Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I was going to say was, of course, that the member for Solomon's tie—if I may get that point out—is something that perhaps, if the minister for energy would consider plugging it into the national grid, could solve all our energy problems.
We are here to speak today about the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020. We are not here to talk about the grievances of members opposite, who may not have seats after the redistribution. The independent Electoral Commission will determine that. That's what it says about those opposite, that we're here talking about servicing the most vulnerable Australians—
Ms Butler interjecting—
The member for Griffith can shout as much as she likes, but those of us on this side are actually interested in helping vulnerable Australians. That's why we're in here talking about the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020. Throughout this pandemic, this government has been taking every possible step to support Australians and help get people back on their feet and back to work as soon as they can. Services Australia has been at the forefront of the Australian government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing support to millions of vulnerable Australians.
Since March, Services Australia has delivered more than $21.2 billion in additional payments and processed more than 1.7 million JobSeeker claims, providing income support to people in need. More than $12.4 billion in the coronavirus supplement has been paid to new and existing eligible income support recipients in addition to their usual payment.
This government's economic support payment has delivered more than $9 billion to some seven million lower income Australians, people that those opposite are yet to mention when talking about this bill. These include people like pensioners, other social security and veterans' support recipients and eligible concession card holders. Some $14.9 million in pandemic leave disaster payments has gone to almost 10,000 people who work in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and New South Wales and who have been directed to self-isolate but don't have sick leave or payments through JobSeeker or JobKeeper. The crisis payment is also available to assist individuals who are in financial hardship as a result of being required to quarantine.
As of February this year, Services Australia has been established as an executive agency under the Public Service Act. Schedule 1 of this bill amends various pieces of legislation to support this establishment. In particular, this bill makes direct textual amendments to legislation so that acts correctly refer to Services Australia or the Department of Social Services; amends various secrecy provisions so that information that was held by Services Australia or the department of human services as a department of state can continue to be protected by those secrecy provisions; and amends the Human Services (Centrelink) Act 1997 to protect the name 'Services Australia' from unauthorised use. This change is needed. It is needed to ensure that legislation clearly and correctly refers to Services Australia or the Department of Social Services. This will allow the federal government to continue in its duties, supporting Australians through the appropriate agencies. The legislation will also ensure that the name 'Services Australia' cannot be used inappropriately—for example, by a business or a union seeking to imply a connection with the Australian government.
Schedule 1 will also amend various secrecy provisions so that information that was held by Services Australia or the department of human services as a department of state can continue to be protected by those secrecy provisions. This schedule will operate retrospectively from 1 February 2020, the date Services Australia was established as an executive agency. However, the expansions to the offence relating to protected names will only apply from the day after royal assent. In a rapidly evolving environment, Services Australia has worked closely with policy agencies to streamline processes and to ensure people impacted by the pandemic receive the government's unprecedented economic support as quickly and easily as possible. This includes the billion-dollar JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, which have kept people in jobs and kept businesses in business. We have made it easier for people to claim payments and access support through this crisis. Online payments have been upgraded to accommodate the surge in demand, and additional staff have been mobilised to call centres and payment processing. In fact, in the space of 55 days we processed 1.3 million JobSeeker claims. That's the number normally processed in 2½ years. At the peak, we completed more than 53,000 claims in a single day. We are processing the majority of social security and welfare claims in eight days, which is nearly 20 days faster than last year, and calls are being answered about 15 minutes faster than last year.
Also, myGov now has the largest capacity of any authenticated online platform in Australia. The system remained stable despite averaging up to 837,000 sign-ins daily during the peak month of June, compared with an average of 575,000 in June 2019. It is now possible to manage all Medicare related claims, changes or inquiries online or over the phone. This includes newborn enrolments, re-enrolments for people returning to Australia, linking Medicare cards to myGov and transferring people from one Medicare card to another. Australians are encouraged to make sure their details are up to date with Medicare, including their bank account details, during this time. Services Australia service centres have remained open throughout the pandemic, but we encourage only the most vulnerable in the community to visit. Most business can be completed by using Services Australia's online and call service options.
Schedule 2 of the bill makes governance changes relating to Services Australia. Currently the Human Services (Centrelink) Act, Human Services (Medicare) Act and the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act require the chief executive of Centrelink, the chief executive of Medicare and the child support registrar to be different SES employees in Services Australia. It is no longer necessary for those offices to have different occupants, given Services Australia has broad service delivery functions and the overall responsibility of the CEO for the operations of the executive agency. Schedule 2 amends the Human Services (Centrelink) Act, the Human Services (Medicare) Act and the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act so that the CEO of Services Australia will also be the chief executive of Centrelink, the chief executive of Medicare and the child support registrar. This will extend to an acting CEO of Services Australia.
Schedule 2 also amends the Human Services (Centrelink) Act, Human Services (Medicare) Act and the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act to allow the Governor-General to appoint a person as chief executive of Centrelink, chief executive of Medicare and child support registrar if the office of the CEO of Services Australia ceases to exist. The chief executive of Centrelink, the chief executive of Medicare and the child support registrar exercise statutory powers and functions under many acts, so it is essential that there is always a person in those offices for service delivery to continue uninterrupted.
This bill will also amend the Human Services (Centrelink) Act and the Human Services (Medicare) Act to require a person acting under a delegation, for example the Secretary of the Department of Social Services or a subdelegation, to comply with any direction given by the delegator. These changes are needed to streamline governance arrangements in Services Australia. It will improve deliverability and efficiency, further assisting Australians in their hour of need.
That's what this bill is about. It's about helping people when they need to be helped, at this point in time when people need help. It is not about pre-selections in the Northern Territory. It's not about union featherbedding in our Public Service. It is about helping vulnerable Australians. It disappoints me, at this time, in this place, during this pandemic, that there are some people who can't see past the vested interests of those constituents that they claim to represent to help our most vulnerable Australians. I commend this bill to the House.