Almost 27,000 Centrelink “customers” each year will need to travel further to access face-to-face services when the Braddon Centrelink shopfront closes in December.
Yesterday in Senate Estimates, Minister for Government Services Linda Reynolds used the “confronting” and “drab” nature of Centrelink buildings as an excuse to justify axing the only Centrelink in central Canberra.
Alicia Payne MP, Member for Canberra, has been campaigning to save the shopfront after learning there will be no replacement service in the Inner North and thousands of existing users will be forced to travel to travel to Belconnen, Woden or Gungahlin to access face-to-face services.
Minister Reynolds earlier this month confirmed the Braddon service centre will be merged with the Gungahlin shopfront from December.
Services Australia claimed the closure was because of 40 per cent decline in customer demand in Braddon since 2016, as a result of demographic changes in the area.
But, under questioning ACT Senator Katy Gallagher on Thursday, Services Australia admitted more than 27,000 “customers” still use the centre each year.
The Senate heard the Minister was informed of the decision to close the centre in May, almost half a year before the government publicly confirmed the shopfront would be axed.
Ms Payne learnt of the threat of closure after seeing a Facebook advertisement for the office’s lease in May.
Despite the decision having already been made, the Minister’s reply in June said: “The agency is currently considering its face-to-face service offer for North Canberra”.
Ms Payne’s correspondence with the Government did not confirm the shopfront would be shuttered until earlier this month.
“This decision and the secretive way it has been made is so disappointing,” Ms Payne said.
“It is disappointing the department did not even bother conducting community consultation around this or consider what the closure means for the thousands of people who use the Braddon shopfront.”
The Estimates hearing also heard the closure is part of the department’s “Repurpose + Reimagine” program in which they will be looking at the future of every single service centre currently operating around the country.
During the hearing, Minister Reynolds described existing Centrelink shopfronts as “confronting”, while a departmental official called them “drab”.
“I’m pretty sure the 27,000 people who use it every year aren’t worried about architectural aesthetics - they just want a person to help them with their payments,” Ms Payne said.
Ms Payne said it will make life harder for vulnerable Canberrans, job seekers, pensioners, carers, people with disability and students.
“Some of Centrelink’s own conditions require customers to come into a face-to-face shop front so it can't be replaced entirely by online services,” she said.
“There are people who are homeless who don't have a computer or a smartphone, let alone an address, or women fleeing domestic violence, who need to just go and speak to someone who might not want to be at home on a computer looking into these things.
“‘Digitally accessible’ just sounds like the government taking the human out of human services to me.”
Ms Payne urged Canberrans to keep signing her petition to show the Morrison Government how important this service is for Canberrans.
More than 1,400 people have signed her petition so far.
Ms Payne also encouraged Canberrans to write directly to Minister Reynolds and ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja to express their disappointment at the decision.
The petition can be signed on the Member for Canberra’s website:
MEDIA CONTACT: MICHAEL INMAN 0415 955 078