SPEECH - Scott Morrison's cruel plan to axe Centrelink offices across the country

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that:

(a) Australia's social security system is a proud Labor legacy;

(b) social security payments provide economic stability, fostering smooth transitions during times of economic uncertainty; and

(c) Centrelink has provided critical support to many Australians over the course of the pandemic;

(2) recognises that:

(a) the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder for all governments about the importance of robust local public services;

(b) there are many people who do not have internet and rely on local Centrelink branch access to conduct their Centrelink business;

(c) the closure of face-to-face Centrelink services will force many vulnerable Australians, carers, people with disability and students to travel excessive lengths to access the services they need;

(d) many people who rely upon Centrelink services live well below the poverty line and have zero capacity to pay more for travel or parking; and

(e) the Government's secret plan to close or reduce access to Centrelink shopfronts across Australia is unconscionable; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) terminate any plans to consolidate, close or reduce access to the Mornington, Newcastle, Tweed Heads, Yarra and Abbotsford Centrelink offices once and for all;

(b) cease the impending closure of the face-to-face Centrelink service in Braddon; and

(c) reinstate all Centrelink shopfronts which have been closed in the last two years, including the services located in Benalla and Newport, Victoria.


I'm very pleased to move this motion today. I'm grateful to the member for Canberra, who has agreed to second it, because her community, like mine, is facing the brutal reality of this Morrison Liberal government's decision to close or reduce access to Centrelink offices. But the member for Canberra's local Centrelink office is not the only office under threat from being merged or shutdown altogether. From Mornington and Newport in Victoria to Tweed Heads and the city of Newcastle in New South Wales, local communities have been left in a state of anxiety and uncertainty, unsure if their local Centrelink office is even going to be there when they need it.

Year on year, this Liberal government has set out to starve Centrelink of resources and curb its ability to deliver essential support for Australians. Not content with its history of cuts and underresourcing, the Morrison government's now turning its attention to shutting down Centrelink's physical presence in our communities, the very offices that people need to go to when they need assistance and support.

Two years ago, the former Minister for Government Services made it clear that his government was planning to close King Street and Mayfield Centrelink offices in Newcastle. Indeed, we later found out that the government's actually planning to end five, not just two, public service tenancies in my electorate, and they intend to consolidate these five offices into one single CBD building.

The proposed closures of the King Street and Mayfield Centrelink offices was never an isolated decision. It was, instead, part of a very devious and coordinated plan to drastically shrink Centrelink's frontline footprint. True to form, the Morrison government hasn't been honest with the public about these plans. There has been zero consultation with my community, leaving jobseekers, people with disability, their carers, pensioners and families completely in the dark now for over two years. Every time the minister is asked for more details of these reckless plans, the government hides behind the guise of commercial-in-confidence.

The people relying on Centrelink tell me how much it means to them to be able to talk face to face with another human in times of crisis. My constituents want to be able to attend their Centrelink shopfront in person to access the support they need when they need it. This is not an unreasonable request. How dare this government set about axing critical frontline services in Newcastle with such little regard for the consequences! How dare they treat Novocastrians with such contempt! And how dare they think they can get away with this appalling plan!

The Morrison Liberal government's relentless push to close Centrelink shopfronts across Australia is just another step in a long line of attempts to undermine Australia's social security safety net. For years, the Liberal government has refused to increase Newstart or even acknowledge that it was shockingly inadequate to begin with. We haven't forgotten the four long, anxious and fearful years where this Liberal government pursued hundreds of thousands of innocent Australians with false or inflated social security debts as part of its now-infamous robodebt scheme. Yet this government hasn't learnt a thing. They remain fiercely committed to forcing Australians—some in their 50s and 60s who've worked all their lives but have found themselves redundant—to now undergo drug tests, by urinating in a cup, as a condition of receiving support. They've foreshadowed a national rollout of compulsory income management, seeking to punish and humiliate Australians in need of support. It's a cruel and callous plan that will prevent pensioners—those on an age pension or a disability support pension, or even carers—from being able to use their cash to buy cheaper foods from local markets or stores, buy second-hand furniture, give some money to their grandkids or go and have an occasional meal with friends and family at the local club.

Over the past decade, the Liberal Party's strategy on social security has been to just make it so impossibly cruel to navigate that people just give up and walk away, destined to be trapped in poverty. Seriously—what kind of government even contemplates ripping away the social safety net from its people as they struggle to recover from a global pandemic? The notion of closing Centrelink offices as demand skyrockets is both cruel and foolish.

With unemployment rising in the last month and the global pandemic far from over, it is unbelievable that the Morrison government would close the King Street and Mayfield Centrelink offices. This government has demonstrated nothing but contempt for the tens of thousands of Australians who will feel the detrimental impact of their plans. Let me be very clear, Prime Minister: Newcastle says no to this terrible plan. We say no to starving Centrelink of the resources it needs to properly support Novocastrians in our times of need. And I am calling on you, Prime Minister, to assure the people of Newcastle that you will ditch this reckless and callous plan to consolidate, reduce or close access to our Centrelink offices once and for all.

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