Thu, 13 Jun 2024 - 21:06



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




13 JUNE 2024

CHRIS O'KEEFE: Now have you been put on hold by Centrelink recently? You're not alone on this one. More than $600,000 who tried calling Centrelink between January and May this year were kept on hold. Get this for more than an hour. Now the urban easy government and more importantly, let's just shoot the responsibility at home to the man who promised us that life would be different. Bill Shorten. Because Bill Shorten promised to improve call wait times. Clearly it hasn't happened. So here's some stats for you. The family and parenting line at Centrelink. Average time it took someone to answer in 2021-2022, 24 minutes. So if you pick up the phone to Centrelink to the family and parenting line, you'd get it on to someone in about 24 minutes. In March this year, 52 minutes for the employment services line. In 2021-2022, the average time was 25 minutes. In March this year, 50 minutes. From January to May, more than 1 million aussies hung up with services Australia before they got through to an actual human being. Was this you? One three, one eight seven three. Because we've been sent some audio from a listener. Now this listener's been trying to get through to Centrelink. Desperately trying to get through to Centrelink to talk to someone to try to get some answers for a request they're trying to make. Now do you think that this is acceptable customer service to you? This person, an Australian taxpayer wanting to call Centrelink to see if they can get an answer to a problem and this is how they're treated.


Welcome to the Centrelink families and parents line. Thank you for your call. We know you've been trying to reach us. However, we are experiencing a high number of calls at the moment and are unable to take your call. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for calling. Good bye.


Thank you for calling. Goodbye. Hang up. No, we'll ring you back or you're on a call-back system or expect a call from us in the next 24 hours. No, no, no. Goodbye. Beep, beep, beep, beep. It's terrible, isn't it? One three, one eight seven three. How long have you been on hold with Services Australia? Paul Fletcher, Shadow Minister for Government Services. He's on the line for us. Paul, thanks for your time.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, Chris. 

CHRIS O'KEEFE: Why are people on hold for so long? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, it's an excellent question. As you've rightly pointed out, people are waiting now much longer. Older Australians line, if you call the older Australians line, when we were in government, it was 21 and a half minutes. That's a long wait. I'll certainly concede that. It's now one of the most recent numbers, 47 minutes, 16 seconds. You went through some of the other numbers there. Now, Mr. Shorten made all kinds of promises, as you rightly say. But if you look at what he's actually done, first of all, he got rid of a specialist outsourced call centre provider called SERCO. Now, I've got no particular brief for that company, but it is clearly true that that has led to a reduction in the performance. That's to say people have to wait longer when they are calling up. But what he's also done is he's had a real lack of focus on the digital technology that is needed to support all the hard-working services Australia staff. And, for example, they're really only funding the information technology requirements of services Australia on a care and maintenance basis, the so-called technology and transformation funding. In last year's budget was down by almost 200 million. So, what Australians are experiencing as a result is poor service. Now, Mr. Shorten was on your show on the 6th of November last year. He told you demand is up when you're asking for what's going on.

CHRIS O'KEEFE:  It was outrage that you brought these figures to our attention, Mr Fletcher.

PAUL FLETCHER: He didn't like it. That's true. As we now know, he's got a $620,000 speechwriter. So, perhaps, she's going to help him give some public explanations of it. But what he'd be better placed to focus on is the nuts and bolts work as improving the service level. So, he gave you that explanation. We've just had Senate estimates, which, as you know, is when the coalition gets to grill public officials. And so, we asked, one of my Senate colleagues, asked the Deputy Chief Executive of Services Australia, is it true, demand is up effectively? And the answer was, my gut feeling is that it's down. And the best they would agree was that maybe it was about the same. But there was certainly no support for Mr. Shorten's claim that the demand is up. But one of the things that is certainly happening is that the actual performance when you put in a claim is going down. So, if you make a claim for a disability support pension, when we're in government, it took 46 days. Again, that's a long wait. But now, on the most recent numbers, 107 days. So, if you're waiting longer to get your claim approved, it's quite likely you're going to be calling up every few days to say what's going on. So, these things feed on each other. Poor performance in the basic operations of services Australia leads to more people calling in to find out what's going on. And that, in turn, escalates. So, it's been, I think, a very sorry saga. Now, Mr. Shorten's solution now, he says he's going to employ more staff. So, in the budget, we were told Centrelink, Services Australia will employ another 7,500 people. The only problem with that is, there's staff numbers now already about 2,000 more than when the coalition left government. And as you pointed out, the service service away don't.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: I just find it offensive that an Australian taxpayer trying to get much needed help. And people aren't ringing Centrelink for fun, or Services Australia for fun. And they're ringing because they need an answer to what would be a difficult period in their lives, potentially. They're ringing Centrelink, and they get hung up on. And then you've also got the stats that more than 232,000 Centrelink and Medicare cases are yet to be processed and processed after more than 90 days, Mr. Fletcher. What is going on in there?

PAUL FLETCHER: So, again, there's a big backlog because they're not doing their basic work of processing efficiently. And one of the real reasons for this is that Mr. Shorten has been hostile to the use of technology. Now, there's great people at Service Australia, but they need to be supported with the right technology to do their jobs. And so, one of the first things Mr. Shorten did was he fired about 1,000 people who are specialist, ICT, information and communications technology contractors. In short, the people who help develop and upgrade the IT systems, that in turn support the customer service staff at Service Australia. And we're seeing now the chickens come home to roost because with the best will in the world, all of the staff can't do their best work unless they're supported by the right technology and that is clearly not happening.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: Paul Fletcher, I appreciate you coming on. Please keep the pressure on because Australians deserve far better than this.

PAUL FLETCHER:  They absolutely do. Thanks, Chris.

CHRIS O'KEEFE: That's Paul Fletcher, Shadow Minister for Government Services. You tell me, what's your experience? It's been like with Service Australia or Centrelink or whoever it is, 131873. Because I find this highly offensive. Especially when you call Service Australia to just get someone on the line to explain to you how you apply for something or if you're eligible for something or what the process is, and you're told this.

 We apologise for the inconvenience. Thank you for calling. Good bye