More than 30 Centrelink offices across the country could be at risk of shutting their doors in what Labor has labelled a secret government plan to streamline services.
The Centrelink workforce fears a review of branches with five staff or less is currently underway, prompting concerns Minister Linda Reynolds could green light the closure of sites across the nation and replace them with a “skeleton agent model”.
The closure of the sites, predominantly located in rural and regional areas, means more individuals in areas with poor internet and phone reception will be directed online to access services.
Services Australia has denied a review into smaller sites is taking place.
NCA Newswire understands that notice of such a review was not given and if acted upon staff could be offered redeployments to other offices.
Labor’s government services spokesman Bill Shorten criticised the plan as an act of “civic vandalism”.
“The Government must come clean on its review of sites and tell Australians which additional Centrelinks it plans to shutter,” he told the NCA Newswire.
“Such a plan would close more than 30 Centrelinks across the nation including places like the Cooma Centrelink which covers a service area of 20,000km.
“It is a cynical pea-and-thimble trick unworthy of elected representatives and senior bureaucrats.”
The public sector union national president Alistair Waters labelled the move as worrying, pointing to Services Australia’s recent trend of shutting or merging shop fronts.
“The CPSU is aware through the agency’s own National Consultative Committee, that it is currently undertaking a review of sites,” he told the NCA Newswire.
“Services Australia management have been decreasing its footprint across the country for the single purpose of saving money.
“This is a well-established pattern by Services Australia senior management of failing to genuinely consult with workers and the community about the very real implications of changes.
“Instead, Services Australia only advises decisions after the fact, to reduce push back from the community.”
When asked about the closures, Minister Linda Reynolds deferred comment to Services Australia.
General Manager Hank Jongen denied such a review into smaller sites was being undertaken but did not rule out a broader review is ongoing.
“We are undertaking a national rollout of modernised service centres, with customers at the heart of the design. Our new service centres have contemporary layouts, easier navigation through our services, the ability to book Centrelink appointments and digital coaching options,” he told NCA Newswire.
“This new and improved customer service experience began with the opening of a modernised service centre in Perth in 2020 and continues to be rolled out across the country.”
There are currently 320 Centrelink service centres across Australia.
Ten Centrelink branches across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, the ACT and Northern Territory have already been closed in the past three years. It’s understood a further six offices across Victoria and NSW are under risk.
In October, Services Australia deputy chief executive Grant Tidswell wouldn’t confirm more closures were on the cards but said the department was looking at getting the “right mix”.
“We’re looking right across the board at all of our service centres to try to get the right mix. We’re using an evidence based model to determine the right look, feel, approach and access,” he told a Senate estimates hearing.