*Speech delivered on 8th February 2023.
You might think it's just a phone call; someone will pick up eventually, it's nothing to worry about.
But it's so much more than that.
Imagine being scared that you couldn't feed your kids next week? Or because you couldn't get through to someone on the phone?
That's the situation for some of the most vulnerable people in our country right now. Their calls to Centrelink are falling on deaf ears, quite literally, because no-one is picking up.
Issues with Centrelink wait times aren't new. I saw them with my clients when I worked in employment services. I helped to fix them when I was Jacqui's office manager. Now that I'm a senator, those calls haven't stopped.
In the past few weeks alone, I've had several constituents contact my office. One constituent put in a claim for a carer's payment and, 14 weeks later, they'd heard nothing. In that time, they'd used up long service leave, severance pay and their savings just trying to get by.
Another constituent was calling to resolve an issue with family tax benefits. They tried calling for seven hours and had no success.
Another person told my office that they'd been trying to call Centrelink on and off for three weeks straight and hadn't made it through to a real person; they'd be on hold for 40 minutes then get cut off. They'd call back, be on hold for 30 more minutes and then be cut off again.
An article on SBS News earlier this week said that some people are calling up to 15 or 17 times, and still not getting anywhere.
I don't blame the staff at Centrelink; they're doing their best with the resources they have.
But it's just not enough. I've been helping people with these issues for over 18 years, and things haven't changed—they're just getting worse.
We talk about overhauling Medicare and reforming aged care, and all of these things need fixing. But so does Centrelink. There are systemic issues with Centrelink processes, and phone calls are just the tip of the iceberg.