7 November 2023

Shorten looks to boost Services Australia’s Centrelink and Medicare staff numbers

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Centrelink and Medicare shopfronts will soon benefit from an increase in staff. Photo: File.

Centrelink and Medicare shopfronts and call centres will soon receive a boost to their frontline staffing levels.

Minister for the NDIS and Government Services Bill Shorten has announced that 3000 new jobs will be created through an injection of $228 million to improve services in smart centres and regional shopfronts. This is on top of the 850 additional emergency response staff promised in the wake of the May budget and who are currently being recruited.

“I am committed to getting things done and this announcement is an example of what that looks like for all Australians who use government services,” Mr Shorten said in a 6 November release.

“The Liberals wickedly used the illegal Robodebt scheme to decimate contact channels so people could not connect with Services Australia and make complaints. These 3000 new staff are the first step in returning people to frontline Services Australia roles after 10 years of Liberal neglect.”

Mr Shorten said regional cities such as Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour in NSW, Toowoomba and Maryborough in Queensland, and Ballarat and LaTrobe Valley in Victoria would benefit from the new jobs.

“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,” he said. “Services Australia will be bringing on the staff as quickly as possible, with more than 800 Australians already accepting jobs at the agency.

“The Albanese Labor Government will ensure Robodebt never happens again by bringing human oversight back into government services. We are committed to restoring Services Australia’s funding, replenishing its workforce and getting the agency back on track – and we’re going to get it done sooner rather than later.

“These extra resources are on top of the additional 850 emergency response staff provided for in the current budget to complement base staffing levels. The contingency to manage natural disasters has already been called on for the present Queensland bushfires response.”

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Mr Shorten’s announcement appears to contradict a post-budget announcement earlier this year that said more than 1800 staff would be cut from Services Australia in order to return the agency to pre-pandemic average staffing levels.

At that time, Services Australia CEO Rebecca Skinner said the agency would reduce in size from 28,560 to 26,692 as the agency sought to return to “more regular staffing levels now that pandemic-era work, and the temporary increase we were given to deliver crisis support in recent years, has concluded”.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said it was pleased to see the latest staff increase announcement and that Services Australia had “faced an onslaught of attacks and cuts” which had allowed “a toxic workplace culture … to fester”.

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a 6 November statement that the situation at Services Australia had gone “from bad to worse” under both sides of government in the past decade.

“This announcement by the Albanese Labor Government comes after an extensive union-led campaign that uncovered the dire consequences of cutting a crucial agency to the bone,” she said.

“Unacceptable call wait times, delays to claim processing, increases in customer aggression and high staff turnover are all symptoms of an agency in crisis. This staffing boost is good news for Australians who rely on Services Australia and the people who work there.”

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