Services Australia, the agency responsible for overseeing Australia’s public health and social security schemes, Medicare and Centrelink, has addressed concerns raised by the community regarding staffing levels. Recent allegations suggest that thousands of calls went unanswered, resulting in many Australians being unable to access essential services. However, Services Australia has dismissed these concerns and clarified that the reduction in staffing is due to a return to pre-pandemic levels.
In an email response to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for Services Australia stated that their staffing is gradually returning to regular levels as the pandemic era work and associated extra resourcing have concluded. The agency also mentioned that they are enhancing their emergency response capability by deploying 850 staff to support frontline service delivery. Additionally, they are bringing back staff in-house and actively recruiting for service delivery roles within the Australian Public Service (APS). The spokesperson emphasized that these adjustments aim to optimize frontline staff numbers and provide the best support possible.
These statements come after the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) highlighted the significant staffing shortfalls in Services Australia, which led to tens of thousands of unanswered calls. Melissa Donnelly, the CPSU National Secretary, expressed concern about the crisis state of the department’s staffing and urged the federal government to take prompt action. Donnelly emphasized the need to secure the future of current employees and increase overall staffing levels to meet the demand.
According to the CPSU, even prior to the pandemic, Services Australia’s staffing levels were inadequate, resulting in tens of thousands of phone calls going unanswered daily. The union fears that the situation will worsen following the agency’s budget cuts. In May, Services Australia announced anticipated staff reductions of around 6.5 percent, which equates to approximately 1,868 employees. As a result, the agency’s workforce is projected to decrease from 28,560 to 26,692. Donnelly warned that failure to address this issue could lead to a further deterioration in the ability of Australians to access help from Services Australia.
The union also expressed concerns about potential flow-on effects, such as delays in other important work, due to the staffing shortages. Donnelly emphasized the importance of retaining the current staff, especially considering the wider attraction and retention issues affecting the APS. She argued that letting go of trained and experienced staff members is absurd and called on Services Australia to do everything in their power to keep them.
In conclusion, Services Australia has responded to community concerns about staffing levels, asserting that the reductions are necessary to return to pre-pandemic levels. However, the Community and Public Sector Union has expressed worry over the impact of these staff cuts, with thousands of calls going unanswered and the potential for delayed services. The union has urged the government to act quickly to address the staffing crisis and ensure that Australians can access the vital help they need.