amendment' from this government. When I hear 'governance' and think about this government, I don't think of improvements to Services Australia; I think of sports rorts, robodebt, Jam Land, Helloworld, Ruby Princessand $30 million for Western Sydney Airport land. That's what I think of when I think of governance and this government. All of those governance failures by this government don't give people much faith in the governance of Services Australia.
We know that Services Australia has been merged into another beloved megadepartment by this government. Even this government knows that mergers don't always work out that well. You just have to ask the Liberal-National Party of Queensland how well mergers work out to know that they don't always end in a happy merger. It's a very unhappy merger, a very unhappy thing, and even with that merger they have to rely on Pauline Hanson's preferences to get anywhere. I'm sure that their dirty preference deals with Pauline Hanson will work out just as well as they did in Western Australia, where Colin Barnett did a comprehensive preference deal with One Nation and it blew up in his face.
My test for this piece of legislation is: does it result in more efficient services, better outcomes for staff and better outcomes for those Australians that rely on these services? When it comes to this government, though, we've seen so many cuts to our Public Service it has meant we've had to add 5,000 staff back into Services Australia to enable them to respond to the coronavirus crisis. We know this government refused to implement any serious support for those who work in the arts, resulting in huge queues of people who would have been happy to continue their work in the arts but, instead, were forced to go and knock on the door of Centrelink and go onto JobSeeker.
We also have the huge problem of the arbitrary staffing cap, leading to outsourcing and incredible overreliance on labour hire in our public sector. What we end up with is two workers doing exactly the same job, serving exactly the same clients and being paid incredibly different rates of pay. That doesn't sit right with me, and it shouldn't sit right with anyone in this place. We also know that, because of this government's inability to actually resource Services Australia properly, in the fortnight from 23 March, there were 6.5 million busy signals of people trying to get through. I accept it was an extraordinary time in our nation's history, but 6.5 million busy signals—that's a lot of people who, when they needed help from this government, did not have their phone calls answered.
I'm a huge supporter of the work that the team at Centrelink do. I visited Centrelink Morley in January of this year. Centrelink Morley is one of the largest Centrelinks in Western Australia. I said hello to Cheryl, Helyn and their team, and I want to say a huge thank you to the team at Centrelink Morley for all the work they did. At that point in time, I was there to thank them because a number of their staff had actually come over to the eastern states to help with local service delivery in response to the bushfires. Less than two months later, they were finding themselves in another crisis—on the front line, helping people in their darkest hour. So again, in May of this year, I went to say thank you, to keep their spirits up. They had worked incredibly hard, done lots of overtime and were dealing with people in incredibly stressful situations.
Data shows that, in March, 8,554 people accessed services at Morley Centrelink. There were 4,331 in April and 4,336 in May. And, despite the fact that this Centrelink is relied on by thousands of Western Australians every month, when I wrote to the minister and said, 'Can you guarantee that it will stay open?' he said, 'We've got a lot of online services.' All I wanted to know was whether my local Centrelink would stay open during this crisis, and the response I got was: 'Go online.' It is unbelievable that we can't even get a guarantee from this government about Morley Centrelink—one of the busiest Centrelinks in Western Australia.
I want to share a story about my constituent Rita, who went to apply for her age pension. For many older Australians, applying for the age pension is an exciting point in your life. It's the conclusion of your working life. You are embarking on that next step to enjoy a well-earned retirement. Rita did all the right things. She went into Centrelink and got all her documents together. They gave her an envelope. That envelope had on it the address in Canberra to send the documents to so that she could receive her pension. The only problem was that Centrelink had forgotten to renew the PO Box with Australia Post. And she wasn't the only constituent. For all of these people sending their documents in, the documents were going in the shredder because Centrelink hadn't even renewed their Australia Post PO Box. I know this because I contacted Australia Post and said: 'What's going on? Why are these documents that my constituents are sending not going anywhere?' And Australia Post dumped Centrelink in it. They said: 'The delay is a result of the item being posted to a reply paid PO Box service which had not been renewed. Attempts were made to alert Centrelink of the items on hand and the lapsed renewal, and the delivery centre held the items to allow opportunity for renewal of the service and collection of items by Centrelink representatives. Neither occurred, following a few delivery attempts that were unsuccessful.' That is how this government runs our Centrelink service. It's disgraceful.
I'm aware the Deputy Prime Minister is about to make a ministerial statement. I will end by saying something about the City of Perth. In March of this year I was contacted by CPSU members working for Services Australia in the Perth CBD saying that they were uncomfortable catching public transport at that point in time. They needed cheaper parking. The City of Perth responded to that and brought parking fees down to $10 a day. I want to congratulate the City of Perth for doing that and also take this opportunity, in closing, to thank the commissioners of the City of Perth who are about to step down as we go to council elections. I want to say thank you to Andrew Hammond, Gaye McMath and Len Kosova for running the Perth city council in an incredibly difficult time and in incredibly difficult circumstances. They have done a great job for the people of Perth and I thank them.