Joint Media Release - the crisis in Centrelink and Medicare

An alliance of welfare and community groups has formed to campaign to make the crisis in Centrelink and Medicare a Federal Election issue.

The alliance includes national and local organisations including ACOSS, Per Capita, Wayside Chapel, the Exodus Foundation, Homelessness NSW, the Father Bob Foundation, Fair Go for Pensioners, Unions NSW and the CPSU.

The organisations, who have watched vulnerable Australians bear the brunt of the Coalition Government’s cuts to Centrelink and Medicare, have endorsed a plan to raise community awareness, lobby politicians and campaign in marginal electorates.

The campaign is focussed not just on the inadequacy of Newstart to cover the basic living costs of vulnerable Australians, but on their access to Centrelink services and the stigmatisation of vulnerable people through measures such as robo-debt.

Exodus Foundation founder Reverend Bill Crews said: “We’re helping people who previously never would have needed to turn to us, but Centrelink is now so stretched that cases aren’t dealt with until weeks and sometimes months after people have slid into full-blown crisis. To make matters worse we’re hearing of more and more cases where mistakes made by private call centres handling Centrelink cases are costing clients dearly.”

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: “Our income support system is there to provide support and help people get through tough times. But for so many people, the system is not working. People on the lowest incomes are being denied access to payments; forced to wait weeks to get much needed income support, and hit with false debts they do not owe under robo-debt. The next government must ensure that people in financial need are granted access to adequate payments, that Centrelink has sufficient numbers of trained staffed to help people and that our system of debt recovery is fair and humane.”

Per Capita Senior Fellow, Dr John Falzon said: “We built a social security system in Australia to help people when they need it. Governments that follow a neoliberal agenda, however, have tried to tear down what we have built, selling it off and selling ordinary people out.” 

Father Bob Maguire said: “Picking on the most vulnerable seems to have become something of a sport for some people. Our welfare system needs to be based on compassion and decency. The supposed tough love approach imposed on Centrelink in recent years isn’t just un-Christian, it doesn’t work.” 

Wayside Chapel Executive Minister the Rev Graham Anson said: “It isn’t just calling up or walking into a Centrelink office that’s becoming harder and harder. We’ve had a Centrelink caseworker based at Wayside for years, which has been such a huge benefit.   We’ve been told this caseworker may soon be scrapped.  This cost-cutting measure will have a highly negative impact for so many of our visitors, and most of them who are using this service are already severely disadvantaged.”

CPSU Deputy Secretary Melissa Donnelly said: “Our members working in Centrelink and Medicare know why standards have declined and they know how to fix the situation. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has slashed thousands of permanent jobs and turned critical Centrelink services into a money spinner for dubious corporations like Serco and Stellar. We need a properly resourced and staffed department that can answer the phone when people need help and process their claims before a difficult situation becomes desperate.”

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Moray said: “The Liberals and Nationals have cut gaping holes in our social safety net.  They have slashed staff and services and demonised those who are supported by Centrelink. The Federal Government needs to view Centrelink as a social enabler rather than as a hindrance to be removed from the books.”



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