Services Australia will hire 3,000 new workers to meet demand for Centrelink enquiries.
The recruitment drive comes after a new report showed over 80% of calls to Centrelink aren’t answered by a person.
It’s part of a $228 million funding boost for Services Australia. This is the government agency responsible for Centrelink, Medicare, and child support.
Between July and August, fewer than 17% of calls to Centrelink were answered by a person.
However, callers who did get through to a Centrelink worker waited an average of 30 minutes.
Over 2.8 million calls received a ‘congestion message’. This is an automated response activated during periods of high demand.
Services Australia said the message encourages callers to use “self-service options rather than repeatedly calling”.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union maintains a dashboard where Centrelink callers record their attempts to get through via phone.
At the time of publication, it had reported 133 successful calls from 896 attempts from the beginning of last month onwards.
Bill Shorten, Minister for the NDIS and Government Services, suggested job cuts under the previous government made the agency’s job “increasingly difficult”.
The Royal Commission into Robodebt handed down its final report in July. Robodebt was a scheme that illegally collected over a billion dollars from welfare recipients from 2015 to 2019.
Accordingly, it called on the Government to facilitate “easy and efficient” Centrelink customer service options. This included improving online, in-person, and over-the-phone support.
Today, the Government announced a funding boost to reduce call wait times, speed up claim payments, and “ensure Robodebt never happens again”.
Staff boost for more Centrelink workers
Part of the announcement includes 3,000 new Services Australia positions to be recruited “as quickly as possible”.
Shorten said boosting staff would help bring a “people-centred approach” to government services.
“We are committed to restoring Services Australia’s funding, replenishing its workforce and getting the Agency back on track.”
So far, 800 new employees have been hired for roles in capital cities and regional centres.
Shadow Minister for Government Services, Paul Fletcher, pushed back on Shorten’s comments about the previous government’s handling of Services Australia jobs.
“Bill Shorten has tried to blame wait time blowouts on anyone but himself,” he said.
Further, Fletcher said the Government had “failed to come up with any new ideas” for Centrelink’s digital service offerings to address wait times in today’s announcement.