There is a widening gap in our society and the government doesn't seem to see it. The government seems to disregard vulnerable people and the hardworking staff who are trying to do their jobs to support them. It continues to cut and outsource Centrelink jobs and will not lift the staffing cap on the National Disability Insurance Agency. This means workers in those agencies are under pressure, and the people who need their help wait longer and longer. They wait for payments. Their phone calls go unanswered. They can't go online. Their frustration grows.
How long is acceptable for an older Australian to wait for an age pension? We are told the official time is 49 days, but in the experience of older Australians in my electorate it is much longer than that. Four months appears to be the absolute minimum for constituents who seek help from my office; four months without any income. Four months without access to a healthcare card, which means older Australians, many of whom are on multiple medications, have to pay up to $39.50 for a prescription instead of $6.40. These waits are forcing older Australians to choose between taking their medications and putting food on the table or turning on the heater.
Earlier this month I was pleased to welcome Labor's shadow minister for human services, the member for Barton, to my electorate. During her visit, we learnt a bit more about just why these delays in processing age pensions, carer payments and student payments are happening. We heard firsthand from Centrelink staff. We heard about high workloads, overtime to clear the backlog, and an IT system that just can't cope. We heard that an age pension application can sit in the Centrelink inbox for 49 days before anybody even looks at it. How is this acceptable?
Last year the Prime Minister axed 1,180 jobs from Centrelink, and age pension and carer payment processing times blew out. This year he axed a further 1,280 jobs from Centrelink and outsourced a further 1,250 to labour hire. This government is privatising Centrelink jobs and making it harder for vulnerable Australians to get help. Centrelink needs permanent full-time staff trained to manage the complex issues facing income support recipients. Labor will deliver these jobs. A Shorten Labor government will invest $196 million in 1,200 new permanent full-time Department of Human Services staff around the country, reducing waiting times and boosting services. These new jobs will help vulnerable people, improve services and boost local economies.
But it's not just Centrelink staff who are struggling. I also met with NDIS participants and their carers battling bureaucracy. It is clear there are not enough staff to process NDIS packages and reviews and that this is a direct result of the government's staffing cap. It is clear that more skilled and experienced staff are needed to deal with delays and prevent mistakes and unnecessary reviews. The NDIS has been life changing for many people on the coast, but it's important that we do not ignore the problems. The government must lift its staffing cap on the NDIA, to make sure there are enough staff to help participants get the best outcomes. It's what disability advocates have been calling for, and it's what we'll do.