The Braddon Centrelink office will be closed in February 2022 further taking the services away from Canberrans.
The JLL property managers have already put the office’space on the market for rent.
The Braddon Labor MP for Canberra Alicia Payne is not impressed by the new development when she saw the advertisement of the property on a staffer’s Facebook feed. She believes the Federal Government plans to close the shopfront.
“It looks pretty clear that that’s what they’re thinking, and I wouldn’t trust this government with Centrelink,” Ms Payne told ABC Radio this morning.
The MP has started a petition urging the the Federal Government to keep the Braddon shopfront open. She already garnered 190 signatures.
“I’ll be fighting to ensure the Canberra electorate’s ONLY in-person Centrelink office is saved from this Liberal Government’s attempt to close it,” Ms Payne wrote on Facebook.
Senator Linda Reynolds, Minister for Government Services, confirmed in a letter to her that the lease would expire on 28 February 2022.
“The Agency is currently considering its face-to-face service offer for North Canberra,” Senator Reynolds wrote.
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said that as leases came up for renewal, the agency reviewed service centre tenancies to ensure they were fit for purpose and aligned with the changing needs of the community. Services Australia considered convenience to the community, the demand for services across the geographic footprint, and access to public transport.
Ms Payne described the Centrelink shopfront as “an important centre for Canberra’s workers and jobseekers, as well as older Canberrans, students, and those experiencing homelessness”.
“During the pandemic, we saw long lines down Lonsdale Street, as record numbers of Canberrans accessed Centrelink payments,” she said. “It is unbelievable that the Morrison Government is contemplating taking this service away from Canberrans.”
Many of those clients would have difficulty accessing the nearest Centrelink service centres in Weston, Belconnen, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong, Ms Payne argued.
“With payments so low (JobSeeker at $43.50 a day), the cost of extra bus fares to get to one of these offices could be too much for people,” the MP told the ABC. “That sounds extreme, but it’s very much the reality.”
Senator Reynolds said the transformation and modernisation of business and information technology, and the increased uptake of digital services (such as myGov and Express Plus mobile apps) had significantly changed the way customers accessed the Agency’s services. Digital and telephone self-service allowed people to do their Centrelink business at a time and place convenient to them.
“This has led to fewer people needing to attend service centres.”
Ms Payne did not think this was good enough. Centrelink processes were complex, she told the ABC; homeless people did not have access to computers or phones to access Centrelink; and people escaping domestic violence might not be able to use a computer or a phone at home, and would rather come into a face-to-face office.
Canberra Weekly asked the Government whether in-person visits had decreased, or if figures were available. The Government did not answer those questions.
Services Australia has said it will inform the community and staff if it planned to make any changes to services in Braddon.
However, Ms Payne claimed that there had been no community consultation about the potential closure. (The Government did not reply to Canberra Weekly’s question about this issue.) The ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) also asked Senator Reynolds’s office whether they planned to consult the people affected. The Minister’s office had not replied.
In fact, Ms Payne told ABC Radio, the Government’s transparency was “appalling”.
“That I or anyone would find out from an advertisement for the office space that’s clearly the Centrelink office is not good enough.”
The news that the shopfront would close has dismayed politicians and social services.
“It is disappointing that we are seeing a reduction in face-to-face service for the many people who cannot access online services, or who need help to navigate online services,” said Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of ACTCOSS.
“A reduction in access to Centrelink face-to-face support might result in a person being breached and ending up with no income, simply because they’re unable to get someone to sit down with them and assist in navigating complex reporting requirements.”
Some people needed face-to-face support because of their age, disability or vulnerability; others waited for hours on the phone. The Braddon office was also close to specialist services, including homelessness services. If it closed, vulnerable people would need to travel further and spend money that might go towards food, clothing, and shelter, Dr Campbell said.
—Canberra Live & Canberra Weekly