When is a post office not a post office?
On Monday the Australian Financial Review reported that a spokesperson for Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed that the newly formed Abbott Government Commission of Audit would consider closing Centrelink offices, delivering ‘front-office’ services instead via one of the 4,400 Australia Post outlets. The proposal is one of many the Commission of Audit, led by Business Council of Australia chairman Tony Shepherd, will review with the aim of making significant cuts in order to balance the nation’s books.
In addition to the proposal to send Centrelink services to Australia Post, the Commission of Audit will also explore the feasibility of giving responsibility to deliver the new DisabilityCare Australia (also known as the NDIS) services to Medibank Private. Mr Hockey has described DisabilityCare Australia as a “massive new bureaucracy”.
On ABC Radio National Breakfast yesterday, Labor senator Doug Cameron slammed the two proposals, stating that Centrelink provides a “very specialised” service, and that this service was “not just about rocking up and getting your payment”.
Centrelink is a very specialised delivery of benefits to Australians... my local post office would in no way be capable of delivering that service.”
He went on to note that Centrelink “is about people who can’t find work, people who have significant personal problems in some cases … I don’t think the local post office is capable of dealing with that.”
He was also disapproving of the NDIS change, replying that it is “not something that should be driven by profit’”.
Read more from the Australian Financial Review.
ABC Radio National Breakfast.
It’s somewhat ironic that two government-owned institutions - which may be on the chopping block themselves - are considered fit to take over service delivery for pensions and new DisabilityCare Australia entitlements. And if, as rumoured, Australia Post and Medibank Private are indeed privatised, private enterprise owners will then be responsible for the management of practically all government entitlements. Is this really the way to handle the hundreds of thousands of Australians who are most in need?
According to the Government’s MoneySmart website, around 65 per cent of older Australians rely on a government pension or allowance as their main source of personal income at retirement.
On 17 October, it was reported that Centrelink call times had blown out due to staffing shortages – and more alarmingly, 24,000 cases are awaiting review, sometimes for as long as six months.
So as our population ages – and this was flagged as a key challenge by Mr. Hockey when he announced the Commission of Audit – and more people are likely to join the current 65 per cent requiring an entitlement, it is bizarre that this is when our new government is considering contracting service delivery on such entitlements.
It is one thing to review a service, which delivers well, and has extra staff who might be better employed elsewhere. A good task for a Commission of Audit.
It is quite another to expect that an organisation which is already found wanting can be foisted onto another, dissimilar, organisation and that the clients will be well served.
Of course they won’t.
As Senator Cameron noted, Centrelink is there for people who require special services, perhaps because they are out of work, or otherwise challenged. He might also have mentioned that there are many frail older Australians totally dependent on their meager Centrelink entitlement. So as well as waiting too long on the phone, and then joining a lengthy queue if you ask for your case to be reviewed, you can now join the queue at your local post office, behind the eBay trader sending 10 boxes to Japan, the lady who needs a passport photo and the small business owner who wants to organise six different registered parcels. Get the picture?
So to the new commissioners on the Commission of Audit, I would just like to say, this is a seriously bad suggestion. Dump it now.
What about you? Do you think Post Offices are a good ‘shopfront’ for Centrelink services? Would it be better than the existing offices?