Tens of thousands of Australians are reportedly being left without access to vital government services as calls to Services Australia, one of the country’s key domestic government agencies, go unanswered. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has revealed that staff shortages in Services Australia, which oversees programs like Centrelink, Medicare, and Child Support, have reached a crisis point.
According to Melissa Donnelly, the CPSU National Secretary, the staffing situation in the department is dire, and immediate action is needed from the federal government to secure the future of current employees and increase overall staffing levels. “Tens of thousands of phone calls are going unanswered every day in Services Australia because there aren’t enough people working in the agency to meet demand,” Donnelly said. The CPSU is alarmed by the current situation and fears it is worse than anything they have seen in the past.
One of the concerns is that the situation will worsen as many Services Australia employees who are engaged on casual or non-ongoing contracts face unemployment due to budget cuts. The agency was informed in May that they would lose 1,868 staff, approximately 6.5 percent of its workforce. As a result, the total number of employees in Services Australia would decrease from 28,560 to 26,692. Rebecca Skinner, the Chief Executive Officer, stated that these cuts were necessary as the agency was returning to regular staffing levels now that pandemic-era work and temporary increases for crisis support have concluded.
The CPSU has emphasized that if the government does not act, Australians seeking help from Services Australia can expect the situation to deteriorate further. The union is concerned that the changes could lead to delays in important work or even result in errors. Donnelly insisted that Services Australia should prioritize retaining its current staff, as the agency is not exempt from the attraction and retention crisis affecting the Australian Public Service.
While the call for more staff in Services Australia is ongoing, the Albanese government has promised a massive reform of the Australian public service. Finance Minister Katy Gallagher announced in May that the government plans to spend over $22 million on the revamp. The aim is to rebuild the service after years of neglect under the former Coalition government. The budget includes funds for establishing an in-house public service consulting function, building the capability of the APS to address service-wide challenges, and supporting First Nations employment targets.
In summary, the staffing shortfalls in Services Australia are leaving thousands of Australians without access to crucial government services. The CPSU is calling on the federal government to act swiftly to address the staffing crisis and secure the future of current employees. Meanwhile, the Albanese government is planning to invest in a major reform of the Australian public service to rebuild and improve its capability.