Cairns Post

Bill Shorten promises $7.2 million to boost Centrelink and Medicare call centre staff in Cairns

by Daniel Bateman, The Cairns Post, January 25, 2019 6:00am

CENTRELINK and Medicare callers will have less hold time on the phone under a Labor plan to boost call centre staff in Cairns.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who is expected to arrive in Cairns today, will commit $7.2 million to create 100 permanent full-time Department of Human Resources jobs in the city

The positions will include local service delivery and call centre roles to provide support for people across the region.

The extra staff will be based at the department’s existing service centre and office locations across the city, as well as new locations if required.

Mr Shorten said the funding would cement Cairns as a national hub for Commonwealth Government service delivery.

“Medicare and Centrelink services help the Cairns community when they need it the most – when people are sick, processing aged care pensions, child care support, disability support pensions, and carers allowance payments,” he said.

“These jobs will improve access to Medicare and Centrelink, and reduce waiting and processing time for older Australians – important services that have been left to deteriorate under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.”

He said it was important there were properly trained and permanent staff in Cairns who were familiar with personal circumstances facing income support recipients.

“There are 13,000 age pensioners in Cairns, who have endured lengthy phone wait times to Centrelink as well as lengthy wait times for their pensions to be approved,” he said.

“There are 1700 young people on youth allowance, who are studying or undertaking an apprenticeship – all who will benefit from the increased support as a result of these jobs.”

News Corp reported earlier last year that 33 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered in 2017, while more than 330,000 callers were on hold for more than 30 minutes, and 167,000 were on hold for more than an hour.

Human Services Department secretary Renée Leon confirmed at a recent Senate Estimates hearing the previous Labor government cut staff at the department by more than 4800, while the Coalition cuts were about 2800.

The pre-election commitment from Labor is the party’s third in a week for Cairns, coinciding with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit.