Minister Shorten interview on ABC Melbourne with Raf Epstein


SUBJECTS: Services Australia staffing numbers and claims backlog; Prime Minister getting engaged; negative gearing

HOST RAF EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten is the Minister for Government Services, He also is the Minister for the NDIS and he's the Labor MP for the seat of Maribyrnong in Melbourne, Good morning, Bill Shorten.


EPSTEIN: The queue to get on the phone to Centrelink, when do you think that's going to significantly improve?

SHORTEN: I hope in the next three to six months, it is too long. I've managed to convince my colleagues in the cabinet that we need thousands of more people in the system, providing Human Services. So we need more humans in Human Services. And that argument was accepted. So from October, we've been hiring 3000 people. It takes a while to hire 3000 people, but they're on now. And we have detected the waiting times have fallen out have improved from 30 plus minutes to 26 minutes. That's still very long as I acknowledge that. The new staff receiving comprehensive training, the analogy I'd use, it's a bit like turning a ship around in the Suez Canal. Did you know that 12 years ago, we had 37,000 staff for 23 million Aussies. Before I hired my 3000 staff, we had 30,000 staff and 26 million Aussies. So there's been this myth in government that somehow technology will solve all problems and it takes a while.

EPSTEIN: The significant issue, of course is claims, as Minister. So you mentioned there three to six months for the phone lines, I think you got a million claims backed up when are you going to take a significant chunk out of that?

SHORTEN: Well, we've had 1.2 million claims backed up. We've reduced it by 100,000. And then, that's ,we're doing lots of claims every day. But that's the backlog plus the usual business as usual. So again, I think in the same time period, it's chicken and the egg, it isn't, I’m prioritising getting the claims down, because 20%, roughly, of all phone calls have people saying where’s my claim. So if we can get the claims, if we can really blitz the claims and get them down, then that'll take some of the traffic off the phones. Just to do a shout out to Service Australia's staff here. Each year, there's 1.1 billion transactions. Or in the last year there’s 1.1 billion transactions online. And then there's 10 million visits into our offices. And there's over a million phone calls a week. So we've just got to get, you know, we encourage people to go online, but we understand not everyone wants to be online.

EPSTEIN: It's complicated.

SHORTEN: We’ve got hundreds of different data points and sets of circumstances under our social security law. So I feel like underneath the bonnet it’s complicated. The previous Government invested heavily in new software and technology. But some of it didn't work, we've had to junk up. So at the same time as they invested in new technology, they ran the argument we can do with less people. The problem is at the end of the journey, some of the new technology has had to be junked. And we've got less people.

EPSTEIN: and Bill Shorten people who are listening, it's up to everyone to judge how much they take into account what you say the previous Government did. But to a point blank question like...Why should people trust you, things like Robodebt did do and I realised other side of politics, but it erodes people's trust in every single politician and every single Government system does, why should they believe you when you say it's gonna get better?

SHORTEN: Because I put more people on. Because I've changed…there's three, there's three proof points that I give people. One: this is the largest number of new people being hired for Services Australia, other than the COVID era, the COVID crisis, so effectively in metaphorical peacetime, that we've ever seen. One proof point. The second proof point is there was a fantastic team leader who criminally got stabbed at Airport West last May. I went down spent a long time with her and the workforce, and a lot of what the staff are carrying was stress of sort of a low level of persistent aggro. And so we've made put in place measures to keep them safer. The reason why everyone else should use that as a proof point is, I figured that if the staff are feeling safer and happier, then everything moves along. But the third proof point I would give you is I organised the class action on Robodebt. And then I pushed for the Royal Commission. And now what we're doing is improving our engagement with the community sector. So yeah, I'm, I'm not going to sell people something that isn't happening. But there's three proof points about a commitment to listen to work with community, commitment to keep our staff safe and a commitment to more people on, which I think that just shows that we actually do what we say we're gonna do.

EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten’s the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten. I don't know if you've seen this while we're talking. I wanted to ask you about some breaking news. New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese just tweeted a significant announcement. It is a picture of he and his partner Jodie Haydon. With a caption, “She said, Yes.” He clearly popped the question on Valentine's Day.

SHORTEN: Fantastic.

EPSTEIN: Did you know?

SHORTEN: No, I just saw at the same time that perhaps you saw it. It's fantastic news. Couldn't be happier.

EPSTEIN: I won't ask you to give them advice. You surprised?

SHORTEN: I hadn't thought about it. But she’s great. Yeah, I think it's lovely and Valentine’s Day. So timing is everything. So that's fantastic.

EPSTEIN: Timing is everything. Okay. I will ask you to give me advice on one thing, though, you took a negative gearing change to two elections quite successful. The first one won a lot of seats, not quite as successful the next one. A lot of pressure on your Government to do something on negative gearing. Maybe the PM should move on it?

SHORTEN: Well, our tax reform agenda is pretty full at the moment. We're doing the tax cuts, which will allow people to keep more, earn more and keep more and so that's pretty positive. We're also trying to make sure that the multinationals are paying their fair share of tax and to ensure that the petroleum rent resource tax is delivering.

EPSTEIN: But not now?

SHORTEN: Well I also think in housing, our rent to buy changes are the sweet spot. We believe that the best thing we can do for housing shortages is to increase the supply of houses so I'm certainly not aware of any plans to tackle negative gearing.

EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time, Bill Shorten appreciate it.

SHORTEN: Yeah, great Raf lovely to chat.