A PUBLIC rally is being held to keep the existing Centrelink and Medicare offices in Mornington.
The rally will start outside the Centrelink offices, 332 Main Street, at 2pm Wednesday 18 March.
The public show of support is the latest salvo in the fight to retain the busy offices which are slated to close 30 March and replaced by a part-time agency over 15 hours a week.
Among those scheduled to attend are Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Sam Hearn, fellow councillors and Dunkley MP Peta Murphy.
Anger at the forced closure is growing with a petition at the Mornington Community Information and Support Centre (MCISC) carrying 3484 signatures as of last Friday. Ms Murphy will present it to the House of Representatives when complete.
The agency solution was described as a sell-out of residents’ needs by Cr Hearn said last week. He was speaking after health minister and Flinders MP Greg Hunt announced that tenders had been invited for a scaled down version of the full-time centres (“Agency ‘solution’ for Centrelink” The News 21/2/20).
“I’m far from convinced that the current proposal will be enough to meet the needs of local residents,” Cr Hearn said.
“We’ve been advocating for more core services for the Mornington Peninsula and we will continue to do so. We are calling on the federal government to improve the range of services available at Mornington, not reduce them.”
The information centre’s manager Stuart Davis-Meehan described the proposed 15-hour service as “grossly inadequate”.
He wrote to Mr Hunt to say despite numbers seeking face-to-face support at Centrelink offices had fallen by 40 per cent over five years there were “still on average 160 people a day (800 a week) who prefer this option and are currently attending the Mornington Centrelink office”.
He said his “initial excitement about [Mr Hunt’s] announcement that the services had been retained in Mornington” had cooled after he “considered the detail”.
Late last week Mr Hunt said the agent tender “until 30 June 2020 [is] standard practice as all Services Australia agent contracts are offered for a maximum of one year aligned with the financial year”.
“There is an ongoing commitment to agent services in Mornington over future years for as long as the Mornington community utilise the service.”
Mr Davis-Meehan said moving from 160 people a day to something that might be manageable over 15 hours a week would be a “poison chalice for any organisation taking it on”.
“My concern is that the demand will be so unmanageable that it will just cause grief for the organisation and the public in trying to cope,” he said.
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said the change was in response to a “significant reduction in customers visiting the service centre”.
“We regularly review our face-to-face services to ensure service delivery is sufficient to meet community needs,” Mr Jongen said.
“What we’re seeing is people increasingly using different channels to connect with the agency and access services, with the availability and convenience of mobile apps and online facilities.
“Customers from the Mornington area can continue to access the Frankston and Rosebud service centres.”
Cr Hearn said increased foot traffic at other Centrelink sites would increase congestion and queue waiting times. “The shire was not advised or consulted on this matter, nor was the local community, and the intended closure date gives very little time for service users to make other arrangements,” he said.