SUBJECTS: Centrelink, Aged Pension

ELIDA FAITH: Good morning, thank you for being here today. My name is Elida Faith, I’m the Labor Candidate for Leichhardt. Today, I have with me Stephen Jones, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government.
Today I want to talk to you about the thousands of Australians that are forced to wait months for their pension plan to be processed, because the Morrison Government has not ensured that there is adequate staffing levels in Centrelink.
This Morrison Government has been focusing on outsourcing and privatising Centrelink by outsourcing nearly 3000 call centre jobs to private organisations. Now I know first-hand, I have actually worked for the Department of Human Services for the last 12 years, so I know first-hand what it is like to genuinely care for our Australians that use the service. And I know how frustrating it can be because we cannot provide a service that we want to be providing and we should be providing to Australians.
Now the Department of Human Services Secretary has admitted that the model that they’re using to plan and staff workloads isn’t working and it is to blame for up to six month delays in age pension claims alone at the moment.
I have asked Stephen here today because the Labor Government has committed 1200 jobs to the Department of Human Services. And there is something that I here all the time when I am out in the community, is that we feel left out in Far North Queensland. And I’ve invited Stephen here today because I want to ensure that our community and our electorate receives a chunk of those 1200 jobs.
STEPHEN JONES: Great to be here with Elida Faith, Labor’s Candidate for Leichhardt and great to be here in Cairns. The Morrison Government has promised us decentralisation, but what they’ve delivered is the opposite. Instead of providing additional jobs for regions like Cairns, for regional Australia, they’re actually cutting over 1200 jobs. The distinction couldn’t be greater.
Under Scott Morrison’s Government you are going to get 12 job cuts in the Department of Human Services. If Bill Shorten is the next Prime Minister of Australia, 1200 additional jobs including throughout regional Australia.
I’m keen to see the situation here on the ground in Cairns, I know that in regional Australia circumstances are different. Elida has been talking to me this morning sharing her experiences as a former Centrelink worker: Delays in excess of six months, carers pensioners actually dying before they get access to a pension because of the delays in pension processing times.
This is not good enough, these are people who have worked their entire life, the best we can do for them is to look after them in their retirement when they stick up their hand and say ‘I need some help, I need some support, can you process my in time?’ - Not too much to ask.

A Shorten-Labor Government will deliver 12000 additional permanent jobs for the Department of Human Services, so that we can take some pressure off Centrelink to ensure that those processing times come down and people aren’t waiting for months and months and months to have their applications processed.
It is not an exaggeration: People are dying before they receive their pension payments, and that is not good enough.
JOURNALIST: You were saying that the outsourcing program doesn’t work, but that was actually introduced by Labor in ’08, what’s your response?

JONES: There has always been a program which had temps or casuals on the job to deal with spikes in workload, this is not spikes in workload, this is the base workload that is not being dealt with. So again, we’re calling on the Morrison Government: instead of talking about decentralisation, instead of talking about delivering permanent jobs that deal with of Centrelink and people in Far North Queensland, reverse your job cuts and ensure that there are permanent workers looking after ongoing needs here in Centrelink.
JOURNALIST: With the additional 1200 jobs that will come from Labor, what proportion of those will be out to the regions?
JONES: Look it is a good question, Elida knows that I have a keen interest in services in regional Australia and was keen for me to come and hear first-hand what the circumstances are in Cairns and Far North Queensland so I’ll be out on the ground with her over the course of the day talking to people and seeing what we can do for the Cairns region.
JOURNALIST: Introducing those 1200 jobs does that mean you’re going to be scrapping those contracted jobs?

JONES: There has always been a need for contracted workforce, but if you’ve got a permanent need that should be dealt with by permanent workers and that is the problem with what the Morrison Government is doing. They are using short-term casuals, who might be there for a few months who don’t get proper training and can’t deal with the continuity of work so if you’ve got a permanent need, you need permanent staff. That’s why pensioners are so frustrated and that’s why people applying to get a pension are so frustrated. They expect better from the Government, after having worked all their life, or providing a much need care service for one of their loved ones, that the least they can do is to have the Government process their application in a reasonable time.
JOURNALIST: But if you do scrap those contracted jobs, that means around 1500 I guess, students and mums that are doing part time work, they’ll lose their positions.
JONES: Absolutely not the case, 1200 additional jobs, if we’ve got existing casual workers in Centrelink who have been trained up but haven’t been able to get permanent work, well obviously they’re going to have an advantage if they stick their hand up for one of those permanent jobs. The point here is if you’ve got an ongoing need, a permanent need, then that should be filled by permanent staff, not short term casuals. And this is not about the individuals doing the job, they’re victims of this themselves. Brought in on short term contracts, don’t have security of employment, they’ve got bills to pay as well so everyone will win out of this proposal. 1200 permanent jobs, everyone wins out of it, especially the people who are crying out to have their applications dealt with on time.