"In Tuggeranong and Woden I have two great Services Australia centres. The staff are professionals with decades of experience. They are passionate Commonwealth employees. They've dedicated their careers to serving Australians most in need."
Address to the Federation Chamber, Private Members' Business - Services Australia
Monday 27 November 2023
Listening to this debate, you might want to know what happened to the last decade. The 2022-23 Services Australia report revealed an agency left crippled by a decade of coalition cuts and neglect.
I want to begin my response to this motion by recognising the 30,000 or so staff that work at Services Australia. Near my electorate office in Greenway are the headquarters of Services Australia and the Department of Social Services, and many of those staff are my constituents. In Tuggeranong and Woden I have two great Services Australia centres. The staff are professionals with decades of experience. They are passionate Commonwealth employees. They've dedicated their careers to serving Australians most in need.
Ten years ago these workers were sidelined and silenced when those opposite came to power. They were forced to watch as sensitive and vital face-to-face work was contracted to outside organisations and valuable skill sets and knowledge were ripped from their agency. Those workers continue to live with the consequences of those cuts. The legacy in those agencies is the continued loss of talent and brain drain and the overworked, underpaid and underappreciated frontline staff with growing caseloads.
Over the past decade, the former government decimated Services Australia's front line to make way for malicious, profit-making programs like robodebt. People were an afterthought at both ends of that program. This Labor government says 'no more and never again'. The Albanese government has agreed, in full or in principle, to all 56 recommendations of the royal commission into the coalition robodebt scandal.
One of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme outlined that the government should facilitate 'easy and efficient engagement, with options of online, in-person and telephone communication which is sensitive to the particular circumstances of the customer cohort'. This is why the government is making an immediate $228 million funding injection to frontline and service delivery staffing at the agency this financial year. It's only by funding the return of people to government services, to have a people centred approach and get away from the robosystems beloved by the last government, that we can ensure robodebt never happens again. The new staff will be critical to reducing call wait times, speeding up claim payments and giving Australians back some time in their busy lives. Services Australia will be bringing on the staff as quickly as possible, with more than 800 Australians already accepting jobs at the agency. This announcement comes at a time when Services Australia has fewer public servants per capita than at any other time, as a result of the former government gutting staff at the agency.
The previous government didn't keep up to pace in supporting Australians who rely on critical government services. They defunded Services Australia, they reduced its staffing numbers and they negotiated underwhelming industrial agreements. They created the very conditions which they are now criticising. We know that when people are waiting a long time for their claims to be processed they turn to the phones to seek answers. This is unfortunately adding to call centre traffic, meaning more people aren't getting through.
As I discussed earlier, we must facilitate easy and efficient engagement options of all types. That's why we're also strengthening and enhancing online access via myGov. In the 2023 budget, the government committed to investing a total of $134 million to sustain improvements in this area as well. This government understands that Australians in need of support from their government should be able to seek assistance in an easy, timely and human manner.