Saturday, February 03, 2018

Outrageous Turnbull Foreign Nation Centrelink Scandal

Paying $430,000 for  a foreign nation's advice on Centrelink call centre ‘outrageous’

Unions say the government won’t learn anything it does not already know, and should employ more staff instead

The Australian government is giving $430,000 to an American consultancy to tell it how to improve Centrelink’s call centre, a move unions describe as an “absolutely outrageous” waste.

The Centrelink call centre has come in for intense criticism over the wait times in recent years. In the last financial year, customers were met with 55m busy signals, up from 29m in the previous year, and the wait times are a cause of constant frustration to welfare recipients.

The pressure on the call centre, which the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) attributes to job cuts, led the government to announce this year that it would bring in multinational outsourcing group Serco to help operate the service.

Centrelink call wait times balloon to 16 minutes on average

It also announced last month that it was bringing in a foreign consultant to advise it on how to resolve the call centre’s problems.

The contract was awarded on a limited tender to Brad Cleveland Company LLC, a US-based consultancy, for $430,000.

The CPSU national secretary, Nadine Flood, said the money was being wasted and the government would learn nothing it did not already know.

The call centre was the subject of an exhaustive audit by the Australian National Audit Office in 2015 and a commonwealth ombudsman inquiry in 2014, and has been scrutinised in Senate inquiries, including in budget estimates, on a frequent basis.

“This is an absolutely outrageous amount to spend for this American consultant to tell us what any Centrelink call centre worker or customer already knows,” Flood said. “[The Department of Human Services] desperately needs more permanent staff to provide the service standards that Australians need and deserve.

“The Australian National Audit Office also knows what the real problem is here, which is why it recommended the addition of 1,000 staff in DHS.

“That’s not going to fix the 55m calls that went unanswered last financial year.”

The opposition spokeswoman for human services minister, Linda Burney, said throwing money at consultants and outsourcing services would not fix the problems with Centrelink, and called for an increase in staffing levels instead.

“Turnbull cut 1,200 jobs from Centrelink at last year’s budget, and unanswered calls doubled to 55m,” Burney said. “Centrelink needs permanent, full-time staff, who are qualified and familiar with the often complex issues facing Australians who require income support.”

The Department of Human Services’ most recent annual report showed the average caller to Centrelink waited 15 minutes and 44 seconds to speak to someone, while people phoning about disability, sickness or carers’ payments, or unemployment waited close to half an hour on the phone.

It was the worst result since 2014, when the department overhauled its reporting regime.

In 2015-16, about 42% of the 68m calls made to Centrelink were blocked. Another 7.12m calls were abandoned.

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