HomeCentrelink – Services AustraliaShorten addresses pension application delays

Shorten addresses pension application delays

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced with much fanfare by the Gillard Government in 2013. Eleven years on, how is it performing and are elements of it under threat? On Tuesday, the Minister of the NDIS Bill Shorten spoke to the ABC’s Nadia Mitsopoulos on the scheme’s progress and future. As Minister of Government Services he also fielded questions regarding the Disability Support Pension and related Centrelink frustrations.

The interview was aired on ABC Perth, meaning most Australians did not hear his views. However, a transcript of the interview reveals his thoughts on these matters, including an acknowledgement that wait times aren’t satisfactory.

Putting NDIS aside, Ms Mitsopoulos led the interview with a challenging question about listeners’ frustrations with pension application wait times. “Some of you have told me how you’ve been waiting up to nine months and it’s putting a huge financial and emotional strain on you,” she said. “Now the Government hopes recruiting more staff will get through the backlog but are they deeper problems?”

Ms Mitsopoulos then directed her attention to Mr Shorten and said, “This issue, these backlogs within Centrelink, they didn’t happen overnight. When were you first made aware of them?”

Mr Shorten’s answer could perhaps be described as a classic politician’s response, acknowledging the issue without directly accepting responsibility. “I think the problem has been getting progressively worse for years,” he said. “First of all, I should just say to people experiencing delays, I’m sympathetic and we will come to some of the solutions that we’ve got. But it’s a real problem. No sugar-coating at all it’s a real problem and it’s a problem affecting people.”

How long had Bill Shorten been aware of these delays?

In terms of his awareness of the delay, Mr Shorten said “Really, the last six months it’s really been hitting. So, in the course of last year, towards the end of last year, it’s a real problem.”

Mr Shorten then made a clear inference that the root cause of the delays lay with the previous coalition government. “Back in 2012, about 37,000 people work[ed] in Department of Human Services and the population of Australia was 22 million. Our population now is north of 26 million. But before this latest decision last October of increasing staff, we were down to 30,000 people.”

Such a drop in the ratio of staff to client would certainly have an impact, and it did in two ways. Firstly, in terms of the time it takes for a applications to be processed and secondly, long phone call wait times.

Mr Shorten was also quick to point out that an investment by the previous government into replacing humans with software. This, he claimed, “just didn’t work”, resulting in the need to “scrap $200 million worth of investment”. Unsurprisingly, Mr Shorten took that opportunity to point out the previous government’s Robodebt disaster.

Implementing solutions

Acknowledging the mistakes of past governments, Ms Mitsopoulos pressed Mr Shorten for information on resolving the issues. The solution, he said, was humans, and he was able to convince his colleagues and the PM of this. “We made a decision in the last quarter of last year to employ 3000 extra people,” he said. We started recruiting them in November, December. By mid-January, the beginning of February, we’ve now hired 3000 people.”

Mr Shorten made a further commitment to hire more staff and clear the existing backlog of disability pension applications.

What about the NDIS?

Amid rumours of changes to the NDIS, Mr Shorten was asked about an unexpected spike in applications people with autism and other developmental delays. Ms Mitsopoulos asked: “Why is that? Are people rushing on before your reforms come in?”

Ms Mitsopoulos asked if these people were an example of those currently on the NDIS who might be removed. “No, I wouldn’t put it as harshly as that,” Mr Shorten responded. However, he did suggest that “the NDIS can’t be the only lifeboat in the ocean.”

“The NDIS was designed for the most severely and permanently, Australians with the most severe and permanent disabilities,” he said. It was, “not for every Australian with disability.”

This would suggest that reforms may well be coming. As to who might be directly affected by these reforms, that remains a matter of conjecture for now.

Have you experienced undue delays with a disability pension application? Do you feel Mr Shorten’s interview responses were good enough? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Age Pension applications taking months to be processed, reports claim

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Seriously.. again dodging the problem with blaming the coalition.. ALP have been in for 2 yrs .. all they’ve done is pass the buck & lied .. pity they didn’t put as much effort into fixing the problems as they do to telling lies!

    • Complaining now the original designers of the NDIS are having to fix the destruction caused by a government that didn’t like it and have done everything to make it unworkable.
      The introduction of the NDIS was handled by the Abbott government and he made changes to privatize as much as possible and put limits on the number of people employed, approximately 3000 less than the original designed to run the scheme.
      The introduction of yearly assessments was ridiculous for permanently disabled people to continually prove they are disabled.
      Blaming is not what is being done, it’s pointing out the damage that has to be rectified before the NDIS is working efficiently and not wasting taxpayers money. The previous government’s 9 years of playing with the NDIS, which has blown out the cost and allowed rorting to occur.

      • The issues here all stem from the Right-wing governments policy of small government.
        To turn around the destruction of the public services won’t happen overnight. It takes time to employ and train the people to operate efficiently to make best use of taxpayers money.
        Unlike what is seen by the “small government” operations of the LNP. Where permanent numbers of staff were reduced to allow private companies to take over parts of the work, where there is no incentive to have an effective workforce as profit is the driving force.
        After the 9 years of replacing many public servants with temporary staff, from agencies, departments became inefficient blowing out wait times for people requiring the services.
        Nine years of the wrong direction for services is going to take a long time and yet people weren’t complaining as services go steadily worse, but once someone tries to fix the issues they want it done now.

  2. Thankyou so much for bringing this topic up and especially the interview with the Minister.
    Unfortunately he spends too much time on the blame game without fixing the problem of delays in processing pensions.
    The wait times at the moment are unprecedented but he just fobbed the matter off.
    Asleep at the wheel and not listening.
    The mental strain on people who are waiting for decisions is appalling .
    Thankyou again.
    Our wait is now 16 weeks for a tick and flick answer as Centrelink already has our details through the Agedcare means test.

  3. Very simple Dumbo Albo and his ALP party – they said in opposition they had all the answers yet this was another lie. Who introduced the NDIS Gillard & the ALP with funding of $0 dollars and expected the LNP to fund it and figure it all out. Who reduced the Private Health Fund rebate the Federal ALP.

  4. “The most severely and permanently disabled””???? I know several who have NOTHING wrong with them who are getting $100K a year from NDIS. Lots of kids with autism are on it. Yet I know of people with very severe and permanent disability who get so little it’s a joke. And what of people who turned 65 before it was introduced? They can’t get it no matter what their disability. Then there is the issue of all the suppliers and service providers with their hands in the kitty being hideously overpaid. My neighbour’s wheelchair sells for $8000 but he got it through NDIS and it cost $20,000. The whole scheme has been botched, like most things Government does!

  5. A lot of the problem is untrained &/or incompetent staff.
    When applying for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card, the Centrelink worker asked me five times, “where did my income come from?” . Each time I told her it was on the separate sheet in front of her, prepared by my Financial Adviser. I had to put my hand under the perspex barrier to convince her.
    I don’t know if she was blind, stupid or just incompetent. No wonder there are 1 million people waiting for various cards!!

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