Oct 8, 2003

$47 million Centrelink budget blowout threatens jobs and services


Joint Media Release:
Wayne Swan MP – Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services
Anthony Albanese MP – Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Training

8 October 2003

The new Minister for Family and Community Services, Kay Patterson was clueless today when asked to explain a $47 million blowout in Centrelink’s budget that threatens the jobs of Centrelink staff and services to jobseekers and pensioners.

While the Minister was completely unaware what has caused the $47 million blowout, Labor understands that up to half the overspend is the direct result of Centrelink efforts to fix the Government’s bungled Job Network IT system.

The troubled IT system was supposed to provide an interface between Centrelink, Job Network providers and job seekers – and has already cost taxpayers more than $60 million to develop.

The blowout has forced Centrelink management to apply an across the board cut of 1.5 percent to its running costs – a reduction that is likely to impact on staffing which accounts for around 70% of the agency’s expenses.

Centrelink staff are also preparing for long queues and processing delays as a result of the budget pressures.

In an extraordinary performance in question time today, the Minister refused to guarantee jobs would not be cut at the agency because she regards Centrelink as being outside her control.

However the problems are the direct result of decisions made by her predecessor Senator Vanstone and Employment Services Minister Mal Brough.

This is also the same flawed IT system that linked a Tasmanian man with a job as a prostitute and a Ballarat woman with a heart condition with a job as a combat medic.

Centrelink has now been asked to bear the full cost of fixing the system. Ironically, the system that was supposed to help jobseekers find work is likely to cost Centrelink employees their jobs.

Further, in attempt to hide the problem Centrelink management has been forced by the Minister’s office to issue a circular warning customer service staff:

Do not refer to cut backs, staff shortages or inappropriate allocation of resources as a contributing factor or the major reason for the lack of timely processing of a customer’s claim, or payment, or process that have caused delays.

Minister Patterson should immediately release full details of the budget blow out and a guarantee that no Centrelink jobs will be cut as result of the Government’s mismanagement.