Thursday, 8 October 2020
Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
I'll make a few brief remarks about the Services Australia Governance Amendment Bill 2020 before I get cut off. I'll talk about the second reading amendment later on. At its heart this bill is not controversial. It proposes a framework and a change in structure for Services Australia replacing DHS. It modernises terminology and streamlines reporting lines. Labor supports modifications to governance structures across the public sector where they will improve outcomes. I hope it's successful.
Sure, it's a little reorganisation and, as the Prime Minister loves above all else, it's a marketing bill. It has rebranded DHS. DHS is now called Services Australia. That's great. The government is big on announcements and small on delivery. This government is very big on spin—we see it with the budget and we hear it in question time every day—but it falls short on delivery. That's certainly what we see here with its rebranded Services Australia. It's great spin, a new logo, new letterhead and a new name. When you reorganise things like this it's hard to join the dots of what has happened in the past and hard to join the dots in the budget papers. This government is short on delivery.
I'll repeat what other speakers have said. The bill fails to address the core issue. The core issue that drives people nuts—people in my electorate and right across the country—is the lack of skilled, permanent, trained staff at Centrelink, Services Australia, DHS or whatever you want to call it this week. There are simply not enough public servants there to do the job.
The government's ASL cap was introduced when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. In a brilliant piece of public policy then Prime Minister Abbott introduced the ASL cap. It's a fancy way of saying that he cut 15,000 jobs from the Australian Public Service in his two-year term. Malcolm Turnbull maintained them and this Prime Minister is similarly addicted to this privatisation by stealth. As the Australian population continues to grow year after year—or at least until now—the number of public servants to support and service the Australian people does not rise, so this means that, in practical terms, for seven long years under this government we've seen a cut every year to the number of public servants available per head of the Australian population.
Make no mistake, this is privatisation by stealth. Public sector managers—secretaries of departments, CEOs or whatever you want to call the head of an agency—are forced to get the work done by outsourcing and employing more expensive labour hire workers, consultants and contractors. The Auditor-General revealed this. It's no wonder the government just cut his budget, because he shines light on these things and what is really going on in departments and public administration.
The APS had more employees in June 1992 than in December 2019, despite the fact that the Australian population grew by 46 per cent over that period. Can anyone honestly say that services at Centrelink are better? Last year there were 46 million unanswered calls—that is, for every Australian, two calls didn't get answered. The biggest frustration I certainly hear about from people is the waiting time to get through to Centrelink and get an answer on what has happened with their age pension application, their Newstart application, their healthcare card and those basic things that Australians have every right to expect some decent service on.
This bill does fail to address the core issue, which is the privatisation and the overuse of labour hire firms and consultants. We've seen thousands of call centre jobs outsourced under this government, and that will continue. And, as the previous speaker, the member for Kingsford Smith, said, buried in the budget papers is a little commitment to increase the number of jobs in Services Australia, but it's a one-off; it's for this year. They're saying that, after this year, they're going to go back to using more labour hire workers and casual staff, and it doesn't actually solve the problem in a sustainable way. I'll talk further on the second reading amendment in part B of my speech.