Huge Centrelink changes have many older Australians worried about where they can turn when the department’s unreliable phone lines and confusing online services don’t work.
As Centrelink expands its reach online, more offices around the country are closing their doors, in a worrying new trend that will affect millions of Australians.
“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer. Leasing offices is expensive,’ said Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen.
Branches at Newcastle and Newport in New South Wales, and Mornington in Victoria, will close their doors, reports the Daily Mail.
Around 35,000 will be affected by the Mornington closure alone, says Mornington mayor Sam Hearn, who is urging the Coalition to reconsider its decision to close the office.
“Prime Minister, we call on the federal government to make a commitment to ensure the Mornington Centrelink service remains open,” he implored Scott Morrison.
Shadow government services minister Bill Shorten has also hit out at the Coalition, saying its justification for closing offices is not good enough.
“You don’t just want to be shunted off to an automated phone queue. You don’t just want to go to another website. You need to be able to talk to real people,” he said.
Being able to talk to “real people” is seeming more unlikely, with some offices being replaced by an ‘agency’ or kiosk manned by a single staff member “providing a more limited range of services”, said Mr Jongen.
Currently, more than 66,000 people walk into Centrelink offices across the country each day. However, more than half a million logins are made on the MyGov app, which is Centrelink’s justification to “maximise the benefits of digital capabilities while reducing the costs of administering payments”.
“Foot traffic has reduced by up to 46 per cent over the past five years,” said Mr Jongen.
“This is not about reducing our services overall. This is about consolidating into more appropriate locations.”
While Mr Shorten slammed the government for Centrelink office closures, he would not say whether Labor would re-open sites if it won government, preferring instead to lambast the Coalition for prioritising savings over servicing the people.
“This government’s more interested in bandaiding a dodgy budget surplus and it’s going to do it by shafting everyday Centrelink users,” Mr Shorten said.
However, the government insists the closures are not just about saving money but because more people are accessing services online.
It also would not rule out closing more outlets as more leases came up for renewal.
What do you think of the Centrelink office closures?
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