Thousands of Centrelink and Medicare staff are being recruited in a bid to shorten call wait times and provide better customer service.
The federal government will hire 3000 new recruits to Services Australia’s frontline as part of their efforts to implement recommendations from the robodebt royal commission.
Government Services Minister Bill Shorten says the extra staff will help return humans to Centrelink and Medicare and prevent schemes like robodebt from ever occurring again.
“The Liberals wickedly used the illegal robodebt scheme to decimate contact channels so people could not connect with Services Australia and make complaints,” Mr Shorten said.
“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.”
Under the former Liberal government, the debt recovery program had falsely accused people of owing the government money and eventually took more than $750 million from almost 400,000 Australians.
The robodebt royal commission’s final report in July recommended the government ensure easy and efficient online, in-person and telephone engagement options sensitive to the particular circumstances of customers.
Prior to the $228 million recruitment blitz, Services Australia had fewer public servants per capita than at any other time after the former government reduced the number of staff by 3800.
Opposition spokesman for government services Paul Fletcher hit back at the notion Centrelink’s deterioration was caused by the former government.
“This nonsensical explanation ignores the fact that (Mr Shorten) slashed average staffing levels in this year’s budget and has presided over … a surge in call and processing wait times,” he said on Monday.
Instead of employing bureaucrats, the government should invest in digital channels and practical reforms like voice prints and digital assistants to make their services more efficient, Mr Fletcher said.
The new recruits will be deployed to centres in capital cities and regional centres like Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour in NSW, Toowoomba and Maryborough in Queensland, and Ballarat and LaTrobe Valley in Victoria.
More than 800 people have already begun their training.
Australian Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer revealed last month during Senate estimates that 16 public servants were being investigated for breaches of the code of conduct in relation to the debt recovery scheme.
Greens social services spokeswoman Janet Rice said additional staff was a win for vulnerable Australians but noted the current state of Centrelink was a disaster.
“These failures revealed in estimates aren’t a mere inconvenience for people on Centrelink, they are causing great suffering,” she said on Monday,
“When people can’t get help on the phone and aren’t having their claims processed on time, it means they can’t pay their bills or rent or afford to eat.”
(Australian Associated Press)