Government to boost security at Services Australia offices

The federal government says it will introduce stronger measures to address violence and aggression against public sector workers at Services Australia offices.

Bill Shorten: ‘deeply unsettling’

Government services minister Bill Shorten announced a risk management review in May following a serious assault on a Centrelink team leader in Melbourne, saying the attack was ‘deeply unsettling’ for every frontline public servant in Australia.

The review, led by former Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and released last week, found the agency has a strong service culture, but this isn’t always matched by safety practices.

It makes 44 recommendations, including appointing specialist Security Officers and boosting Security Branch capabilities, developing ‘advanced customer aggression training’ and introducing workplace protection orders in Commonwealth workplaces, which will remove the need for staff to apply for protection orders individually.

The report also wants to see upgraded security systems at all Services Australia offices, with two guards stationed at high-risk locations.

It notes concerns that the current design of services centres which are being rolled out nationally are very customer-focused but present safety risks for staff, and calls for a rethink and modification of existing design principles.

The government says it will act on all of the report’s 44 recommendations and pledged to put on 278 additional security guards, bringing the total to 513.

“Public servants do an important and difficult job for their community, and they should feel confident that they can turn up to work and not face abhorrent violence,” Mr Shorten said.

“Mr Ashton’s review will be an important step in ensuring that staff are protected and adequately safeguarded from anti-social behaviour and aggression from customers.”

Boost staff to address customer frustration, union says

The public sector union, which participated in the review, has welcomed the recommendations, but says staff levels at Services Australia need to be increased to reduce backlogs, cut waiting times and address customer frustration.

Services Australia lost 3,000 staff under the previous government with further cuts of 1,800 contained in this year’s budget, the CPSU says.

“CPSU members welcome the release of the review into security at their workplaces and the commitment of additional funding to implement the review’s 44 recommendations,” National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said.

“We now want to work with the Government to address the crisis in understaffing in Services Australia.

“Staffing levels in Services Australia have been going backwards for years and are well below where they need to be to deliver the services the community relies on.”

Services Australia has around 6,500 staff in its face-to-face division, most of whom work at the agency’s 318 service centres.

More than 10 million contacts occurred through service centres during 2022–23 and there were almost 9,000 customer aggression incidents in the face-to-face category.

Of Australia’s more than 170,000 Commonwealth public servants, 100,000 are operational staff who work in places like Services Australia, the ATO, passport offices, airports and the Australian Electoral Commission.

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