In March 2014, I was informed that the local Medicare office in our community, in Eastgardens shopping centre, would no longer open on a Saturday.
The reason given by the minister responsible, Senator Payne, was that the service was no longer well patronised on a Saturday, so it was no longer required. So I checked it out. The next weekend, I walked down to the local Medicare at Eastgardens on the Saturday and I saw what was going on. What I saw was a well-patronised service. I saw people lining up to use the Medicare service on a Saturday. The line actually went out the door. People were lining up out the door to access this important health service.
Understandably, it gave me the opportunity to talk to the people in the line about their views on Medicare closing on a Saturday. They were livid about this decision of the Abbott government. Most of them were telling me that they are flat out during the week, busy with work and family, and they do not have the opportunity to get to the office should they need to change a name on a Medicare card and the like. The elderly were telling me that they do not have the capacity to access some of the online services.
When I came back to parliament, I expressed the anger of our community and asked the government to reverse their decision. Not only did they not reverse the decision; they have now gone a step further: they are about to close the Eastgardens Medicare office.
Thousands of constituents that rely on this service will be inconvenienced. The office is going to be moved to nearby Maroubra, into the Centrelink office. Needless to say, the community is up in arms about this decision. They see it as a kick in the pants, and many have been venting their anger on my Facebook page. I would like to record for the parliament some of the comments that we have received.
Kelly Millward said: Bad idea! No parking in maroubra, and a very long walk for some from the bus... plus more buses through eastgardens! Maroubra centerlink doesn't function well now - don't add pressure to staff and services by closing their closest support...
Paula Wynyard said: What a bad idea. Eastgardens is so much more accessible for people, and undercover, which is much more practical for the elderly and new families. Why make an already busy office worse!
Josanne Ryan said: Do they simply want to discourage people and make us feel contempt for our government services? They have done this in the Centrelink office at Bondi Junction and it's a nightmare when you try to go there to claim Medicare. They have people there turning you away as the 'wait time is long...well over an hour'. Just go home and claim online. Well if that was possible we would have done it. There are times when you need assistance.
Sandi Caldwell said simply: Ridiculous! Bad idea.
There are also rumblings within our community that the Baird Liberal government is about to close the RTA office in Maroubra. So, another important government service that is accessible by members of our community will be closed by a Liberal government. The message out of all of this is that Liberal governments cut services. We have seen that not only in my community through these cuts but also in the broader Australian context through the cuts that have been made to the Public Service and to government services that are delivered by the federal and state governments.
This is an attack on government services that thousands rely on each week. Many see it as completely unacceptable. It will inconvenience members of our community by forcing them to go and line up for Medicare payments at Centrelink, where they face much longer queues and delays, mixed in with people seeking other services provided by Centrelink. It is opposed by my community, and I ask the minister to reconsider this decision.
It will particularly inconvenience the elderly because buses are not as accessible and parking is not as available at the Centrelink office at Maroubra. It is a bad decision, it is a cut to government services, and I call on the government to reverse the closure of Medicare Eastgardens and do what is right by our community.