2CC Stephen Cenatiempo Breakfast Show- 15/12/2021

15 December 2021


SUBJECTS: Braddon Centrelink closure; Morrison Government’s continued attacks on access to Centrelink services.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: You might remember, well we've spoken about it a few times that there was. Initially it started off of speculation that the Centrelink office in Braddon would close because Alicia Payne, the Labor Member for Canberra, found an ad online saying that the building was up for lease. Well, then, several requests were put in by her office and by us to the minister's office to find out if this place was closing and took us a while to get a straight answer, and eventually the answer was yes. Well, we now have a final resolution to this. Alicia Payne's with us. Alicia, good morning.
CENATIEMPO: So the shop has gone?
PAYNE: It has. It closed its doors on the sixth of December. So, before Christmas too.
CENATIEMPO: A little bit cheeky in the sign that was placed on the door.
PAYNE: Yeah, I happened to be walking past yesterday and notice they've got signs on the door that say "We've moved". And I just thought that was sort of very cynical, and a slap in the face to the people of the inner north that rely on that service, because it hasn't moved. It's just closed. So it says "We've moved and you can access our services at Gungahlin or Belconnen". That's quite an effort for many people
CENATIEMPO: So moved to somewhere that was already there?
PAYNE: Yeah.
CENATIEMPO: So I mean, at this stage, because we spoke to Services Australia, and Hank Jongen, the boss there tells us that this wasn't a ministerial decision. He made the decision after catching the light rail, and it's very easy to get the Gungahlin. I wouldn't have thought that's actually the case.
PAYNE: Well, particularly not for many people who are experiencing disadvantage, or people who work in Civic and don't have time to do that in their lunch break - some of the people we've spoken to, that was their issue. People with disabilities, older people, students, many of them live around there, and homeless people of course, they need to access that service. It's very difficult for them to make that journey.
CENATIEMPO: One of the things I spoke to Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar about was that because he's announced the review into bank branch closures in regional parts of Australia, and we know that that's impacting us here in Canberra as well. And there was a view that maybe the contracts with Australia Post could be expanded to use Australia Post facilities for more banking. Do you think there is there an opportunity there to maybe rationalize some of these services by using Australia Post Offices maybe?
PAYNE: Well, it could be something to be looked into. But I mean, really, my view is that the government should ensure that Centrelink’s and Medicare, because it was also a Medicare office here in Braddon, are available around the country for people that need them. It's a key government service that they're providing there and access to it, and it should be provided around the country. Particularly regional and rural areas have very little access to things and they're the areas that also have the worst internet. And Canberra has very bad NBN, as we've discussed on this program before as well.
CENATIEMPO: Absolutely.
PAYNE: We saw reported this week that the government, it has been reported that they have secretly been reviewing all of the smaller Centrelinks around the country - so that's Centrelinks with less than five staff - and Hank Jongen has denied that, but said that a broader review is ongoing. But if this is true, which, I think it sounds like they're definitely reviewing them, whether it's specific to smaller ones or not, it could affect around 30 Centrelinks in regional and rural areas, particularly where they're really needed as a key place to access government services.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, and I think that's an important thing. I mean, realistically to get from Braddon to Gungahlin. Whilst it's an inconvenience, it's possible. When you talk about surrounding areas and, and more regional areas, well, you could be traveling a long way to get to a government service.
PAYNE: That's right. And some people will simply not be able to make that journey. And as we've talked about before, it's not for everyone a matter of just going online, there are barriers to that. Not everyone has a smartphone, not everyone has reliable internet. But also, there are many things that Centrelink actually requires you to go into the shopfront for. And that's their own rules. Certain things need to be sorted out in person. And while that's the case, they need to be ensuring that people can access that service.
CENATIEMPO: And you think we would have worked that out during the pandemic because I think a lot more people had to access face-to-face Centrelink services during the last 18 months than probably any other period in history.
PAYNE: Yeah, absolutely. We all remember the lines around the corner in Lonsdale Street and around the country when the pandemic broke, and people going to Centrelink to get some assistance. And, as you say, many people, more than ever, people needed that service and I think it's unbelievable that the government will be looking at closing at this time.
CENATIEMPO: The thing that frustrates me about this is, I understand rationalization of services and there's no big or advocate have smaller government than me, but other governments have proved that you can do this adequately. New South Wales with their service New South Wales centres that they've set up all over the place, have proved that you can consolidate all of these government services and still have a shopfront open and accessible to people. I don't get why governments don't talk to each other more and share ideas, so to speak.
PAYNE: Well, our federal government is just intent on closing these services wherever possible. So the stated reason for closing Braddon is that we've seen a decline in people using it. But there was still 27,000 visits every year, which was revealed in Senate Estimates. So I think with something like Centrelink, there's a need for government to provide it for everyone to be able to access it. I agree, of course, you look at where you most need them. But the fact that we would lose one right in the centre of Canberra, that we don't have one in our CBD at all, I think is not acceptable.
CENATIEMPO: No, absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. Now I imagine you're starting to wind down for the Christmas period?
PAYNE: Not just yet, Stephen, at the moment I'm very busy trying to fit a lot of stuff in before next week. But then looking forward to a break then.
CENATIEMPO: All right. Well, thank you for making yourself available throughout the course of 2021. And hopefully we can talk on a more positive note on some things in 2022.
PAYNE: I hope so, Stephen, thanks for having me on throughout the year. And yes, hope we can have lots of good things to talk about in 2022.
CENATIEMPO: Good on you Alicia. Thanks for your time.
PAYNE: Thanks, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: Alicia Payne, the Labor Member for Canberra, I'm sure we’ll catch up with her throughout the course of 2022.