‘Crucial’ Centrelink data kept secret

Paul Fletcher has accused Labor of blocking ‘crucial’ Centrelink and Medicare data. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Emma Brasier

The Coalition has accused the government of “blocking” access to crucial data they say could better ensure more targeted cost-of-living assistance.

They say Labor has failed to provide transparent electorate-by-electorate data that shows how long Australians are waiting for their government payments to be processed; and accused Government Services Minister Bill Shorten of “stonewalling”.

With cash-strapped Australians struggling to make their dollars count, the Coalition are demanding Labor come clean on the speed of claims processing at an electorate level to ensure targeted solutions are available in the areas worst impacted.

Opposition government services spokesman Paul Fletcher said he had asked for detailed breakdowns of how long Australians in different parts of the country had to wait after submitting a claim, but had been met with a response from Mr Shorten that “Services Australia does not collate or record data by electorate”.

Mr Fletcher has accused the government of lying, noting the previous Coalition government had been able to provide Labor MPs with the detailed data.

The Opposition are demanding the government come clean about key electorate data. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Emma Brasier

“The Opposition is calling on Mr Shorten to urgently release the requested data to better inform policymaking and empower citizens,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Every community is different, and Labor must come clean on how claims processing is going on an electorate level, so we can work together to implement targeted solutions to areas most in need.”

Using the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Coalition have compiled data that shows how different electorates are over-represented in certain health and social issues.

Their data shows 13.6 per cent of Lyons are impacted by arthritis, compared to 8.5 per cent of the country. The Coalition says more detail is needed to know how long people in Lyons were waiting for their Medicare claims to be processed.

Elsewhere, their data shows 12.3 per cent of the Bendigo electorate suffer from a mental health condition, compared to 8.8 per cent of Australia.

In the same electorate, 14.6 per cent of voters provided unpaid assistance to a person with a disability, health condition, or due to old age – compared to the national average of 11.9 per cent.

They want answers about how long those people are waiting for their Centrelink claims to be processed; and questioned how the ABS could provide hyperlocal health and social data but Services Australia could not.

Paul Fletcher said the government must release the data to inform better policy making. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Emma Brasier

Asked whether Services Australia provided an electorate-by-electorate breakdown of data, General Manager Hank Jongen said processing times varied depending on the payment type and complexity of the claim.

“We’re sorry to anyone who is waiting longer, and thank them for their patience,” he said.

“We are working hard to process work as quickly as possible.”

Questions in writing obtained by the Opposition from the previous parliament reveal data was provided to Labor MP Emma McBride in June 2020, after she asked then-government services minister Stuart Robert for detailed data for her electorate of Dobell.

She asked what the average claim and processing times were for Centrelink, Medicare, and Home Care claims.

In response, she was given the financial year to date information – with claim processing times of 14 days, zero days and zero days respectively.

Services Australia said since July 1 this year, they had processed 84,000 Jobseeker claims; 17,000 Youth Allowance Claims; and 2.24 million Medicare claims.