Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Defence Personnel: Centrelink Payments
I rise today to speak about an oversight from the Department of Human Services and the Department of Defence. I've recently been contacted by a constituent of mine, a member of the Australian Defence Force. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank them for their service to our nation and our country. My constituent had a Centrelink matter that they were finding very difficult to manage. As part of their service, my constituent had recently been deployed overseas. When they returned, they found that their Centrelink payments had stopped.
I learnt that, if an ADF member is the beneficiary of the family tax benefit, childcare benefit or the childcare rebate, they are required to inform DHS of their deployment prior to their departure or risk losing their payments. For those who don't inform Centrelink prior, their benefit is completely lost after six weeks. This is ridiculous. These are people who are serving our nation—people who have been deployed overseas—and we should do better than this. It's astounding that a government has punitive measures in place for deployed service men and women who are serving our nation, who are there to protect our nation and who are putting themselves at risk every single day.
In correspondence to me, the minister's office—after I informed them—advised me of a web page that would perhaps be able to assist my constituent. I found the information available from this web page to be extremely unreasonable, as did my constituent. It says:
… they must provide the Department of Human Services with a letter signed by their Commanding Officer on Department of Defence letterhead stating they are being deployed overseas and the period that they will be deployed.
The only problem is that no-one tells the members of our Defence Force that this is the case when they're being deployed overseas. So most of them go overseas and only find out when they come back and they get cut off from those childcare benefits or whatever benefit it is. The cherry on the top is that, if Australian Defence Force members want further information, amongst other resources, they're provided with the Families Centrelink number. Time and time again my colleagues and I have raised this issue in this Chamber and have pointed out that Centrelink is in crisis, with calls going unanswered and ballooning waiting times.
Members of our Defence Force are being put through hell when they get back after serving our nation. This is the level of support available to ADF members to navigate their payment responsibilities, and it is appalling. The minister should be doing more and the government should be doing more for the people who serve us and protect us.