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Australian Law and Politics

Centrelink staff need to learn some manners


One thing that was consistent during the Robodebt Royal Commission was Centrelink’s victims reporting that staff had been rude and aggressive. Sadly, this has not changed.

Witnesses at the Royal Commission recounted that staff had yelled at them, mocked them, refused to listen to any defence and generally treated them with contempt.

Witnesses recalled being left in tears and unable to sleep after receiving multiple unsolicited phone calls from Centrelink staff demanding repayment of debts that it eventuated had never existed.

Witnesses also stated that when they tried to call Centrelink, they were left on hold for long periods of time, and usually the calls went unanswered.

The general attitude from Centrelink seemed to be “Your call is important to us; please stay on the line until your call is no longer important to you.”

For those that endured and waited on the line, their calls were not met with a response. They were told somebody would call them back, but the calls were rarely returned.

Even when the calls were returned, the caller did not receive an answer to their initial inquiry. Instead, Centrelink staff went on the attack, raising issues of non-existent debts and refusing to give any explanation of how that debt had been raised.

When callers asked to be referred to a manager, as is their right under Centrelink’s charter, these requests were denied, and the callers were powerless to do anything about it.

The mindset seems to be to break the customer down until they learn to submit to Centrelink bullying and accept Centrelink’s decision unconditionally.

There is no room for negotiation, and Centrelink generally refuse to change a decision once it has been made, even if all the evidence submitted by the customer proves Centrelink is wrong.

When a customer proves Centrelink is wrong, the staff will routinely insist that the customer is being abusive, and terminate the call. The customer is then placed on a ban list, and Centrelink will refuse to take any more calls from them.

The culture that exists in Centrelink is extremely toxic, and seems to have worsened over the past ten years as more and more legislation was introduced denying payments to recipients.

My phone calls to Bill Shorten’s office confirmed that Mr Shorten is aware of this toxic culture, and that the government had taken steps to rectify it.

They have apparently appointed a new CEO and a new General Manager, but as anybody in business knows, once such a toxic culture is entrenched in an organisation, it is almost impossible to change it.

One of the major problems seems to be that the call centre lines have been outsourced to a private company, SERCO, who do not feel they are bound by the public service code of conduct.

They are mistaken. As representatives of the government, they are subject to the same rules and regulations as real public sector employees. This may not be in their charter, but it is the expectation of the wider community who ultimately pay for their services through taxes.

It is also of concern that sensitive information about Centrelink customers is being released to a private company, with little transparency about how they use this information.

The solution for this would seem to be simple: terminate SERCO’s contract for non-performance, and return the responsibility to the Centrelink branch offices, the way it used to be.

To rid the organisation of the toxic culture that exists, the government could also consider closing Centrelink down, and replacing it with a new organisation. Perhaps a return to the Department of Social Security?

Anthony Albanese recently announced this is what he is doing with the now dysfunctional AAT, so why not follow suit with Centrelink?

Centrelink is no longer fit for purpose. It no longer serves the needs of the poor, the unemployed, the aged, the disabled, single parents or anybody else it is supposed to be helping.

Instead, they are causing catastrophic problems in the Australian community.

The Australian government needs to urgently review Centrelink’s operations, and take action to fix it.

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The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

The costs of campaigning for changes to government legislation are considerable. If you appreciate this work, please consider donating so we can continue operating in this area.

The money raised will be spent on campaigning to state and federal MP s, as well as newspapers and other media across Australia, to improve social justice for all.

Please bear in mind that while I am a business consultant, I only work part time due to also being a disabled pensioner. I intend to take these matters to court, but that takes time and money.

Any money raised through donations will be kept in a separate bank account to cover these costs.

I would also welcome any help from legal professionals, or professionally qualified volunteers who are willing to assist.

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About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner. Business and Education Consultant. Former Business/ESL Teacher. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Centrelink staff need to learn some manners

  1. The change of culture was obviously deliberate in picking people who acted more as a police than a social welfare assistant. It started with the Howard government and continued since then with the latest government being the worse .
    I saw a TV report last night on homelessness which is hitting especially women , another example of our cynical society and the poor future prospect for some in the need. Centre link definitely needs a total recycling of people . I know some ex employees who lost their jobs years ago and they are still talking about how the culture changed and that they could not bare it and had to leave.

    Posted by Philippe | January 17, 2023, 06:54
    • Hi Philippe:

      I watched UNDER COVER as well – the one narrated by Margot Robbie – which showed several houseless women in different situations – the majority over 50 or 55.

      The women who might have worked for CES/Job Network/Centrelink rather than needing it.

      The culture has become much more neoliberal.

      The latest government being Albanese’s Government? Or Morrison’s?

      Posted by Adelaide Dupont | January 18, 2023, 10:39
  2. Serco and datacom both hold contracts for Centrelink call centres. I worked in a datacom call centre and in the 6 months I worked there, my physical and mental health suffered enormously. Not from dealing with customers, but from dealing with other workers and managers.

    Staff are treated appallingly, training is minimal and not focused on meeting customers needs. Staff are paid the bare minimum and put under immense pressure. Bullying is rife from many team leaders.

    Posted by Heather | January 17, 2023, 13:22

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