Proposed Centrelink and Australia Post retail fusion draws fire

By Julian Bajkowski

A proposal to use Australia Post’s retail footprint to deliver shopfront services for welfare agency Centrelink has drawn immediate fire from the union representing federal public servants.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has warned that although a “one-stop shop where you can sort out your mum’s pension entitlements and pick-up your eBay parcels sounds good in theory” such a move could have privacy implications and potentially create “massive queues.”

The union’s concerns follow reports that Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office has confirmed it will look at the idea under its forthcoming National Commission of Audit.

If adopted, the proposal to merge frontline operations would effectively end the prospect of privatising Australia Post’s retail and mail businesses in favour of pressganging its massive network of shopfronts into greater government use.

It could also translate to Australia’s highest paid public servants, Australia Post boss Ahmed Fahour, potentially turning a buck by helping to run the nation’s dole queue.

Efforts to create so-called ‘one-stop shops’ or ‘multi-function service centres’ are a well-established mechanism in pushing more efficient and convenient government services, with the Post Office already accepting passport applications.

The previous Labor government moved to substantially create combined Centrelink and Medicare offices that allowed customers to deal with a range of their social security needs in the one spot.

However the proposal to combine the retail footprint of Post and Centrelink would potentially marry the public sector’s two most mammoth organisations in what could equate to the biggest consolidation of frontline government services yet attempted in Australia.

It is understood that the sheer scale of both organisations in terms of property and staff is a key driver in the push to find new efficiencies.

The total number of DHS staff is listed at 35,800, a figure that the CPSU is clearly concerned may be reduced if retail services are merged.

According to the DHS’ latest annual report, “at 30 June 2013 the department maintained a leased portfolio of 708 commercial properties around Australia occupying 814 631 square metres.”

It is believed that just under 600 of those premises are frontline government service centres, most of which offer Centrelink services.

For its part, Australia Post says it has “Australia's largest retail network with 4,428 retail outlets (including 2,560 in rural and remote areas)” – as well as having more than 33,000 employees.

In its latest annual report, Australia Post listed the net book value of its total land and buildings at $796 million as at 30th June 2013. In a footnote to that figure, Australia Post said that “Were the entity to apply the fair value methodology, the net book value of land and buildings would be $1,408.3 million.

Extracting maximum value from such a vast pool of human resources and physical assets is now clearly attracting significant interest at the top levels of the Abbott government, not least because of previous commitment to reduce public service numbers by 12,000 full time positions.

However a key issue that any consolidation would have to deal with is the differing needs of postal and welfare clients, with Centrelink customers often presenting with necessarily more complex needs than bill payments or the lodgement of forms given that much correspondence can already be done online or through mobile apps.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said that that many Human Services customers required “specialised and sensitive support and assistance which would be hard to deliver in an Australia Post environment.”

Labor Senator Doug Cameron has also questioned whether Australia Post’s franchisees will be thrown into the social service delivery mix.

Ms Flood said that Centrelink’s work included “dealing with the implications of family breakdown, unemployment and health issues.”

Some of those implications and issues are likely to involve physical safety and security for staff.

In August a senior Centrelink officer told a government security conference in Canberra that most security incidents involving clients happened in a “face-to-face environment.”

The Centrelink officer said sometimes clients were asked to come into the office because they had not done what was needed to get an entitlement and therefore a break in payments had occurred.

This meant that when people came in they could be in a “a conflicted and difficult scenario.”

He said that in terms of a risk environment, Centrelink’s staff dealt with verbal abuse as well as property damage. People carrying “weapons of some description” was also increasing as a trend, the Centrelink official said at the conference in August.

Ms Flood said that “if Mr Hockey wants to improve service delivery he could start by reconsidering plan[s] to slash 12,000 [public service] staff.”

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

8 thoughts on “Proposed Centrelink and Australia Post retail fusion draws fire

  1. The Centrelink staff I’ve dealt with have always been courteous, helpful and well trained. Transferring this responsibility to post office staff is fraught with problems. Apart from long queues I think the main issue is privacy. There are times that one just has to visit a Centrelink office to present sensitive information about personal finances, assets and income. How the post office will handle this is beyond me. Hopefully one will not have to do this in the presence of a neighbour or friend in the post office purchasing stamps or post parcels! (at Centrelink you are always taken to a staff desk to discuss these matters).

    There is also the issue of Post Office staff safety as every Centrelink I’ve been in has had a panic button to deal with difficult and angry clients who can get argumentative and violent over their personal finances.

    Centrelink deals with the welfare needs of millions of Australians from those out of work to aged pensioners and those on family benefits. Let’s not make it tougher on them by going down this track.

  2. Not sure if it well known but 80% of Australia Post shop fronts are privately owned. We do all the work for Australia Post but do not get paid for it. They can think again if they think we are going to take on that roll for .98cents a transaction.

  3. worth a trail after al the Centrelink know alls think they are it it might cure the beurocrcy with a good statagy and plan that works why not!

  4. Australia post will need to move all their ‘help you self’ display stock to behind the counter as theft will be high. This stock would also offer plenty of options for missiles to be thrown at staff and other members of the public who will very quickly learn to line up at officeworks/news agency for their stationary.
    The security contract will be a lucrative but dangerous one. PM Abbot needs to go and sit in a Centerlink waiting area on a good day. The business model that Australia Post has built up over the years is a success story but to move centrelink clientele into the Australia Post will quickly destroy that success. Dumb Idea!!!

  5. Wouldn’t this end up costing the government more money. Post offices are smaller than Centrelink offices. Expanding post offices to turn them into Centrelink offices would cost a fortune! I pity the post office staff, having to deal with angry Centrelink customers!

  6. What a joke is what comes to mind! Private matters does not mix well with busy post offices. A private company merging with government agency – what could the real reason be? Could it be that Abbott wants to privatise welfare some time down the track? Wouldn’t surprise me! Responsibility is something our Government struggles with. Could it be one of the ways he plans on slashing 12,000 gov jobs? That wouldn’t surprise me either! Could it be that he wants to reduce our welfare system to non existent? That wouldn’t be a surprising scenario either! All I can see is major privacy issues – who wants to stand about 30cms away from someone to talk about private issues? There’s a reason why Centrelink desks aren’t close together! Sime valid points made by other people here too. If this goes through, then our Govern is a bigger joke than Labour and all their stumbles in recent years!

  7. Privatising Centrelink would be relatively preferable to salvaging Aus Post as a business. At least there may be a hope of qualified and experienced staff as opposed to poor AP customer service staff who are suddenly are required to take on the complexities of the welfare system.

    Mr Hockey, please spend a fortnight, nay, a month shadowing a jobseeker, after you have stood in queues, or spent hours on the phone to Centrelink, only to be cut off…add three children to the mix, try and sort out childcare for them if you get a low
    paying job and need JET help…need I go on? You will see the need for specialised and experienced staff to help you.
    Mr Hockey, experience the reality of what you are trying to do, lift your head from blinkered the bottom line. Do some real good for the people who elected your government, show some true compassion. Or we may start calling you Margaret (Thatcher)…or Gina Hard Faced B*tch.

  8. Hi all,
    Don’t worry to much about privacy with combing post and centrelink why?

    A postie with at least 10 years of employment knows all there is about most people in the area he or she works in. For example I know a postie who has over 20 years experience and his knowledge of customers is incredible , so much so it goes from the wealthiest to the poorest from the full paying tax payer to the drug dealer residing in government housing. … Trust me because his intimate knowledge is astounding.

    The real issue is when these particular public servants turn bad in the event of declining salaries is when we all will suffer the perils of corruption as seen in third world countries.
    But for now we have fantastic postal staff who refrain from illegal traits and deliver public services with the upmost respect to fellow citizens.

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required