CUTS TO PUBLIC SERVICE MEAN LONGER WAIT TIMES FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP MOST

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (17:58): The second issue I want to raise in the grievance debate on behalf of constituents is that if you do have to interact with government agencies these days across support payments, whether that's older people on pensions, whether it's people who become unemployed, whether it's people relying on disability payments—there's a wide range of payments that we make—if you have to engage with a government department, I'm getting—and I can only assume most officers are—more and more frustration from people about how long it's taking to get their matters dealt with. We've seen waiting times increase year after year. I'm regularly getting people contacting me who are waiting for their age pension to be processed. This was something that never happened when I was first elected. I'm not being party political—under the Howard government I didn't see much of that sort of thing being raised. But it happens now quite regularly, and it has been for a while.

I would say to the government, 'Have a look at the staffing levels and expertise in government departments.' I think this is sometimes feeding into, in the worst cases, people getting wrong information, which can have quite serious implications for them. There is the blowout in the waiting times to have things processed. The immigration department is another example where you're seeing long waiting times. Someone puts in an application for a partner visa or a parent visa—those sorts of things—and they say, 'It's been 12 months and I haven't heard anything.' In the meantime, on the website it says the time to process them is now 24 months. These are people's lives. If you're waiting for a partner visa, you might not want to start a family until you actually know you've got the visa situation sorted out. This is affecting people's lives. In my office, day in and day out, across a number of government departments we are seeing people expressing great frustration. The other one we get regularly is about citizenship. Wonderfully, somebody has decided they want to be an Australian citizen. They're enthusiastic and go through the whole process and they wait a year or 18 months to get citizenship sorted out. These are the sorts of issues, day in and day out, that my local constituents are coming to my office about.

I think this is something the government needs to consider. I'm absolutely convinced that the people who work in these departments are dedicated individuals doing the best they can and working very hard. It's no reflection on them. But, when you've got those sorts of waiting times happening, you have to ask yourself: why is this occurring? As a government, one would think you're responsible for this and you need to think about what you need to do to address it. I suspect a great deal of it comes back to staffing cuts, outsourcing and the sorts of policies that are not ensuring that the constituents of our electorates across the country get the service that they actually need in a timely and efficient manner. On behalf of all of those constituents, whether they're waiting for pensions, waiting for youth allowance payments, waiting for citizenship applications, waiting for partner applications, and all the different types of services, it is now a consistent message across all of the government departments that people are getting frustrated because of the blowouts in waiting times whenever they're dealing with government.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.