DESPITE local “dismay” at the Federal Government’s lack of consultation about the imminent relocation of Morwell’s Medicare office, to be alongside the town’s Centrelink building, the government has sought to sell its accessibility merits.
Advance Morwell chairman John Guy has challenged the assertions of Federal Human Services Minister Brendan O’Connor that the move, due to take place “later this year”, will improve access to government and community services for local people.
Mr Guy said “absolutely no consultation with the local council or community” had preceded the decision and the relocation would “make it extremely difficult for townspeople to access existing services”.
“Apart from (being) two blocks away from the local bus station, the parking in the Centrelink area is extremely congested, with little access for those with a disability,” he said.
“In comparison the current Medicare office is across the road from the bus station, has disabled parking right outside and copious parking just around the corner.”
In contrast, Mr O’Connor maintained the government had “spent a lot of time considering accessibility and customer demand in Morwell” and he said it would be easier for locals to access more government services from the one location.”
“It’s easier and faster, which is what people are asking for,” he added.
Mr Guy disagreed, raising further concerns about the potential withdrawal of any “capacity to provide Medicare clients with cash refunds” from the new premises.
He said this would be “a terrible outcome for the community”, and said many people managed “on a day to day basis and need their cash refunds immediately”.
“In particular, if there is no option of receiving a cash payment, older members of the community will then be forced to walk across town to get to their bank to access their cash,” he said.
He also expressed concern about the impact this would have on peoples’ bank account fees, “when such fees are often assessed by the number of withdrawals made”.
Mr O’Connor confirmed customers would “be able to use the new credit EFTPOS payment options, which allows them to swipe their debit card and have their Medicare rebate deposited into their bank accounts immediately”.
A spokesperson for the minister said the move to “cashless” payments was consistent with what was already happening at Medicare offices elsewhere and would gradually be implemented across the board.
The minister said the co-location would make “life easier for customers who will be able to do all their Centrelink and Medicare business in the one spot” from a location “just three minutes’ walk away”.
However, Mr Guy said the move might be saving “a few taxpayers dollars and keeping bureaucrats happy” but it was being “done at the expense of those in the community who need the service most”.
Mr O’Connor said a “one-stop-shop” on the proposed new Medicare site had already been offering some Medicare services to around 30 customers per week since April last year “so for many, this move won’t be a big change”.
Mr Guy, however, urged local councillors and MPs to “step in and stop” the closure from going ahead.