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TRANSCRIPT - DOORSTOP, IPSWICH CENTRELINK
PAUL FLETCHER MP
Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts
Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy
Manager of Opposition Business in the House
SENATOR PAUL SCARR
Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate
9 OCTOBER 2023
PAUL FLETCHER: As the second biggest Jewish community in New South Wales, the attacks carried out by Hamas on innocent Israeli men, women and children are absolutely appalling and should be unreservedly condemned. The opposition welcomes the position that Prime Minister Albanese has expressed on behalf of the Australian government. The democratically elected government of Israel should be supported to do what it needs to defend its citizens and to restore order and the appalling aspects of what has happened, including innocent civilians being killed and injured, including on latest reports over 100 Israeli civilians being held hostage by Hamas, credible reports of sexual violence against Israeli women. All of these should attract and are rightly attracting condemnation from around the world. The government of Israel must be supported to do what it needs to do to restore order and to deter further attacks and the Coalition strongly supports the people of Israel at this very difficult time.
I'd now like to make some comments about the situation which is facing the millions of Australians who depend upon the services that are provided every day by Services Australia and by Centrelink. There's a strike underway at the moment and it's expected that some 30 per cent of the 34,000 people who work for Services Australia will not be working today. Bill Shorten, as Minister for Government Services, needs to come clean with the Australian people. He needs to explain what is being done to manage the impact of this strike and reduce the adverse impact on vulnerable Australians. Services Australia has put out a social media post saying to Australians, please don't call us today.
We know that Monday is the busiest day for people to be calling Services Australia and unfortunately this is yet another in a long list of instances of poor management and lack of attention to his job by the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten. We know that if you call the employment services line at Services Australia, it'll now take you almost 30 minutes before your call gets answered. That's according to evidence provided to a Senate committee based on questions asked by the Opposition. It now takes almost 30 minutes to get an answer when you call Services Australia. That's nearly 50 per cent longer than it took when the Coalition was in power and there have been similar increases in call hold times for other kinds of calls. Mr Shorten has got rid of a specialist call centre company, SERCO, which was providing these call centre services. Mr Shorten has fired around a thousand specialist IT employees, specialist IT providers. We know that Services Australia needs to continue improving its digital offerings. Australians are overwhelmingly showing that their preferred way to engage with Services Australia is digitally, it's online. But Mr Shorten has fired the specialist staff who can help maintain and continue the transition that Services Australia needs to go through to serve Australians better. An audit that reported in January this year said that with the loss of those staff, it effectively removes Services Australia's capacity to continue to improve its digital services.
Mr Shorten is trying to avoid scrutiny. When asked lots of questions through the Questions on Notice process about what's happening at Centrelink in Services Australia, he's routinely given answers which are late or inadequate. He's refused legitimate freedom of information questions, refused to answer legitimate freedom of information questions. And today, vulnerable Australians are facing the effect of Mr Shorten's mismanagement with employees at Services Australia on strike, with Services Australia saying to Australians, please don't call us today.People might have an urgent need to contact Services Australia, but they've been told, please don't call us today. Mr Shorten needs to stop playing politics and get on with his day job. He needs to improve services at Services Australia in the interest of the millions of Australians who depend upon this vital government service.
I conclude my comments there and Paul and I are very happy to answer any questions.
REPORTER: What do you believe is the impact that's going to be on Australians who need these services because of the strike today?
PAUL FLETCHER: I think the impact on Australians today who need services from Services Australia will be very significant. Services Australia itself has put out a social media post saying, please do not call us today.
We know that Monday is the busiest day of the week for calls into Services Australia, but it's not just today. It's what happens over coming days and weeks and months because Mr Shorten has taken a completely hands-off approach to solving this problem. He needs to have a focus on the interests of the millions of Australians who are served by Services Australia. Unfortunately he's a former union boss and it seems like he's more interested in responding to the agenda of the union than meeting the needs of the millions of Australians who rely upon the services that Services Australia provides.
I might ask Paul to talk about the impact this will have on people in Ipswich.
PAUL SCARR: Thank you Paul and this is ground zero. This is ground zero Ipswich in terms of the provision of these services. The unemployment rate in this region is 6.7 per cent compared to a national unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent. So there are people in this region as we're standing here today doing this video, doing this conference, doing this media conference, there will be people in Ipswich here today trying to access the services they need who are unable to do so because of the mismanagement of this department by Bill Shorten. And that's the reality on the ground here in Ipswich. And that's the devastating impact that mismanagement of these services causes people who are living in places like Ipswich in a cost of living crisis.
So it is just not good enough. It is not good enough for Social Services Services Australia to say please do not call us on Monday, when Monday is the busiest day and there will be hundreds of people in regions like this all across Australia seeking access services who are unable to do so.
REPORTER: What would the LNP do differently in terms of dealing with Services Australia?
PAUL FLETCHER: Well of course as we come up to the next election we'll be announcing our policies across a whole range of areas including in relation to Services Australia. But the point I make is that it is the Labor Party who are in government today, it is Bill Shorten who is the responsible Minister and the loss of service that Australians are experiencing today is a consequence of the choices that Bill Shorten has made as Minister for Government Services. So Bill, stop playing politics. You should get on with the important and demanding task of managing Services Australia, to deliver and improve services to Australians.