Mon, 30 Oct 2023 - 15:09
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Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House



6PR Perth Live with Oliver Peterson

30 OCTOBER 2023


OLIVER PETERSON: If you've been waiting for a welfare payment to be processed and you think you're waiting a bit longer, well, you would be right. Now, here's some examples. The childcare subsidy and the transition last financial year took 39 days to process. This year on average, it is 98 days. So it's gone from 39 days to 98 days just to process it. The disability support pension, 46 days last financial year, this financial year, 80 days. So a lot of these wait times have almost or more than doubled. Why is this the case? Has there been a bigger increase in applications than previous years? Have they cut down the workforce? Because these are some very important payments for people who need them, particularly at the moment, we're in a cost of living crisis, but if you're applying for welfare payments, you need to be processed timely because you've got to make sure you can feed yourself, you can clothe yourself and keep a roof over your head. This has to be paid as a priority. Now, I also say that the call performance is worse, despite not as many people actually ringing Services Australia this financial year versus last financial year Now last week Services Australia was grilled in Senate estimates and these shocking wait times have been revealed. The Shadow Minister for Government Services is Paul Fletcher. Good afternoon.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, Ollie.

OLIVER PETERSON: Now, a lot of these wait times that you've uncovered, they've almost doubled. Why do you think that's the case?

PAUL FLETCHER:  Well, you're right. We've seen a really troubling increase in wait times. So, for example, if you're applying for the aged pension, it used to be you waited 33 days for that to be processed and you now wait 61 days. And it's hard to know exactly why that is. There's been some increase in the total volume of work that services Australia has to deal with the cost of living crisis but not too much. I think a lot of it stands at the feet of Bill Shorten as the Minister for Government Services. He's just not showing much interest in the day to day work of delivering good customer service to citizens. We've seen things like he's fired about 1000 specialist IT staff, which means that you know the good innovation in better ways to serve citizens digitally. None of that's happening because none of the specialist staff are there anymore. He fired a Serco, a company that's doing specialist call centre services. About 600 people were doing call centre work there and all of this is inevitably having a big impact on the experience that Australians are having when they call Centrelink.

OLIVER PETERSON:  And we'll go to the calls in a moment, but those wait times as well. On the applications you mentioned there, the aged pension 33 days to 61, low income card was six days, now 48 days. Paul These, as you know, are some very, very important payments for people who need them. We're all in a cost of living crisis. But I mean, if you're dependent on being able to feed, clothe and house yourself with welfare, it's got to be paid as a priority.

PAUL FLETCHER: This is pretty serious stuff. So, for example, dad and partner pay, you know, if you've had a new baby come along and you want to take advantage of the chance to be off work for a little while. Used to be it took 20 days for you to apply and for the processing to be complete before you could get your payment. Now it takes 56 days. And as you say, there are people who absolutely will be relying on getting their payment through Services Australia. But first you've got to put in the application and it's now taking a lot longer. So you know, dad and partner pay that 56 days. That's now what it's taken on average since 1st July this year. The previous year it was 20 days so it's really got a lot worse.

OLIVER PETERSON:  And you talk about calls so a 55 million calls last financial year, down from 73 million calls, but only 60% of those are answered within 15 minutes. So the performance is worse.

PAUL FLETCHER: Definitely the performance in how long you have to wait. When you call up Services Australia, on average, you're waiting a lot longer than you used to. And again there's a lack of focus from the Minister, Bill Shorten, Minister for Government Services on how do we serve citizens better. Australians rightly expect that if they need to engage with Services Australia, that there'll be a focus on how are they served efficiently and quickly. But unfortunately things are going in the wrong direction and since Mr. Shorten has had responsibility, the time it takes before a call is answered has got a lot worse and as we now know, the time it takes before your application is processed is really blown out as well.

OLIVER PETERSON:  Now when you're in government, obviously through the Covid years, there was an increase in the amount of funding to Services Australia to deal with these calls, to deal with these applications. Is that some sort of lag as to why these statistics are a little higher than they should be? Or do you think it's just not a priority of the Albanese Government and Minister Shorten?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think it is a really a lack of priority for Minister Shorten. He's been very occupied in playing politics on a whole range of issues. It doesn't seem so interested in the day to day work and it's hard work of serving customers. How you manage these processes When we're in government we had a big focus on how can you continue to use new technology to serve citizens better. So now, for example, you can have a voiceprint and if you agree to that being used by Services Australia, it means the next time you call your voice is used to identify you. That means you can then get on to somebody more quickly. And there are some things you can do entirely through a menu system. Now that kind of technology is one way. It's not the only way, but it's one way of helping to serve citizens better. And we all know we're seeing a lot of innovation when you're dealing with your bank or your insurance company or your airline, whoever it might be, we need to see the same kind of focus on innovation and customer service from Services Australia. That's what citizens have a right to expect. But sadly, we're just not seeing that under Bill Shorten.

OLIVER PETERSON: Paul Fletcher, thanks for your time.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to chat, Ollie.