Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Human Services. Will the minister update the House on the government's commitment to improving access to the essential services that Australians rely on? And how would a different approach hurt everyday Australian families?
I thank the member for that question. The Turnbull government is delivering on its commitment to improve customer service at Centrelink through the announcement that I made recently about an extra 1,500 staff to complement my department's workforce. These staff are on top of the thousand staff that I already announced in April and the 250 whom we employed last year and who are already responsible for very significant improvements in our service.
Centrelink answers about one million calls a week. One million calls a week—clearly, with that high volume, getting through can be difficult during periods of high demand. Our investment in the extra 2,750 staff will greatly enhance our ability to answer more calls, improve application-processing times and improve overall service delivery, enabling us to better provide the essential services that the Australian people need.
These new staff are going to be based in call centres all around the country, providing local jobs for local workers—call centres in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It will mean that the service we deliver for the Australian people is now more in line with their expectations.
I was asked by the member for Fairfax about alternative approaches. Our approach, of course, is to make sure that Centrelink and the Department of Human Services have the resources that they need to actually do the job. It's an enormous service delivery network, and five million Australians rely on it for their standard of living.
While we have been in office, I have announced 2,750 extra staff to help that service delivery process. When Labor were in office, in their last three years, between 2010 and 2013, they cut 4,800 people from the department—4,800 people. And that meant we saw blowouts in processing times and we saw blowouts in our call centres. It went from 90 seconds when the Labor Party came to office to 12½ minutes by the time they left. We're going to clean up that mess, and we're doing it by making sure that the staff are there to answer the phone calls.
And the extra staff, the 250 extra staff we've employed, which is the first cohort of staff that I have announced, have already answered more than two million phone calls. That's helped reduce busy signals by 20 per cent. Of course, busy signals are the most frustrating part of our telephone service, if you can't get through. We will continue to put on extra workforce, an extra 2½ thousand will be coming on over the course of this year, because we are committed to making sure that the services we offer are in line with the Australian people's expectations and that we can deliver the welfare system in a timely and efficient manner.