08 September 2017

Ms McBRIDE (Dobell) (19:40): Australians believe in a fair go. Australians believe in giving someone in need a helping hand, yet today on the Central Coast another worker will find themselves retrenched, with medical bills piling up and lengthy delays accessing Centrelink. Today on the Central Coast, another young carer will have to explain that they won't be back at uni this semester because their parent is sick and they have to pay the mortgage. Government should support those in need, the young, the elderly, the sick and those caring for them, not make them wait months for a carer's claim, not make them submit and resubmit documents because they've been lost in the system, and not push them onto online services.

The gap is widening in Australian society, and those most in need are being hardest hitpeople like Kim and her daughter, Sam. Kim works in aged care. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April this year. Treatments started straight away with rounds of chemotherapy, breast surgery and radiation. Kim's employer has promised that, when she's better, she'll have a job to come back to. Radiation treatment and a port inserted into her neck mean that that's not possible soonmaybe by Christmas. After complications and further surgery, Kim now expects to be back at work this time next year, all going well. Kim had just bought a new car and was paying down the mortgage on the two-bedroom unit she shares with her daughter, Sam, when she was diagnosed.

She had private health insurance but the bills piled up, and Kim had to drawdown on her super to make ends meet. Then, Kim applied for the disability support pension, but she doesn't meet the 'diagnosed, treated and stabilised' criteria because, ultimately, she will, we hope, get better. Kim can't work, and she can't access the safety net. Kim's daughter, Sam, isn't back at uni this semester. She's looking after her mum. She's juggling a few casual shifts and, with a part-Newstart payment, is worse off than she was as a student. Sam can work but has less money each week to support herself and her mum. Sam is eligible and deserves support, but a carer's claim, which was lodged within weeks of her mother's diagnosis, has still not been processed today. This isn't good enough, and they're not alone.

After decades with the one employer, David was shocked when he was retrenched just a few years out from retirement. Neither David nor his wife, Lesley, had previously dealt with Centrelink. It was difficult and hard to get information about redundancy or support for older workers. When the preclusion period from the redundancy expired, they sought assistance. This started a chain of events that saw David and Lesley forced to use online services, spend hours on hold to call centres and submit documents three times because their information kept being lost in the system. After hearing nothing for months, they were devastated when they logged onto the myGov portal to find an automatically generated letter. It said:

Rejection of your claim for Newstart Allowance

We cannot pay you Newstart Allowance because we did not receive the documents we requested from you.

They sent them three times. In Dave's wife's words:

Dave has been a hardworking man for his entire life and never expected to need help, but we now find ourselves in a situation where we are both physically, financially and emotionally crippled.

Dave doesn't want a hand-out; he wants to work but we keep hitting roadblocks.

We must do better than this. If we can't support people who have worked all their lives and prepared for retirement, what are we doing? I constantly hear stories of lengthy delays processing straightforward claims. There are stories like Jacqui's, whose age pension application is still outstanding from November 2016, and Corinne's, who was asked to submit further documents, only to have those lost by Centrelink, and then forced to wait a further four months for a problem to be fixed. There are stories like Denis's, whose wife was told that her application for the age pension was approved, only to receive a letter two days later telling her it was denied. Every person who walks through the doors of Centrelink or picks up the phone has their own story to tell. No two lives or circumstances are the same. These are real people. They're doing it tough. Staff cuts and the casualisation of the Department of Human Services workforce is making a tough situation worse. When you cut the public service, you cut services to the public. We must give everyone a fair go. This must be fixed.