Charities, welfare groups and unions have pleaded with Treasurer Scott Morrison to release the pressure on the Department of Human Services (DHS) by funding more staff and better IT systems in the federal Budget.
In a joint statement, 14 organisations: Carers Australia, St Vincent de Paul, the Welfare Rights Centre the Community and Public Sector Union, Australian Council of Social Services, Children and Young People with Disability Australia, ACT Council of Social Services, National Union of Students, Fair Go For Pensioners, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, People With Disability, the Consumer Action Law Centre and Financial Counselling Australia demanded the government “properly fund” the DHS to “provide the Australian public with the Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support services they need and deserve.”
DHS has fielded a range of allegations over the past year, including:
- Centrelink bunging Youth Allowance and Austudy payments
- Call waiting times of more than an hour to get through to Centrelink
- One-quarter of all 57 million phone calls to Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support agencies last year going unanswered (Auditor General’s report 2015)Complaints up almost 19 per cent on last year, and customer satisfaction is down by per cent (DHS Annual Report)
- An avalanche of customer complaints about online services, particularly myGov
- A litany of complaints about mobile apps for child support, Medicare and Centrelink
In its statement, the coalition of not-for-profit groups said the federal Budget should:
- Restore adequate funding to DHS
- Invest in high quality, in-house IT systems so clients can access a reliable online service
- Increase DHS permanent staff numbers so that claims and queries are processed quickly and clients who need over-the-phone or in-person services can get them
- Ensure rural and regional Australia has fair access to government services.
The statement said:
“Millions of people in Australia rely on the Department of Human Services every day, for essential services including social security payments, Medicare, child support and aged care.
“Australia needs these essential services to be both accessible and of high quality, and employees of DHS resourced to do the best they can for everyone needing assistance.
“However, after years of budget cuts, DHS systems and staff are under extreme pressure.
“People who rely on Centrelink expect and deserve high quality public services. Employees in DHS must have the resources to deliver high quality public services. People are trying to do the right thing and reports changes as required, but the system is letting them down.
“The upcoming budget provides an opportunity for the Federal Government to address these issues.”
But there are strong indications their demands are likely to fall on deaf ears.
It is widely predicted that Mr Morrison’s budget will include a Commonwealth public service “efficiency dividend”, expected to be around 1.4 per cent.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said public sector cuts – including almost 18,000 job losses since 2013 – had already done enormous damage and any more cuts would further erode the quality of services.
“Making yet another round of irrational and arbitrary cuts to Government services through increased across-the-board cuts with a so-called ‘efficiency dividend’ shows the Turnbull Government has its priorities absolutely wrong,” Ms Flood said. “This is a continuation of a policy that meant one in three phone calls to the Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support agencies went unanswered last financial year, 22 million calls missed in total.”
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