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Services Australia – addressing wait times and poor service

Services Australia – addressing wait times and poor service

Ms SPENDER (Wentworth) (14:12):

My question is to the Minister for Government Services.

Constituents from Wentworth and across the country are becoming increasingly frustrated at the wait times, calls not being answered, hang-ups and inaccessibility of Services Australia. In some cases, the agency's failure to provide support, promised by law, has pushed people into extreme financial hardship. Will you make a commitment to the House to urgently improve the agency's performance before the end of the year with a published plan and clear goals on reporting metrics? 

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services) (14:13): I thank the member for Wentworth for raising an important issue. I'd just like to acknowledge the inconvenience and the frustration caused to Australians, not only in your electorate but across Australia, by delays in telephony in Services Australia. In answering your question fully, I'd like to explain why I think some of this is happening and I'd like to talk to you a little bit about what Services Australia are doing and some of the improvements that we've made.

First of all, demand is up. There's no question about that. Between last financial year and the year before, the number of people seeking a childcare subsidy increased by 36 per cent; the number of Commonwealth seniors seeking a health card increased by 85 per cent; indeed, after the COVID debts, which were paused, they were then un-paused; and, also, the more generous treatment under this government of paid parental leave and childcare subsidy has led to more benefits. But it's not just on the demand side. It's also true that between 2017 and 2020 the number of people working in Services Australia was reduced by the then government by 3½ thousand people, and they commissioned IT projects which have significantly failed.

Let's have a thought for the people working at Services Australia. Let's think about the people who actually work on the front line here. Yesterday they answered 227,000 phone calls. Last year they answered 55 million phone calls. There are 5,000 people today working on answering phones. There are 6½ thousand people working in the service centres. Last year they saw 10 million people. There are 3,000 people processing payments. Right now, every day, there are 270 people just processing parental leave claims. There were 1.1 billion online transactions with Services Australia last year, and there were half a billion customer interactions. Last year Services Australia
paid out $1.4 billion promptly to 1.2 million people who had suffered from natural disasters. Also, I just remind people here that Services Australia staff experienced 9,000 abusive incidents of which 1,200 were most serious. What we've been doing is having the robodebt royal commission and rebuilding the culture of Services Australia.
We've committed—

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will pause. The member for Wentworth on a point of order?

Ms SPENDER: It's on relevance. I'm asking how the performance of Services Australia can improve.

Mr SHORTEN: I'm explaining—

The SPEAKER: I haven't ruled, Minister. The question was about commitments to improve performances with clear plans and published goals. The minister has got another 24 seconds. He is being relevant to the topic, and he is in within the standing orders, but I'll just bring him back to the question.

Mr SHORTEN: You can't understand the improvements until you understand what the problem is and what's actually happening. We've had the robodebt royal commission. In the last budget, we put 850 extra staff on to help with natural disasters. We've commissioned the myGov audit, and we've now created an app to encourage people to go online, which has seen three million downloads. Interestingly, though, when we came to government, there
were 1,819 separate virtual cues from under the old government. Now we've reduced that to— (Time expired)

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