Minister Shorten interview on ABC Melbourne Drive


ALI MOORE, HOST ABC MELBOURNE DRIVE: Bill Shorten is the Minister for Government Services and also the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And the question for you, I've got lots of questions for Bill Shorten, but I want to know from you whether or not you feel safe when you go to a Centrelink office because you often do need to go in person. But do you find, do you find the offices an uncomfortable place to be? It's nothing to do with the staff. They do their best to try to help, but other customers. Have you ever been in a Centrelink office when someone's vented their frustrations or yelled or worse, thrown furniture or threatened staff? 1322 774 is the number. If you've had that experience, give me a call. It happens a lot. In the last financial year, there were more than 9,000 incidents of aggression at Centrelinks across Australia. The government announced late last year that it would increase security after a review, after a particularly nasty incident. And today they have announced $300 million towards employing security guards. Bill Shorten is the Minister for government services. Bill Shorten, welcome.

SHORTEN: Good evening. Good afternoon, I should say.

MOORE: I’ll get to the security issue in just a minute. But just a couple of topics that we’ve just covered there. The first one, Monash Health. I’m not sure how much you know about this data breach that goes to a cyberattack on Serco data. Are you across that one?

SHORTEN: I've read a little bit about it. I understand that it was alerted or discovered in mid-March. I know that a position that the Albanese government set up, the National Cyber Security Coordinator, has been engaged on understanding what's happened and addressing the issues since mid-March. It must be tremendously distressing for people who could have had their data hacked or stolen. So, I know that this unfortunately is all too common and the cyber coordinator is trying to understand how it's happened, who's been affected, the extent of it, working with Monash and the affected agencies.

MOORE: And is it, I mean, I know from Monash Health they said that they didn't. It was actually, I think the, it's been about a month that they've known that. They haven't said anything publicly. They wanted to sort of line up their ducks, find out as much as they could. Is that reasonable? I mean, is that why you would, is that sort of best practice or should you just alert as soon as you even know that there might be a possibility? I mean, there's that you don't want to alarm people, but you also want to let them know anything they should know.

SHORTEN: I think there's two priorities, aren't there? One is to know your facts and the other one is to be as quick as you can to alert people so I won't second guess Monash health in under a month. I understand they alerted the national cyber coordinator in mid March. If I'd been hacked, I'd want to know, am I hacked? As soon as possible. But I'd also want to know as much as I could as soon as possible. So, I guess there's a trade off between accuracy and speed, isn't there?

MOORE: Yes, too true. The other story that we've just been looking at and obviously really distressing for Bonza staff who are now apparently queuing at Centrelink offices for emergency payments. Again, is that appropriate? They've gone into administration. We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know whether they will, you know, live to fly another day. But staff have been told today they won't be paid and nor will they be paid what they are owed for the entire month of April.

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, it has just happened. I know that the Minister for transport, Catherine King, and the employment relations Minister, Tony Burke, have asked for further information. We want to make sure that where possible, passengers get their refunds. We also need to be briefed by the voluntary administration. The voluntary administrator, is this permanent or is there any chance of recovery? We don't quite know that yet. I know that we will arrange a government transition support for the workforce in the event entitlements can't be paid. I've asked Centrelink to briefly on what best. Best practices right now. It's terrible time for these workers, unfortunately. As a union rep, I went through the collapse of Ansett and I saw what happened with Virgin. We just need a little bit more information, I think, in order to make sure. If we pay people and then they get their entitlements, we want to make sure that we don't have to engage in debt recovery. So, for those workers, we'll find out from Centrelink and we'll publish something as soon as we can, because I get that they don't have income and that's the key issue.

MOORE: Time is of the essence for those workers. Absolutely.

SHORTEN: I'm very conscious of that.

MOORE: So, $300 million towards employing security guards. How many Centrelink officers already have security guards?

SHORTEN: Quite a lot. Not all of them. And not all of them have the same traffic or problems. There was about. When I became Minister, there was about 280 working across the network, security guards. But I've got to say, I'd noticed any aggressive incidents when I became Minister. And then in May of last year, an amazing lady who's a team leader at airport west got stabbed, Joanne Casser. She's a great person. Her and her husband Andrew. I got to know them. It's unacceptable. You know, that's self evident, but it is. So, I've immediately asked for a former policeman to just give a cop's eye on how we can make the place safer. I know there's macro issues from mental health and knives, but sometimes the macro issues can be an excuse for inaction. And I just wanted a police expert to tell me, how do we make these places safer for the 10 million visits they get and the thousands of staff who work there?

MOORE: So, that was the. I think it was Graeme Ashton, wasn't it, who did that report. So, of the 300 million, how many more will that allow for?

SHORTEN: Up to 600 security guards? And there can be other improvements as well. 35 of the most frontline officers are going to be upgraded in their layout. I think in the last decade there'd been a focus on the customer experience, which is fine, but the golden rule of health and safety is that if the workforce is safe, then the customer's going to be safe too.

MOORE: It is an interesting point. I mean, you raised this yourself then, and we've certainly, we've heard this in the context of actually what happened in Bondi, for example, that security is not necessarily the answer. You may well be dealing with someone suffering a mental health episode or an addiction that you can escalate with security. I mean, what sort of training do these security guards have?

SHORTEN: Well, we want higher grades of training in our security stuff. I must say, I have no criticism of our security staff, the contractors we use no criticism at all. But I do want a higher level of training that the contractors provide us, because otherwise the security staff are a danger themselves. Some people say it's a matter of just training the staff. The staff are very well trained, but I'm not going to. We shouldn't have a system where each Centrelink person has to be a black belt and karate in order to, you know, that's just putting the risk back on the workforce. Most people are using Centrelink, like, when I say most, I mean 99.9% of people are fine. So, it's not necessarily that there's an explosion in the cohort of people who are doing the wrong thing, but we also have a programme where some people have blotted their copybook and we have to find other ways to do them because they're just banned from the office. But people still have, people still need money. So, that can be done by telephone. We're trying to overhaul all of those practises, make sure we're identifying people, giving them the support they need but not jeopardising the safety of staff and other consumers of the system.

MOORE: I do have a text here which just reflects a couple of texts. If I can put this one to you, Bill Shorten. [reads text messages] “If Centrelink had a functional system staff, you wouldn't have people peed off” “Dealing with Centrelink is like being in jail” – Now, I wanted to get your reaction.

SHORTEN: I don't buy that. Like, I get frustrations. And for the record, we've also put on since Labor's coming, another 3,000 people to process payments and answer phones. But there's no excuse for violence. Like, it's one thing to be “peed off”, as you say, but it's another thing to start smashing the furniture. There's no excuse and no one's- And by the way, most people who come in are not the issue. There's some people who are not in control of themselves. And, you know, the idea that there's legitimate rage leading to violence, it's not legitimate to go that far. So that's that in no set of circumstances is it okay to smash your fist in someone's face, to stab someone or break up the furniture.

MOORE: Absolutely. Bill Shorten, thanks for joining us.

SHORTEN: Thank you very much.