Social Security and Braddon Centrelink - 25/10/2021

25 October 2021


I rise in support of the motion moved by the member for Newcastle. I thank her for moving this important motion, which highlights the importance of our social security system, something that we as a nation should take more pride in. We do take pride in the fact that we have universal health care and a strong public education system, but it is the social safety net, along with decent wages, that keeps Australians out of poverty and should enable all Australians to live with dignity and have opportunity. It should be what makes our society one where we support each other when we need it.

But the government are ideologically opposed to the social safety net. They have neglected it and have focused on cutting and demonising it and everyone who accesses it. This motion focuses on Centrelink, vital to delivering these services, and their attacks extend to this too. We are seeing Centrelinks being closed around the country, including the Braddon Centrelink in my electorate, the only Centrelink in my electorate, the only Centrelink in central Canberra. The pandemic has shown us just how essential social security and the Centrelink shopfronts that deliver it really are. Around the nation, we've seen something like the Great Depression: long lines of people stretching out the doors of Centrelink shopfronts, as workers found their lives turned upside down and their jobs gone when the pandemic hit. We saw the power of social security payments to keep people out of poverty at a time when we were in recession and to enable people to stay home and keep us safe from the spread of COVID. The social safety net literally saved lives. JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement ensured that people who lost work didn't sink into poverty and people who were looking for work were given a lifeline.

Research by the Australian National University confirms that the extra $550 per fortnight lifted hundreds of thousands of Australians out of poverty. The government could have kept this supplement and ensured that people were kept out of poverty at least until the end of the pandemic. But they reduced it and then removed it completely, and hundreds of thousands of Australians were pushed back into poverty. What this shows, apart from this government's penchant for cruelty, is that poverty is a public policy choice. It was a choice of this government to put people first and improve the lives of millions of Australians and it was a choice of Australians to push them straight back down. It's not just the payments it has taken away. As I said, Centrelinks are closing around the country. The Braddon shopfront in central Canberra is used by thousands in the inner north and inner south of Canberra. It's conveniently located and the well trained staff are known for their professionalism, empathy and ability to help, exactly the opposite of this government's approach to social security recipients. Earlier this year I found out by a Facebook post that the office space was being advertised, which meant that the government was looking at closing this Centrelink shopfront. I started a petition that almost 1½ thousand Canberrans have signed. Despite this huge community support for the service to remain open and zero community consultation about the closure, the minister wrote to me earlier this month to confirm that the government will axe this crucial shopfront in December, right before Christmas, and won't be opening a replacement anywhere in central Canberra.

What does the minister say to pensioners, people with disability, jobseekers, students, parents, people experiencing homelessness and people escaping domestic violence who rely on this shopfront? What do they say to those struggling to survive on the disgracefully low JobSeeker payment of $43 per day, who will now have to spend a significant portion of their weekly income on public transport to go to Gungahlin or Woden to access a Centrelink shopfront? Not everyone can use online services, not everyone has a computer or a smartphone, not everyone even has an address. Canberrans have told me how important this Centrelink is to them. Lorenzo is a student at the ANU who lives in the inner north. He became ill last year and had to cease full-time study. He went into Braddon to get help to sort out his payments and ended up being entitled to $1,000 in back pay. His was an issue that couldn't be sorted out over the phone. There were no forms to fill out and the online portal didn't have the answers. People like Lorenzo need a service centre close by. Canberrans are not going to stand by and watch the government close the only Centrelink in my electorate. It is not good enough from this government, who knows nothing other than to demonise and attack our social security system and the important services that it delivers. We will fight to save our Centrelink in the inner north of Canberra.