Greens Leader and MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, said that Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert, had potentially lied to him in writing over the Minister’s closure of a Centrelink office in the electorate of Melbourne, and that in the absence of an explanation, Bandt would be moving a censure motion when the Parliament resumes.
Robert wrote to Bandt on 19 May 2020 advising he would be closing the Abbotsford Centrelink office on 21 May 2020, saying “the landlord advised they will not retain Services Australia as a short-term or long=term tenant and will not permit any occupancy by the Agency at the premises after the lease expires”.
However, in comments reported by the Guardian, a representative of the landlord said it was offering a “lease extension on existing terms and was awaiting a formal reply” and that “This morning it reached out again to Centrelink to confirm the premises remain available and it is welcome to stay.”
“In the absence of an explanation from the Minister, if the landlord’s comments are accurate, the Minister has lied to me in writing and has unnecessarily hurt thousands of people reliant on the Abbotsford Centrelink ,” said Mr Bandt.
“The Minister must immediately reach out to the landlord and ensure Abbotsford Centrelink remains where it is.
“Stuart Robert has been caught out before saying things that are untrue, like that Centrelink services collapsed under an attack from hackers, and he may well have done it again.”
“Unless the Minister can clarify the matter and explain what looks like a straight out lie, I’ll be moving to censure the Minister when Parliament resumes, not only for closing a much-needed Centrelink but for apparently lying about it too.”
“If there’s an explanation, I’m waiting to hear it. On 20 May 2020, I asked the Minister in writing to meet about this important matter and to date have received no answer. I can only assume he has been caught out yet again and has nothing to say in his defence.”
Greens Community Services Spokesperson Rachel Siewert said the Minister had questions to answer.
"I received advice through a Senate Estimates Question on Notice on May 8th that as of March 19 there are no further Centrelink Service Centres approved for closure," Senator Siewert said.
"Minister Robert needs to come clean about this process and release the time line for when this decision was made.
"We now know that Salta Properties have offered to extend the lease to Services Australia and there does not appear to be a reason why the Minister should not accept this offer.
"We are in a health and economic crisis with millions more people needing access to services. It is outrageous for the Government to close down such a vital service at a time like this"
Editors note: a copy of the letter sent by Minister Roberts to Adam Bandt is available here.