Warrawong Centrelink and Medicare

Well, in a Melbourne Cup field of dumb decisions, this government's decision to close the Warrawong office of Centrelink takes the cake. I'm pleased to be standing here today with the member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, calling on the government to stop this dumb decision going ahead. Why is it a dumb decision? Because Warrawong and the surrounding suburbs have some of the highest rates of unemployment of any area within the Illawarra.

The youth unemployment rate is well above the state average, with the general unemployment rate approaching 10 per cent in most of those suburbs around Warrawong, including Berkeley, Lake Heights and Warilla. That area is also home to a very, very high number of non-English speaking people, many of whom are now ageing. So you've got lots and lots of pensioners, many of whom have English as their second language, and as they are getting older they are struggling with retaining their English language. They require a service in their own suburb which enables them to go in and talk face to face with a human being to have their issues dealt with. The government can reverse this decision, and it should reverse this decision.

We are told that the justification for closing this office is that the foot traffic has decreased over the last 12 months. We know the reason for this. It's not because people don't want to come into a local Centrelink office and have their issues dealt with; it's because, when they go into the local Centrelink office at Warrawong and want to have their issues dealt with, they are told, 'I'm sorry, this is too complex for us to deal with—you'll have to go into Wollongong or you'll have to contact our call centre to have this issue dealt with.' Anybody in this House will be able to tell you that contacting a Centrelink call centre is not as easy as just picking up the phone and getting through. Average wait times have blown out to around half an hour. And, if English isn't your second language, that is a very difficult issue indeed.

The decision to close this office is not the first time that the coalition have attempted to do these sorts of things. They have form. In the 1996 budget, the Howard government closed the Medicare office in Warrawong and moved it to Wollongong. I was very pleased to be in Warrawong with the member for Cunningham when the Labor government reopened the Medicare office there in 2009, only now to see this government attempting to close it again. At the same time, they attempted to close the Centrelink office. We opposed it and the community opposed it, and they won. The decision is a dumb one and it has to be reversed, and we're calling on the minister to intervene.