Fri, 27 Oct 2023 - 16:11



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House



Drive with Chris O’Keefe

27 OCTOBER 2023

CHRIS O'KEEFE: If you rely on Centrelink payments, you've been waiting longer for those payments than you used to because there's new data out from Services Australia today will data that had to be pried out of Services Australia today. It wasn't forthcoming or volunteered all that easily. Now it's not a good look for the Albanese Government. That's why it wasn't forthcoming. Have a listen to how long it is now taking the Government to process Centrelink payments and claims. So for the additional child care subsidy and transition to work in the financial year 2022, 2023, it took 39 days on average. So last year, 39 days this year 98 days on average. So 39 under the previous government, 98 under Albanese and his Minister Bill Shorten, 100 days to get a payment. Seriously, it's a similar story for the disability support pension last year that took 46 days to process. This year it's 80 days aged pension, 33 days last year, this year 61 days and for dad and partner pay last year, 20 days this year, 56 days now. And for people on the low income card, that payment took 16 days that was pretty good. So a little over two weeks it took last year on the people on the low income card. Now it's taking 48 days. This is pretty disappointing isn't it, because every single claim time has practically doubled under Anthony Albanese and his minister, Bill Shorten. Now this is a cost of living crisis. It's not of anyone's making, but we're in one and you know, Centrelink is there and social welfare is there for people who need it a desperate times in their lives to help them be able to sustain themselves. And we've got what you're talking about three months in some cases to get your hands on payments that you're entitled to via Centrelink. 131873 if this is impacting you. Paul Fletcher He's the Shadow minister for Government Services and he's on the line now. Paul, thanks for your time. These stats, any reason why they've effectively doubled across all categories?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, good to be with you, Chris And as you said in your intro, this is pretty serious stuff. So, for example, age pension, you know, you have to apply for it. So you might be coming to the end of your working time. You breached the age eligibility, but you're now 61 day wait between you lodging the application and being processed. So why is it happening? Well, look, there is some increase in the number of cases that are coming in to Services Australia. This was confirmed during estimates this week. As you said, we had to prise this data out of the government. This is what some of the officials said.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: You say an increase. How many more?

PAUL FLETCHER: Oh, look, they didn't give the precise figures, but as you rightly said, we're in a cost of living crisis. So that is generating some additional eligibility on the part of Australians. But the real point is Australians I think, should expect that Bill Shorten is the Minister and Services Australia as the agency would be able to respond to these circumcise agencies and find ways to keep those service levels up. But at the moment it's Australians and as you say, in many cases vulnerable Australians who are really suffering.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: But it is important to be fair to the Government if you're looking at massive, spikes in aged pension applications, disability support, pension applications, additional childcare subsidy, transition to work applications, that would then make sense as to why the wait times have doubled.

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah, but if you look at the pattern under Bill Shorten as Minister, we've also seen the wait times for when you call up. How long are you waiting before Services Australia answers your call Those times have been going up steadily as well since Mr. Shorten became minister. And so I think there's just a culture there which does not have a focus on serving customers. You know, when we were in government we did a lot of work to use technology to improve the way Australians were served. For example, there's now a thing called the voiceprint, so you can voluntarily choose to have your voice effectively recorded by Services Australia, which means next time you call you're immediately sort of authenticated as being the person you say you are and you can then get on and do what you want to do much more quickly. Now that's one good example of using technology be to serve Australians better and more quickly. Another example is the pre-populating of forms. So for something like the jobseeker allowance, you need to say how much you might have earned from a part time job. Well, we changed the system. So when you went to fill out the form electronically, you put your name in and then it would give you automatically from the tax office records the amount that you had earned, all making it easier for the Australians who are being served by Services Australia. Now Mr. Shorten, on the other hand, fired a thousand specialist IT workers, so there's not much innovation in the technology that services Australia is using to help give Australians a better customer service experience when they call Services Australia.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: Yeah, look, technology and Centrelink, we shouldn't talk about that though, Paul?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the key point is that if you look at what the banks have done, what phone companies have done in business, technology is being used to give customers a better experience, not perfect. I'm certainly not claiming that, but Services Australia needs to match that and I've given you a couple of examples of how we manage to do it when we were in government. But Mr. Shorten doesn't seem -

CHRIS O'KEEFE: How would you propose that we speed these claims up? Because I think this stuff's above politics. There's lots of people like, here's Michelle on the text line. Chris, my daughter applied June this year for the carer's payment. She had to sell a house, quit her job. Now she's renting to look after her son. She was finally approved yesterday for the carer's payment, although her monetary details haven't changed since June, they won't pay her back pay since June. She's been waiting all this time. It's terrible. This has got to be above politics. So what can happen to speed this process up for people?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well I think the first thing we need to see is from Mr. Shorten as the minister a priority on delivering a better customer service experience. So he needs to be saying to Services Australia, to the people who work in that agency and they do very important work. This is what is happening now. Let's knuckle down and fix it. What do we have to do? You know, we saw a strike at Services Australia, a nationwide strike for a full day a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Shorten had nothing to say publicly. This agency, unfortunately under him, is in disarray, so we need a bit more focus from him on the day to day management challenges of serving Australians better and a bit less time playing politics.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: Paul Fletcher, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good on you. Thanks, Chris