October 23, 2018

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (16:19): A complaint that all 150 of us in the House of Representatives would be familiar with is their constituents' frustrations, particularly elderly and vulnerable Australians, regarding delays in accessing benefits through the Department of Human Services. I particularly want to raise the issue of one of my constituents, who waited over six months for her application for the aged pension to be processed. It was only approved after my office became involved. Unfortunately for my constituent, Faye Geraghty of Budgewoi, her application was sitting idly in a processing queue—not actioned for months.

The average waiting time for processing age pension payments increased from 36 days to 49 days last financial year. Fay waited over 130 days. Let me repeat that: whilst the average waiting time is 49 days, Fay waited over 130. That is more than one-third of the year. This is just not on in a modern and advanced democracy such as ours. There is no great secret behind these delays and backlog. Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull and the new Prime Minister have sacked thousands of public servants within DHS since 2013. The public cannot access public services if there are no public servants to do the work. It is a pretty simple equation.

Fay's experience is not a meaningless statistic. She deserved much better treatment than she received. This government often talks about providing dignity in retirement for older Australians, but there is nothing dignified whatsoever about Fay's experience. The Prime Minister or the Minister for Human Services should have a coffee with Fay and hear firsthand the impacts their brutal cuts have had on the lives of hardworking Australians, who should have been afforded the dignity the coalition so often talk about. The most frustrating part of Fay's experience is that, once my office became involved, a relatively minor administrative oversight was able to be fixed and she was granted her pension with full back pay from the day she made her claim. Older Australians who have played by the rules and worked hard all their lives, like Fay has, should not be treated so shabbily. Australians deserve better than this.

When the Prime Minister declared that he was 'on your side'—meaning the people's—on being elected Liberal leader, my constituents saw this as more meaningless and hollow rhetoric from a government that is totally and completely out of touch with the lives of the people they purport to govern for. My constituents who apply for Social Security should never have to experience almost never-ending delays. Elderly and vulnerable Australians deserve so much more. I have had pension applicants waiting for over six months before being granted. Yes, they received back pay, but that provides cold comfort—

An honourable member interjecting

Mr CONROY: I hear 'two years' over here. It's a disgrace. Pensioners deserve the very best treatment. This government claims to provide that but in the end we see public service cuts that mean huge waiting lists. Our people deserve better.