Extra staff needed to meet surge in Centrelink demand
The Federal Government must re-assign more public servants to Centrelink to ease the pressure on Australians struggling to access services during COVID-19 restrictions, Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said today.
The Centre Alliance MP told Question Time that constituents were being forced to queue outside a local Services Australia in the rain and cold because they were not allowed in the building due to social distancing guidelines.
“My constituents are spending hours on the phone calling Services Australia for support at present, only for their calls to go unanswered. Some are hung up on,” Rebekha said.
“When Australia was first hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, APS (Australian Public Service) staff were deployed to Services Australia to ensure support was delivered to impacted Australians.
“The Pandemic isn’t over. Will the Government please reinstate the APS deployment?”
Responding on behalf of Government Services Minister Senator Linda Reynolds, Employment Minister Stuart Robert told the Parliament that all 327 Services Australia offices were open but they had to adhere to State and territory public health laws regarding the opening of offices and the number of persons allowed in a building.
Mr Roberts said the Government had redeployed more staff to meet the “surge” in demand and Australians could make claims online using MyGov.
“It is a difficult time, all our service centres are open, all our call lines are being managed with people answering it, all payments are online, there is a degree of patience that all Australians need to understand. It is difficult for so many Australians but let me thank Services Australia staff for what they are doing as everyone puts their shoulder to a very difficult wheel,” Mr Roberts said.
However, Rebekha said Services Australia clearly didn’t have sufficient staff to manage a surge in demand, not every matter could be handled online, and not every Australia had access to the internet.
“Complaints about Centrelink and My Aged Care make up a significant bulk of the inquiries made to my office but in recent weeks those complaints have increased markedly,” Rebekha said.
“One constituent was hung up on five times after waiting patiently to get through and another woman called to report the death of a loved one – something you cannot do online- and she was hung up on, Rebekha said.
“We also had an older gentleman who had to wait outside the Mount Barker Services Australia office for 40 minutes in the rain and wind, with a dozen other people, because they only had four staff on hand so they were only allowing four people in at a time, despite the space available.
“In addition to raising this matter in Question Time, I have also raised it with the offices of the Minister for Government Services and the Minister for Families and Social Services. I have been assured that the issue is being escalated which is appreciated.
“Yes, there is a degree of patience that is needed, and staff are working under difficult conditions but if there aren’t enough personnel to do the job effectively, then more people need to be brought in.”