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Labor warns jobs will be sent to Asia if Medicare payments privatised

Date

Noel Towell

Wanting clarity: Labor says the government must come clean on how many jobs would go if the payment of Medicare pharmaceutical and veterans' benefits go to the private sector.

Wanting clarity: Labor says the government must come clean on how many jobs would go if the payment of Medicare pharmaceutical and veterans' benefits go to the private sector.

Labor says public service jobs in the Department of Human Services could be sent to Asia if a privatisation of key departmental functions goes ahead.

Labor senator Doug Cameron says the government must come clean on how many jobs would go if the payment of Medicare pharmaceutical and veterans' benefits goes to the private sector. 

Human Service Minister Marise Payne has dismissed as "alarmist exaggerations" union predictions that up to 20,000 jobs could go if the $29 billion of payment services were farmed out to private players.

But DHS bosses have admitted that they do not know how many of their public servants are engaged in delivering the payments, further complicating the job of estimating the impact of the move for DHS's 30,000 public servants.

Last week, the Health Department called on private players to express interest in taking over the payment of $29 billion each year in health and pharmaceutical benefits currently managed by the Department of Human Services.

After the news, there was speculation that Australia Post or one of the nation's big four banks might take over the payment systems.

But Senator Cameron, Labor's human services spokesman, warned on Wednesday that outsourcing to one of the big four might lead to DHS jobs being shipped offshore.

"If you look at the history of banks in this country, then it's clear that jobs will very quickly end up in India or the Philippines," he said.

Senator Cameron also took issue with Senator Payne's angry reaction to claims of 20,000 jobs on the chopping block, with the Labor frontbencher challenging the minister to provide details on the impact on public service employment.

"She must now come out and detail why she believes this is exaggerated, what in her estimation is the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of this privatisation," he said.

Senator Payne and Health Minister Peter Dutton have justified going to the market because of DHS's ageing IT infrastructure, which is in need of expensive upgrades, with the ministers arguing the private sector may be able to offer cheaper alternatives.

But Senator Cameron says all the available reports indicate that DHS runs efficiently and effectively and the move towards privatisation is ideological.

"All the reports I've seen from the Australian Public Service Commission show that the department is well run, efficient and effective," Senator Cameron said. "This approach from the Coalition is based on ideology, on the belief there is no role, or very little role for government."

Senator Payne's office did not to requests for comment on Wednesday.

DHS was asked by Senator Cameron this year how many of its public servants were engaged in delivering Medicare and pharmaceutical benefits but the department said it did not know and had no intention of carrying out the research.

"Since integration in July 2011, data in relation to the previous master programs is no longer maintained and to disaggregate and respond specifically in relation to employees involved in the delivery of these payments would be an unreasonable diversion of resources," the department wrote in its official response.

29 comments

  • All about stripping unions of membership, nothing to do with small government, to see how well off shoring works, just look on the internet about complaints or look up ones being logged with ombudsmen, most are do with poor service supplied by over seas call centres, electricity companies are a fine example of how they don't work, when are forced to waive a bill for both gas and electricity because of it, how much do companies lose, not only because of mistakes and poor language skills, but also being charged every time a complaint is lodged with the ombudsmen, most of which end up in favor of the customer.

    Commenter
    Lost2
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 8:33AM
    • Hear, Hear !!!

      Commenter
      Di Keller
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 4:16PM
  • Australia my country, let's have DD now please . These Goverment with team of cheats is dividing this country. Jesus wept.

    Commenter
    Old grumpy Nana
    Location
    North Shore
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 8:42AM
    • I'm not sure if DD could solve anything. If you ask me revitalizing the manufacturing is crucial. What do you think Nana?

      Commenter
      Gerson
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 17, 2014, 5:52PM
  • Come on - Someone from DHS comment in here and list the figures. Front line delivery staff and telephony (medicare specific) numbers?!. Your latest proposed collective agreement is an illustration of how lowly you're viewed by your department, why not anonymously post some figures here. Play chess with a Government that treats you, and anyone not excessively wealthy - like dirt.

    Commenter
    BalanceBarry
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 8:52AM
    • Anyone below SES generally do not get proper figures - They get the figures that SES and higher want them to see.. Generally what the public will see

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 9:56AM
  • Privatisation of public assets and service delivery is a scam. The only time privatisation would be beneficial is the (theoretical) increase in efficiency drvien by competition.

    But when privatising a government service, that service is delivered by a monopoly, and a monopoly that doesn't have to innovate to generate revenue as they are still government funded.

    So you are handing ownership over to a private company that has no incentive to deliver high levels of service or innovation, because they have no competition and no need to locate sources of revenue. With this you lose any direct control over the administration of the public service, and the end result is either higher cost to the taxpayer for the same level of service, or substantially poorer service for the same cost.

    Commenter
    Markus
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 9:25AM
    • @ Markus - how true!!!!!

      Commenter
      Irene
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 10:20AM
  • So there's actually no evidence for this except for the ALP suggesting that it might happen?

    Which means it is simply made up.

    No wonder the Canberra Times is going down the drain.

    Commenter
    jgm
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    August 14, 2014, 10:03AM
    • How come you still read the CT if it's going down the drain?

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 14, 2014, 11:19AM

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