Most members in this place will be aware that, over the course of the weekend, bushfires threatened many communities in New South Wales, including my own home town of Cessnock and many of the villages close to Cessnock itself.
I take this opportunity to extend my thanks to our very courageous firefighters, both permanent and retained. Our volunteers in particular do amazing work. As do, also, of course, our emergency services personnel and, not to be forgotten, our police and our ambulance officers are all doing wonderful work in and around Cessnock.
Thankfully, to date at least, we have lost no homes, and there have been no significant injuries and certainly no deaths. Of course, we all pray that the threat has now passed but, again, I thank all those who did so much to ensure that lives, property and homes were not lost in that event.
Secondly, and on a very different note, I want to reflect on what is happening with Centrelink. The cuts to Centrelink have been enormous and are now having very, very significant impacts on the constituents represented by each and every one of us—not just Labor members in this place but also, of course, coalition and crossbench representatives. This is now in a state of crisis, I would say. The workload in my constituent office—and I am not complaining about it—has risen considerably as people become so frustrated by the inability to secure the advice, support and help they need at Centrelink. I feel for Centrelink staff, who are doing their very best in very difficult circumstances, but there are not enough of them. They are simply not sufficiently resourced to cater for the demand at the front office in Centrelink, nor indeed on the phones.
These are not just the unemployed; these are elderly residents whose financial situations might have slightly changed, who need to make declarations to Centrelink and, more importantly, secure advice from Centrelink. They are families who have lost an elderly loved one and need to make arrangements and need advice. They are parents with children with severe disabilities. All these people are unable to receive help from Centrelink. This government needs to start listening to this problem. It needs to start doing something about it. Only money fixes it—that is the reality. You cannot just take efficiency dividend on efficiency dividend.
You have to give Centrelink the resources it needs to assist people who need their advice and assistance.
Medicare is no different. We are closing our Medicare offices all over the place. People on low fixed incomes are waiting long periods to receive recompense for money paid to a GP and for other services. I do not buy this, 'Everything's electronic now and it can be easily fixed.' It is not working, particularly for elderly people.