Labor to Hire 3,000 New Public Servants for Centrelink and Medicare

The hiring spree will cost taxpayers $228 million.
Labor to Hire 3,000 New Public Servants for Centrelink and Medicare
Hundreds of people queue outside an Australian government welfare centre, Centrelink, in Melbourne on March 23, 2020, as jobless Australians flooded unemployment offices around the country after Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the coronavirus pandemic would cause an economic crisis akin to the Great Depression. - In scenes not seen in Australia for decades, queues stretched around the block at unemployment offices around the country as the forced closure of pubs, casinos, churches and gyms began at midday on March 23. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
Monica O’Shea

The federal Labor government will hire 3,000 new staff to “improve” Australia’s welfare and public health services, Centrelink and Medicare.

The government will inject $228 million of taxpayer funds into Services Australia to cover the new frontline and service delivery staff at the agencies.

The thousands of new workers will work in “smart centres” in capital cities and regional centres. Centrelink provides welfare payments for job seekers, students, pensioners, carers, families, and people with disabilities.

The government says the funding will ensure a “Robodebt”-type scandal never happens again, with the return of humans to manage services.

Robodebt was an automated debt recovery process implemented by the previous government. However, the program sparked controversy after Robodebt was found to have wrongly issued 470,000 debt notices to Australians.

During the announcement, Bill Shorten, the minister for Government Services, dumped an aluminum foil robot into a bin at the Services Australia office in Melbourne.

In a statement, Mr. Shorten said the new staff will be critical to reducing call wait times, speeding up claim payments, and giving Australians back their time.

“More than 3,800 frontline staff were ripped out of Services Australia, making the agency’s job to help Australians increasingly difficult,” he said.

“Services Australia will be bringing on the staff as quickly as possible, with more than 800 Australians already accepting jobs at the agency.

Discussing his future plans, Mr. Shorten said the government was committed to upping funding to Services Australia, and continuing to hire more staff to the public service.

New positions will be available in regional areas like Ballarat and LaTrobe Valley in Victoria, Toowoomba and Maryborough in Queensland, and Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

Average call wait times had blown out to more than half an hour at Centrelink in July and August, up from 22 minutes in the prior corresponding time frame in 2022.

Public Service Union Welcomes Hiring Boost

The Commonwealth Public Services Union (CPSU) welcomed the funding and new staff, claiming credit after a “hard-fought union-led campaign.”

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said 3,000 new staff would not fix every problem facing Services Australia, but for the first time in a long time things were “going in the right direction.”

“These jobs must be a permanent addition to the Services Australia workforce, because temporary or short-term staffing won’t fix this broken agency,” she said on X.

“This announcement by the Albanese Labor government comes after an extensive union-led campaign that uncovered the dire consequences of cutting a crucial agency to the bone.”

Ms. Donnelly said unacceptable call wait times, delays in claim processing, increases in customer aggression, and high staff turnover were all symptoms of an agency in crisis.

Monica O’Shea is a reporter based in Australia. She previously worked as a reporter for Motley Fool Australia, Daily Mail Australia, and Fairfax Regional Media.
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