Mr Wilson (10:11am) — I’m sorry to be here again speaking about the week-in, week-out frustrations and despair that people in my electorate of Fremantle experience when dealing with the mess that is Centrelink. Sadly, that’s a by-product of a government that doesn’t value our social safety net and doesn’t value the people who work to ensure that the safety net supports those in trouble, those who need assistance and people who face disadvantage.
It’s a by-product of a government that doesn’t believe in the intrinsic and necessary value of a properly resourced Public Service but instead wants to outsource anything that moves and privatise essential services, even when it’s clear the inevitable result of doing so will be worse conditions for workers and worse outcomes for Australians in need. These issues are not new. The horror stories are well documented, and the causes have been identified. So why exactly does the coalition continue to throw more pressure and hardship and constraint into a system that is already at the limit?
Last month my office assisted an 18-year-old university student who’d been waiting six months for a decision in relation to her youth allowance application. During that time, she’d visited Centrelink twice in person and attempted to call the student hotline more times than she can remember. On one occasion a Centrelink staff member, who was understandably close to the end of their tether, conceded that staff were pulling overtime to try to get through the unprecedented backlog of claims. What makes all this more absurd is that the young woman’s twin sister—needless to say, in identical circumstances—had received her youth allowance within a couple of months. You really couldn’t write some of this stuff. Most 18-year-olds won’t think to seek the assistance of their local member in getting this kind of garden-variety issue resolved, and they shouldn’t have to, but that’s the world as we know it under this government.
Let us be completely clear: staff in Centrelink around Australia work very hard, but they have been treated badly. They have been let down and undermined. They are part of a system that has been run down by this government, a system whose poor management means it is set up for failure. Centrelink staff and members of the mighty Community and Public Sector Union have been put in a position where they must make the best of a very bad lot. They do their critical work using faulty systems, putting up with cuts to resources and facing the significant personal pressure that comes with going more than four years without a pay rise. To make it worse, in just the last 12 months, two separate ministers have moved to outsource thousands of Centrelink jobs, further undercutting working conditions and eroding service quality for people who need help. The people in my community and, I think, people around this country who are supported through Centrelink have been worn thin by the neglect of this government, which has gone out of its way to damage our social safety net.