October 26, 2017

SUBJECT/S: 55 million unanswered calls to Centrelink. 

WENDY HARMER: Well, have you tried to get through to Centrelink lately? Good luck with that. Have you experienced long wait times? In Senate Estimates yesterday, it was revealed that there were more than, wait for it, 55 million calls to Centrelink that got the busy signal and that was almost double from the 29 million calls the year before. But the Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Renée Leon, she told Senate Estimates that it was because people were using dialling apps on their phones. Have a listen.

DHS, SECRETARY: That’s not 55 million unique calls, analysis of the data shows that in the vicinity of 20% of those are repeat dialling apps that people now have on their smartphones.

WENDY HARMER: I wonder do you have a repeat dialling app on your smartphone, was it because you couldn’t get through to Centrelink? Let’s talk to Jenny Macklin, she’s the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services. Good morning Shadow Minister.


WENDY HARMER: What do you think here? Do you think the Secretary has a point here?

JENNY MACKLIN: Honestly, every pensioner, every family member that’s ever tried to get through to Centrelink would find that this Department is so out of touch. If people can’t get through it’s because they’ve continually tried and on so many cases I find they give up because they can’t get through.

55 million calls to Centrelink going unanswered. As you said that went up by 26 million calls in the last year alone. So there’s just been a massive explosion in the number of calls that Centrelink is just not answering.

WENDY HARMER: I suppose you could say that even if the increase was due to dialling apps.

JENNY MACKLIN: People are still trying to ring.

WENDY HARMER: (laughs) there’s that. But also the underlying figure, 55 million isn’t all that flash either.

JENNY MACKLIN: Exactly. Even if you took 10 percent, the number is still 40, 45 million calls that are being unanswered.

I see people all the time, particularly pensioners, who are waiting sometimes an hour to get through to Centrelink. So it’s not only that the calls go unanswered, sometimes they are then put on hold for a very long period of time before they can actually get through to someone. Then the next complaint is that they get through to staff that aren’t properly trained and can’t deal with their problems. 

WENDY HARMER: Alright, what’s the answer here?

JENNY MACKLIN: First and foremost, that this Government has to properly staff Centrelink. People have to be properly trained. You might have seen a recent announcement by the Government that they are going to put some extra people into a private company to deal with these problems – that’s not going to fix the problem.  What we need is for properly trained additional staff in Centrelink to deal with the real issues that pensioners and families and students have. People don’t ring Centrelink unless they need to.

WENDY HARMER: But of course we’re looking at this massive budget for health and welfare and social services. I guess money is fairly sparse.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, particularly as the Government wants to give away $65 billion to big companies, I think it would be a higher priority that people get through to Centrelink, rather than giving the banks a tax cut.

WENDY HARMER: Alright, just quickly before you go. What did you think of Ken Wyatt’s comments about visiting the elderly?

JENNY MACKLIN: Funny you should say that, last week I was at a preschool and they take the four year olds up to the local nursing home regularly and have a morning tea and a sing-along between the little kids and the people in the nursing home. Just a wonderful way for older people in the nursing home to remain connected to the community and little children and great for the kids as well.

WENDY HARMER: So more of it?

JENNY MACKLIN: More of it.

WENDY HARMER: Thank you.


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