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The privatisation of human services

  • 20 October 2017


The Federal Government's recent announcement that Serco will be delivering some of the income support system, Centrelink, is another blow to core public services that serve some of the most disadvantaged Australians.

Alan Tudge, the Minister for Human Services, said that this move is to deal with the long waiting times many people are subjected to when trying to get in touch with Centrelink, despite denying they are an issue at all. Myriad inquiries have found that getting through to Centrelink is difficult and that existing problems worsened after the robo-debt debacle.

The Community and Public Sector Union's National Secretary Nadine Flood is, unsurprisingly, not impressed. 'The Turnbull Government has cut and cut and cut at Centrelink, and is now trying to use the appalling service standards it has caused as justification for privatising a critical public service,' she said in a statement.

How adding a private company to human services delivery will solve some of the considerable problems with the current Centrelink system seems hard to understand. Long call waiting times are, in part, caused by a reduction in staff and a reliance on inexperienced, casual staff to fill short term demand. The CPSU says that over 5000 staff have been cut from the Department of Human Services over the last few years, despite an increase in the number of people receiving income support.

People contact Centrelink when something has gone wrong, or when there has been a big change in their lives; they lose their job, get sick or injured, have a baby or end a relationship. Encounters with Centrelink come with big feelings and lots of vulnerability.

Australia's highly targeted income support system means that eligibility is mostly for people at the bottom of the economic pile. Being poor is often hard, terrifying and demoralising. Finding ways to survive, keep a roof over your head and to get medication can be a daily struggle. The social security system is meant to be a safety net; instead payments are so low, and the compliance regime so harsh that it is becoming a barrier for people to get work at all.

The ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2016 report says that 'those doing it the toughest are overwhelmingly people living on the $38 a day Newstart payment, 55 per cent of whom are in poverty. This is followed by families on Parenting Payment (51.5 per cent), the majority of whom are lone parents with children.'


"The social safety