Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
Can I just make the observation that I don't think that some of the members sitting in this House right now want to be defending people who have acted criminally.
I want to support what the member for Lyons has just said and I particularly want to take up his point about how the outsourcing of these roles by Centrelink, by Human Services, has meant that the staff in our electorate offices have seen and heard about a lot of trauma. They've heard a lot of very difficult stories from people who it was wrongly claimed owed money to the Commonwealth and who don't know how they they're going to pay some of these robodebts. It's been difficult not only for the staff of Human Services but also for the staff at our electorate offices. So I want to thank the member for Lyons for making that point and I want to acknowledge the staff in my electorate office in Darwin—in particular, Sharon, who, during this whole sorry saga, has been a caring person who has listened to and helped some of these very distressed individuals through what has been a traumatic time. We know that some of the people wrongly charged with owing money to the Commonwealth—they didn't—lost the battle with that mental anguish and, in some cases, took their own lives.
Like the member for Perth, I'll be speaking for about 10 minutes or so, and I welcome, as he did, anyone from the other side—any minister of the Crown—who wants to stand up and apologise for all the hurt, anguish and distress caused by that program. We've seen that no action has ever been taken against any minister in this federal government of Australia when there's been clear evidence of wrongdoing. It's like they're all Teflon. They've got their own standards of behaviour. There is no ministerial code of practice anymore; it's just whatever Scotty from marketing believes he can get away with—and he seems to get away with a lot. He's just got away with putting out a trillion dollar budget, after haranguing our fine Labor governments for reacting to a global crisis like the GFC by putting money into things like social housing, by stimulating the economy, which brought us through that difficult time, that difficult financial time, for our country well—exceedingly well. And we had high standards of ministerial responsibility. They threw royal commissions at us. We held our heads high, behaved honourably and got the country through that crisis when it visited our shores.
I just wanted to echo those words, as well as the words of the member for Oxley, who spoke incredibly well about some of the people in his electorate who were adversely affected by robodebt; and of the member for Cowan in her passionate acknowledgement of Human Services staff and her advocacy for people on the margins—people on low incomes and people who are not eligible for support. We saw that in the budget just the other day, with those over 35 not being eligible for assistance to get back into the workforce. People might remember Newstart; it was before the JobKeeper slogan. Those opposite and the Prime Minister seem intent on having that go back to $40 a day. You might be an over-35-year-old working Australian. You might have a mortgage, and you might have kids and child care, and you're trying to get back into work. Was there any new childcare assistance? No. It's back to $40 a day as of Christmas time. Happy Christmas from the Prime Minister and Treasurer!
I'll now go to the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020. The core issue here is Services Australia, the arbitrary staffing cap imposed across the public sector and the effect that has had on human services. It's the exorbitant amount of money that's being spent on labour hire, outsourcing and consultants when Australians could be employed in good, secure jobs and helping other Australians who need a hand. Those Australians are in their greatest hour of need and greatest despair, something we've seen in the past months. We've got people who've never come into contact with Centrelink or Human Services before in their working life. They've paid taxes, but COVID and the stop to some commercial activity have meant that some of these people have needed assistance from Human Services for the first time. We do acknowledge that there was a big need to bring on and engage additional workers through the agreement—service delivery partners, labour-hire agencies and redeployments from within the APS. The staff did their very best.
Unfortunately, the demand for Services Australia's Centrelink services is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. We hoped that there would be some more encouragement provided in the budget for more jobs to open up without depending so strongly on the write-offs that were announced—as well as those write-offs that were announced for business that will hopefully generate more economic commercial activity. Those opposite fail to understand that it is people on lower incomes who spend almost all of their income—by necessity—in the economy. They very much need that assistance. On this side, we have consistently called out the government for its disgraceful running down of the APS over the past six years. We know that they've sacked 19,000 staff since they came to office, not to mention the litany of service failures, including robodebt, that I mentioned previously, as well as using the NDIS underspend to prop up their budgets. I've been working with NDIS staff in Darwin, and, again, like Centrelink staff, they're doing a good job. They're doing the best that they can.
But I want to bring the House's attention to the fact that, in my electorate, at least 25 per cent of APS positions—those jobs for Australians—are gone. This was from the government who said they were going to decentralise the APS into regional areas of Australia. Well, I'm in Darwin. You've not moved anything to Darwin; you've cut 25 per cent of the APS jobs in the Greater Darwin region. You might say, 'Well, they probably weren't needed.' But, if you said that, you would be an idiot. Agencies have been forced to outsource and contract out, spending exorbitant amounts—more than it would have cost to have Australians employed in those roles as part of the Australian Public Service.
Famously, some of these cuts have been in the Australian Electoral Commission, and what the Northern Territory has seen is tens of thousands of Territorians not even on the roll. The AEC APS staff were cut from 15 down to three. You might say, 'Well, what were those 15 doing?' They were in something called the Indigenous Electoral Participation Program, the IEPP. Where did this government move those positions? To Brisbane. So they moved positions from Darwin to Brisbane, even though, as I would hope most honourable members understand, the Northern Territory has the highest percentage of Aboriginal Australians in our nation: 30 per cent. Up to one-third of them aren't on the roll. They are not getting a say in what is happening in their country.
Territorians will decide who represents them in this place, but the Prime Minister still hasn't said a word about the fact that the AEC was going to take one of our Northern Territory seats away. Fortunately, some Nationals have said: 'That is not on. Regional Australians are so underrepresented in this place.' There's a concentration of MPs, particularly from those on the government benches, around the big cities on the eastern seaboard. There have been three, I think, from Sydney—the last three prime ministers. I won't call it a deliberate disenfranchisement of Aboriginal Territorians, but what they've overseen is a cut in AEC staff—the very people who are supposed to be enfranchising Australians—
Mr Pasin interjecting—
Now, two-term Tony, you may not have picked up on the fact that the deputy—