06 July 2021

6 JULY 2021 

SUBJECT: Closure of Braddon Centrelink.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: We spoke to Andrew Leigh last week about the fact that bank branches seem to be closing right across the ACT. Well now there's concerns that the only Centrelink shopfront in central Canberra could also close. Joining us this morning on what would normally would be our political panel is Alicia Payne, the Labor member of Canberra. Alicia, you get clear this morning.




CENATIEMPO: Just gonna be me. I can't say that I'm not going to bite back at what you say, but at least you won't have Zed to argue with this morning. He's been finally allowed out of the country. Now Services Australia, they're reconsidering their face-to-face service at Braddon. So, explain to us what's happening here? The lease is up on the building, is that right?


PAYNE: Yes. And we found out about this when it popped up in the Facebook feed of one of my staff as a sponsored ad, saying that that office space was becoming available, which I think is extraordinary. So I wrote to the Minister-


CENATIEMPO: But why is that extraordinary? That of an office space up for lease will pop up on Facebook?


PAYNE: Well, because the Government is considering closing the Centrelink, and that is the extent of consultation, that they're advertising an office space before they've done any kind of discussion with the community about how they use that face-to-face service. Whether it's important, how many people use it, where else could it move? None of these questions have been asked-


CENATIEMPO: But hang on, but this- what I'm saying here is that- so hang on, how did you, you found out about these because the property came up for lease?


PAYNE: Yes. And it was being advertised.


CENATIEMPO: Right. And is it a Commonwealth-owned building?


PAYNE: I don't think it's a Commonwealth owned-


CENATIEMPO: Well of course it wouldn't be, because it wouldn't, because they wouldn't be leasing it if it was.




CENATIEMPO: Yeah, okay. Righto, all right. Okay, keep it up.


PAYNE: But anyway, I wrote to the Minister, who's responded to me confirming that the lease does end in February 2022, and that they are considering the future of that site, and then extolling the values of doing your Centrelink business online, or on the telephone, rather than going into a face-to-face office. So I think that sounds very much like the Government is looking to close that Centrelink office.


CENATIEMPO: But that is fairly consistent with the way things are going these days, isn't it?


PAYNE: Absolutely it is. And I don't think that's a good thing. We've seen the Government secretly closing Centrelink offices around the country, and it looks like the Canberra one is next. And I know that many Canberrans really value and need to be able to get to a face-to-face service, you know, in the Inner North. This is the only office, the closest one would be Woden or Belconnen. And I think that people in vulnerable situations, people who might be older people wanting to access their age pension shouldn't be forced to travel that extra way.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I don't necessarily disagree with you there. But I don't know that this is necessarily an issue with this Government. I mean, this has been ongoing for years and years that frontline services seem to be closing, because most things and it's very similar to the bank branches, in that most things are moving online, whether we like it or not. And when you say they're secretly closing offices, I mean, how do you secretly close something?


PAYNE: Well, because it's not a consultative process, asking about how many we need and whether the current number are meeting that need. It's seeing office space advertised on Facebook popping up. I mean, I saw that and I thought to write to the Minister, but for many, there could be people who use that office regularly, perhaps, you know, all the people who are honourable people who saw that ad and are really concerned that that office that they use regularly will be gone. And there's been no consultation with them.


CENATIEMPO: So the minister hasn't given you any indication that it may move to another site?


PAYNE: No. I mean, they haven't ruled that out either to be fair but they have just said they are considering the future of that office. And then, as I said, saying how great it is to go online or on the phone, which doesn't work for everyone.


CENATIEMPO: No, and I agree with you there. I guess the other difficulty here is, is that particularly in Braddon, I don't see Braddon as an incredibly economical place to have a Government office, given the way rents are in Braddon. It probably would be better to move it somewhere else from a cost perspective, wouldn't it?


PAYNE: Well, but it's a very central place. So I mean, it could potentially be if there was another one, somewhere very central like that, you know, Civic or, somewhere there, I think that might be okay. But I suspect that they won't replace it, and it will mean that there's no Centrelink or Medicare office in the Inner North.


CENATIEMPO: So are you expecting any more response from the Minister? Or is that, so what has the Minister said to you? So they've said that they're obviously trying to move people online, which, you know, I think we understand in this day and age, whether we like it or not, sometimes I do like to talk to humans, but that's not always easy these days in a lot of cases, and I'll tell the story about my booking in for the COVID vaccine later. But I mean, obviously, it would be a good idea to move this. But are you planning any further correspondence with the Minister on this?


PAYNE: Well, that will be I'm sure the Minister is not going to contact me again, unless I contact her again. I've started a petition which Canberrans can sign on my website, or my Facebook page, saying you know, that we want to save the Centrelink. And I've already had many Canberrans write to me saying why the Centrelink is important to them. One person, I think really importantly pointed out that I mean, we know that people that need to go into the face-to-face office might be in very complex and vulnerable situations. But someone on my social media pointed out that, you know, it can be victims escaping domestic violence, who aren't able to use a phone or a computer at home who need to come in to a face-to-face office. Homeless people are another population that will need to use the face-to-face office often, obviously not having access to those technologies or even, you know, a mailing address a lot of the time. So I just think it's incredibly important, and it's another example where the Government is letting vulnerable Australians down.


CENATIEMPO: Because these Centrelink offices these days, and correct me if I'm wrong, because I haven't been into one in ages, but they're more a multipurpose centre, along the lines of the Service NSW centres these days. So it's not just Centrelink and Medicare, but basically all Services, Services Australia services are run through the one office these days, aren't they?


PAYNE: That's right. But Centrelink and, and Medicare would be the main ones, for example. This isn't an NDIS office or anything like that, those are the main things. And even the Medicare there is sort of, like a, where you can go and be assisted to do it online. But I think that's, as I say, incredibly important to people who need that assistance.


CENATIEMPO: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, even if it was moved into a more compact, smaller facility, maybe. Okay, well, we'll chase this up Alicia, too, but the petition's on your website and on your Facebook page?


PAYNE: That's right.


CENATIEMPO: Okay. Alicia, appreciate your time this morning.


PAYNE: Thanks, Stephen, have a good day.


CENATIEMPO: All the best, you too. Alicia Payne, Labor member for Canberra. Eddie, we should try and get the relevant Minister on to talk about that. Because, yeah, at the end of the day, I mean, I understand that we're all moving to this online world, whether we like it or not. And let's face it, sometimes I don't want to talk to public servants, so it is better to do it that way. But occasionally you do need to talk to a real human being. So we will chase that up. And if you do, if you are somebody that uses the Centrelink or Medicare office in Braddon, let us know where you are and how often you use it and how important it is to you. Give us a call.