by Alan Thornhill
Centrelink’s service standards are continuing to fall, according to the Federal Opposition.
In a statement today the Shadow Minister for Human Services, Doug Cameron said “irrefutable evidence from the DHS (Department of Human Services.). Annual Report, Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reports, Commonwealth Ombudman’s reports, Senate Estimates answers and citizens’ experiences,” confirms this.
Senator Cameron said: “The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
The percentage of calls answered dropped by 11.1 per cent.
Centrelink is now only answering 64.3 per cent of calls from customers, down from 75.43 per cent in 2013-14.
Yet the “Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert continues to deny that there are significant service problems at the Department of Human Service.).
“The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
“And even if they improve on calls answered, that doesn’t mean people’s problems are resolved.
DHS needs to develop, along with Centrelink users, better performance indicators that actually measure the effectiveness of the whole system, rather than just whether the call has been answered.
“We know that dealing with Centrelink and DHS is becoming more, not less, difficult day to day.
The dread of having to try to get them on the phone when you have a problem is palpable.
The DHS Annual Report shows complaints are up 18.8 per cent n last year, and customer satisfaction is down by 8 per cent.
“The evidence is very clear, DHS is not heading in the right direction when it comes to customer satisfaction or the number of calls,” Senator Cameron said.
“And forcing people online isn’t working either – 37 per cent of people using the Medicare mobile app have experienced problems using it. 40 per cent of calls to Centrelink arise because of difficulty using the apps or website,” he added.
“The Minister’s go-to response when faced with these issues is to say that the Government is spending billions on the welfare infrastructure payment transformation program. But they’re only spending $60m over the next four years, and it isn’t due to be completed until 2022.
“It’s very hard to see how wait times or service standards will improve over the next four years if that’s their only response.”
“This Government is incapable of delivering basic services to the Australian public. Despite the change of leadership in the Liberal Party, they continue to focus on each other instead of delivering timely and quality services to the Australian public.” Senator Cameron said.
So far, the government has not replied to his latest statement.
by Alan Thornhill
Community nurses, who knock gently on patients’ doors, across Australia, save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
They do that by treating the sick in the comfort of their own homes, when they might otherwise, have to be in hospital.
The costs of providing a hospital bed now rival those that come with booking a luxurious room in one of the best hotels in town.
Our home nurses have been able to do this because community nursing, has traditionally been supported by adequate, reliable government subsidies.
That has now changed.
A budget conscious Federal government – driven by its perceived need to save money – has been lifting all rocks and rugs as it tries to cut costs.
Some $80 million has been trimmed from health and education spending alone.
So community nursing services have seen their once reliable subsidy money flow instead to big rivals.
Even though they say, those big organisations don’t understand their patients as well as their own small, locally based, ones.
They are not alone.
Other, often small community organisations, have been affected, too.
The NSW Spanish and Latin American Association was among them.
It has had two programs, which provided valuable services in the Fairfield area, defunded, in this cost cutting drive,
They had helped migrants with settlement expenses, in this poor suburb, and guided them towards healthy ageing.
These community based organisations, too, had proved their worth,by helping their clients who often had difficulties with English, keep their health, and stay out of expensive mental institutions.
So were these original subsidies wise spending, like the costs of car maintenance, or examples of conspicuous consumption, that might well be cut?.
That, essentially, is the question that the Senate Community Affairs committee has been studying.
The opposition has not been slow to suggest that the government chose to release the committee’s final report last Friday, just as the holiday season drew to a close, reflects the fact that it has something to hide in this matter.
They might well be right.
Yes, Virginia, our politicians do behave like that, at times.
The committee, itself, was blunt in its assessment of what it saw as government failures in this area.
The first of the 12 recommendations, in its final report was that the Department of Social Services must publish its recent analysis of “delivery gaps” to promote transparency and to encourage informed discussion “of a strategy that assures vulnerable people are properly supported right across Australia with no gaps.”
In Canberra, that is very tough talk, indeed.
So tough that Coalition Senators, on this committee, felt impelled to publish a dissenting report, defending the government’s record.
So this debate is far from over.
Until it is, we will keep hearing, harsh words, like those of Labor’s Senator Carol Brown, echoing around the edges of this debate.
Senator Brown, who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments, said arrangements for funding these valuable services, had now become “utterly shamboilic,” resulting in the “needless” closure of “hundreds of services.”
by Alan Thornhill
As you read this, a delegation of Australian politicians will be flying out to the Pacific to meet local islanders
Steven Ciobo, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who will be leading the group, said it would be visiting Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Solomon Islands.
He said the delegation would be observing the outcome of Australia’s aid and investment in the region.
Its aim would be to strengthen Australia’s relations with its Pacific neighbours.
But that’s only half of the story.
Members of the delegation may well find themselves spending more time listening than they expect.
Australian aid is welcomed – and highly valued – in the Pacific.
But that has never meant that it is above criticism.
One senior Pacific politician, for example, liked to talk about what he called “boomerang aid.”.
His point was that too much of the money that Australia sets aside, to help the people of the Pacific, actually ends up in the pockets of Australian aid workers, instead.
So who is going on this trip, for Australia?
Mr Ciobo said the members of the bi-partisan delegation he is leading are Nola Marino the Chief Government Whip, Jane Prentice, the Federal Member for Ryan, Sharon Claydon the Federal Member for Newcastle and NSW Senator, Deborah O’Neill.
These are serious people doing an important job, in Mr Ciobo’s view.
As he says:“the delegation underlines the strength and breadth of support in Australia for closer relations with our region.”
That declaration will be welcomed in the Pacific.
Tongans, in particular, often feel their geographically isolated position in the world very keenly.
So they won’t be allowing these Australian politicians to fly back home without knowing how they see the great issues of the day.
And for Pacific Islanders, no issue is greater than climate change.
For they know, all too well, that if rising sea temperatures, cause the Antarctic ice sheet to melt, many of the beautiful islands they call home, would simply disappear beneath the sea.
The BBC reports that World leaders, meeting in Paris last week, approved a draft text they hope will form the basis of an agreement to curb global carbon emissions.
The 48-page document will be discussed by ministers today.
They will try to arrive at a comprehensive settlement on outstanding issues this month,
Some of them will be tricky.
The French climate ambassador has warned that major political differences still need to be resolved.
Delegates from 195 countries worked through the night at the conference centre in Le Bourget, conscious of a Saturday deadline imposed by the French president.
The aim now is to turn this draft text into a long-term agreement.
And although they are on the other side of the world, Pacific Islanders are determined to make their voices heard, in support of that objective.
With good reason.
They have already seen what can go wrong, when many people feel compelled to leave home, for whatever reason.
These include civil war.
That’s what happened in the Solomon Islands, when 30,000 islanders from Malaita took to the sea in canoes, intending to settle on the island of Guadalcanal.
That gave the world an early glimpse of what the results of large population movements can be.
So Australia – and the world – have good reason to press their climate change negotiators for a tight agreement.
by Alan Thornhill
The Turnbull government has maintained its lead over Labor in the latest Morgan poll.
It would easily win an election held today.
The poll results, published today , give the government 56 per cent support, on a two party preferred basis, to Labor’s 44 per cent.
They also show confidence in the government up 2.5 points to 122, its highest level since March 2011.
Pollster Gary Morgan said the study showed the Turnbull Government’s honeymoon continuing as Australia heads towards Christmas.
This week Prime Minister Turnbull has travelled to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta – his first meeting with the Queen since becoming Prime Minister – and on to the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.
“However, despite the issues of Global Warming and terrorism dominating the news headlines lately, Turnbull’s most important task as Prime Minister is to ensure a growing Australian economy which provides gainful employment to as many Australians as possible.”
“Ultimately it is job creation and sustainable economic growth in Australia which will decide the success or otherwise of Turnbull’s Prime Ministership,” Mr Morgan said.
“To be a successful Prime Minister Turnbull needs to take advantage of the boost to confidence his ascension to the top job has created …. and not allow Labor and the Greens to obstruct the implementation of overdue reforms to the Australian economy.
“If they continue to hold-up needed reforms, Turnbull must bypass this ‘blackmail’ and let Australian electors decide by calling an election early in 2016.” Mr Morgan added.
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by Alan Thornhill
Some might call it a mini-budget.
All the Prime Minister said, in an interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC last night, though, is that his government would release “an innovation statement” within the next two weeks.
Well, perhaps he did add a little dressing, to make the prospect enticing.
By promising, for example, that he would would “set out a very large number of substantial measures. to drive the innovation that would ensure that Australians, their children and grandchildren, will have great jobs.”
“…better jobs in the future that will drive our economy,” he added.
Then he laid it on the line.
“I don’t think anybody has any doubt that if we are to remain the high wage, generous social welfare net country, first world country that we want to be then we need to be more innovative, more competitive, more productive and the innovation statement will be a good example of the measures the government is undertaking to achieve that.”
Yet Mr Turnbull, himself, has some catching up to do in this regard.
He saddled Australia with the pursuit of an internet system which, even if achieved, would offer speeds be well below those of many other first world countries, such as France.
Of course, with its vast expanses to connect, Australia does have difficult – and expensive – problems to overcome, in building anything that could – even remotely – be called a fast internet system.
Yet the picture emerging from Mr Turnbull’s attempt to do so – on the cheap – has not been impressive, so far.
Long waits for connection.
There can be no doubt about one thing.
This “innovation statement, when it appears, will be drawn up to underwrite Mr Turnbull’s bid for re-election next year.
Politically, his situation has its difficulties, despite what some are calling his initial “honeymoon” period.
He is still the man who became Prime Minister, without a popular mandate.
And he is not short of opponents who stand ready to remind him of that fact, if he starts making mistakes, as most Prime Ministers do, as they start to settle into office.
Mr Turnbull also declared during his interview last night that he is “comfortable” in his new job.
But make no mistake.
His handling of the Brough affair is already being watched very closely.
by Alan Thornhill
The Greens are demanding that the Federal government release children from detention centres.
Their immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said:“children don’t belong behind bars and they should all be released by Christmas.”
The Turnbull government must chart a new course and show that it is not willing to lock up innocent children indefinitely,” she added.
“The Australian Government has failed these children and the sooner we can get them out, the better,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“We can no longer sit idly by while these children’s lives are destroyed.
“The Turnbull government must chart a new course and show that it is not willing to lock up innocent children indefinitely,” she said.
“The Australian Government has failed these children and the sooner we can get them out, the better.” .
“It’s high time this Parliament made the reporting of child abuse in detention centres mandatory,” she added.
The fact that the Labor and Liberal Parties have ganged up in the past to block this essential move is shameful. I urge them to make sure it doesn’t happen again today.”
Senator Hanson-Young said:“The government has to recognise the will of the Senate on this and begin to remove these children as soon as possible.”
She added:“As well as the amendment to remove children from detention, the Senate legislated to have the centres opened up to media scrutiny, the reporting of abuse made mandatory and the reversal of the punitive Border Force whistle-blower crackdown, which covered doctors and nurses in detention.”
She said:“The bill will now return to the House of Representatives as amended and it will up to Malcolm Turnbull whether he reverses this historic legislative achievement.”
by Alan Thornhill
Guy Debelle says reforms to the foreign exchange market now under way will allow people to trade more confidently.
The Assistant Governor (Financial Markets) of the Reserve Bank was addressing a Bloomberg Summit in Sydney today.
He said the motivation for these changes had been to reduce the incentive and opportunity for improper trading behaviour by market participants around benchmark fixes.
And he added:“The implementation of the recommendations in our report, together with the enhanced scrutiny externally and within organisations on fixing transactions appears to have moved the market in a favourable direction.”
And further progress is expected.
“As we develop the single code of conduct for the FX market, hopefully the market will move further in that direction and allow participants to have much greater confidence that the market is functioning appropriately,” Mr Debelle said.
In terms of market conduct, we made a number of recommendations around appropriate sharing of information, including around trading positions (beyond that necessary for a transaction) and particularly customer information.
by Alan Thornhill
Some of Australia’s best scientists say the nation’s economic prospects are bright.
But they also caution that our prosperity in future will depend on the choices we make now.
This advice is offered in the Australian National Outlook report which the CSIRO published today.
Standing back from their test tubes for a moment, these scientists warned bluntly that Australia’s future will be shaped by innovation and technology uptake and the choices we make as a society will be paramount.
They are proud of their report, describing it as “, is the most comprehensive quantitative analysis yet of the interactions between economic growth, water-energy-food use, environmental outcomes and living standards in Australia.”
CSIRO Executive Director Dr Alex Wonhas said the report focuses on the ‘physical economy’ that contributes to about 75 per cent of natural resource use and produces about 25 per cent of Australia’s GDP.
“The National Outlook is a first attempt to understand and analyse the connections in Australia’s physical environment many decades into the future,” Dr Wonhas said.
“It has a particular focus on understanding two aspects: The ‘water- energy-food nexus’ and the prospects for Australia’s materials- and energy-intensive industries.”
National Outlook finds a number of key insights and potential opportunities across the Australian economy.? ?“For example, we find strong growth prospects for Australia’s agri-food production, which are forecast to increase at least 50 per cent by 2050, provided long term productivity improvements can be maintained in line with historical rates,” Dr Wonhas said.
So are we to do?
Dr Wonhas says:”“There’s a ….possibility of a win-win for farmers with potential growth in agri-food exports and new income sources for rural landholders through carbon farming on less productive land.”
What about water?
The report acknowledges that demand for water will grow with population.
But it adds:“Despite projections of a doubling of our water use, Australia could meet this growth as well as enhance urban water security and avoid increased environmental pressures through increased water recycling, desalination and integrated catchment management.”
It says too, that energy and other resources could remain a pillar of the Australian economy well into the future.
And it says our energy intensive industries could be well positioned to continue to grow, even in scenarios where the world is taking global action to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions.
“The key to this success will be innovation and application of smart technologies,” Dr Wonhas said.
“We hope the National Outlook will help Australia chart its future in an increasingly complex and interconnected world,” he added
The National Outlook explores over 20 possible futures for Australia out to 2050 against the backdrop of the past 40 years.??The work was undertaken by a team of 40 CSIRO experts and university collaborators, and draws extensively on observed data and analysis.
It utilises a world-class suite of nine linked models, includes input from more than 80 experts and stakeholders from over ten organisations and has undergone rigorous international peer review.
National Outlook is underpinned by more than 10 journal papers including a Nature paper published today. The report is available at www.CSIRO.au/national outlook
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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