Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Doorstop interview regarding service arrangements

23 March 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

MINISTER ROBERT:

... so today will be a very new experience for them. As a consequence, we're seeing long lines at Centrelink, as well as strong demand across all our channels. It's important to understand that within our shop fronts, our Centrelinks, we are following strongly the advice from the national medical authorities, including social isolation, including distancing, and of course the square metering, including our staff. Therefore, we have less staff in our Centrelink offices and I encourage anyone who is waiting for Centrelink to continue to practice those social isolation and distancing guidelines that have been provided.

We have been preparing for a large influx of Australians who haven't yet used Centrelink services before. Over the weekend, we took our number of users from MyGov from an average 6000 concurrent users to what is now 55,000 concurrent users. We have put a 10-fold increase on our digital channels over the weekend in preparation. Unfortunately, this morning, we also suffered a distributed denial of service attack on our main channels, which also highlights that other threats still abound.

The Prime Minister announced a number of days ago a surging of 5000 extra staff across the Services Australia network to continue to prepare. We've also enacted under the social security admin claim, an intent to claim process. So I'd say to all Australians if you intend to claim for a jobseeker payment, there is no need to line up at Centrelink now or indeed to jump on the phone. From tomorrow on MyGov, you'll be able to lodge your intent to claim from today. You'll be able to let Services Australia know that you intend to claim for a jobseeker payment, and then you can process or call through in the coming days or weeks at your leisure.

Likewise, we're now extending the call centre operations for our phone from 8:00AM to 8:00PM, New South Wales time, and weekends from 9 to 5, to line up with the intent to claim process so that all Australians will have the opportunity to connect with us via a call centre, online or if they wish to face-to-face, although I would reiterate that our online and digital channels are the fastest.

The intent to claim process that we have launched today means that you can, over the coming days, simply log in with MyGov, log your intent to claim, that way your intent to claim is grasped from today and that when your documentation is provided, or when you connect with Services Australia, any of your claims will be backdated to today so no Australian will be disadvantaged.

So we understand some of the pressures that we're seeing across the network in these unprecedented times, and I can assure all Australians that we have prepared and we're working very hard to alleviate it, and importantly, through the intent to claim process, to ensure that no Australian is disadvantaged because of it.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

MyGov has not been offline. It simply suffered from a distributed denial of service attack this morning, and currently it's processing 55,000 concurrent users, which means the 55,000 and first user will not be able to access it. So as users move off the 55,000, that's when new users can come on. And we are working today and tonight to look at how we can expand the 55,000 concurrent user to a higher number.

QUESTION:

So are you saying it suffered a cyber attack?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We suffered a significant distributed denial of service attack this morning. That's correct.

QUESTION:

Coming from where?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We don't attribute in terms of where attacks come from.

QUESTION:

You're saying it's working, but in fact it's been put down by some malicious user, so it can't be both?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Actually, it can be both. The distributed denial of service is designed to actually flood your entrance point, your routers if you like, with so much traffic that other users can't get in.

QUESTION:

50,000 for example?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There is significant numbers of- significant systems we have in place to knock that off whilst allowing users to have access at the same time. So absolutely, you can have concurrent users and defeat a denial of service attack.

QUESTION:

Will the national security services be investigating this [indistinct] attack?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We run one of the largest cyber operation centres within Services Australia in line with Home Affairs and the ASD, and we always work collaboratively.

QUESTION:

Minister, why do job seekers have to wait until [inaudible]?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'll leave payments and payment policy and other areas to respective national ministers. That way there is one senior voice speaking about it. My job is Service Delivery. Happy to answer any Service Delivery questions.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

Happy to answer any Service Delivery questions.

QUESTION:

How long does it take on average for people to get online on the phone, or online?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We manage those things across multiple ...

QUESTION:

[Interrupts] How long? You must have some figures on [indistinct]?

MINISTER ROBERT:

At present, there are delays. And we don't give a running commentary on delays.

QUESTION:

You must have some idea about how long it is. How long people have to wait. These people have lost their jobs, now they're losing their minds trying to get onto your system. So how long is it taking?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I don't accept your question, but I understand the frustration people are experiencing. And we're doing everything we can to ensure that those delays are minimised ...

QUESTION:

You said you'd answer services questions. How long does it take?

MINISTER ROBERT:

And again, I'd reiterate that the intent to claim process means that people don't need to wait now. Tomorrow with MyGov, they can lodge their intent to claim. That way people will know their claim will be accepted as of today without having to wait.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

The MyGov system, with 55,000 recurrent users, will be in terms of- the intent to claim will be online tomorrow. And again, people can put their intent to claim in today, tomorrow or the next day, backdated to today. So no Australians will be disadvantaged.

QUESTION:

Can you guarantee they'll get online?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I can guarantee that 55,000 concurrent users, which is a 10-fold increase from Friday, will be able to access MyGov, and we're working very hard now to see if we can increase that level of concurrency to even higher numbers.

QUESTION:

And according to your government, 88,000?

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] … you're suggesting that tenfold increase has nothing to do with [indistinct]?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, I'm saying to you we increased our tech over the weekend so that 10 times more Australians could use MyGov at the same time, anticipating challenges Australians would have.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] … the significant increase in people trying to access it had nothing to do with the site crashing?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The site didn't crash. There's many Australians who couldn't access it at a combination of more than 55,000 Australians trying to access at the same time, as well as the issue we had with our denial of service attack.

QUESTION:

Minister, will you be putting on extra staff members-

QUESTION:

How concerned are you that there is a cyber-attack that is actually then obviously stopping Australians from getting the help they need?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We suffer cyber-attacks more often than I think people quite realise. This morning was a challenge for us.

QUESTION:

Minister, will you be putting on extra staff to deal with the-

MINISTER ROBERT:

I just announced that we'd have 5000 extra staff, as the Prime Minister announced.

QUESTION:

You also said that there would be fewer people at shopfronts. Are they going to be at shopfronts or are they going to be on phone or online?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There are fewer people at shopfronts because of the advice from the Chief Medical Officer on social distancing and isolation. Those people are redeployed in the network in terms of phones and processing.

QUESTION:

So, there'll be fewer people at the shopfront probably for the next few weeks?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. As long as the health advice in terms of the social distancing and the amount of people per square meterage is in place, my agency will follow that advice.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] … So from tomorrow, people can log on, they can put an intent to claim. Will those people still need a CRN, a customer reference number?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yes. And a customer reference number can be got online. People do not need to go into a shopfront to get a CRN.

QUESTION:

As of when?

MINISTER ROBERT:

As of today.

QUESTION:

How do they identify themselves? [Indistinct] … people have to prove their identity to be able to access it. How would people do that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In the same way ostensibly(*) we use a 100 point identity check, we'll use in the same way. Now, in the coming months, we'll be logging in with myGovID, which is a new authentication process to even streamline that further. But that is a number of months away.

QUESTION:

Minister, during the bushfires, you had mobile, kind of, I guess, shopfronts …

MINISTER ROBERT:

We did.

QUESTION:

Is this something that you would consider given that there are so many people queuing up for blocks in some circumstances to get assistance?

MINISTER ROBERT:

So, during the bushfires, we rolled out, at its height, 27 mobile service teams and two mobile service centres. Those mobile service centres are operational. We wouldn't envisage rolling out the mobile service teams because that was three or four people as an all-of-government effort that were taken in with limited tech. The best way is for people to use the online channels.

QUESTION:

Can I confirm with the CRN number, online at the moment it says you have to go into a service centre. So are saying that's a new change as a result [indistinct]?

MINISTER ROBERT:

As at this morning, you'll be able to get a CRN over the phone. Website changes would have all been going through this morning to advise people of that.

QUESTION:

So you can get it over the phone?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yes, you can.

QUESTION:

How long do people have to wait on the phone in order to get one of those numbers?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, it's the same question you asked before, and we don't give a running commentary(*) on times, but I acknowledge that there are challenges in the system.

QUESTION:

Do you acknowledge that people aren't being able to get online at the moment? So for all intents and purposes, it's not working for them.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'm acknowledging that there are certainly waiting queues online- on calls and in service centres, absolutely.

QUESTION:

So how long should people be waiting at home before they hang up the phone?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we'll be getting through as quickly as possible. We're surging as many call centre staff as is possible, as well as hiring - and we have been for many, many days - call centre staff to surge into this process.

QUESTION:

How many extra staff are you going to be putting on in those call centres?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we're bringing on an extra 5000 staff immediately. I would suspect- although, I'll leave that to CEO Services Australia - but you would have thought a large percentage of those will bolster our call centres.

QUESTION:

Minister, could the Government better have prepared for this?

MINISTER ROBERT:

If you think about what we've done with a tenfold increase in myGov capability in preparation, you can always better prepare in hindsight, but the Government has done a lot of work in preparation, including looking at hiring 5000 extra staff. We have 7346 people in our call centre network right across the board, and we don't just deal with jobseekers, we deal with every other application for payment across 14 different government agencies. So I've got to continue to balance all of that workload whilst surging resourcing into job seeking.

QUESTION:

Just on the DNS attack, do you believe that the act of targeted [indistinct] for this particular time, when they knew that there was a surge in demand, and do you suspect a foreign actor may have [indistinct].

MINISTER ROBERT:

I don't know.

QUESTION:

Are these 5000 new staff adequately trained to handle this process?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There is, unfortunately now, a very large number of processing and call centre experienced operators who no longer have jobs. So, we'll be actively looking and seeking for those people. And if there are people who have got experience in call centres and processing, I'd be encouraging them to be contacting Services Australia and applying.

QUESTION:

How many new people have applied for unemployment benefits?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I don't have a number for that yet.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

MINISTER ROBERT:

The myGov site has not been down. I've said this a number of times.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] you can't access it.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It has a load of 55,000 concurrent users, ten times more than Friday.

QUESTION:

When will people be able to access it again, that's the question. Not whether it's [indistinct], but when can people get on and access it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's got a concurrent user load of 55,000, so when that load is hit, people then have to wait. Now, we're looking at ways we can increase that from tenfold over the weekend to even higher, and that will take some time.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Last question, guys.

QUESTION:

Minister, what would you say to students who are on Austudy or Abstudy who've had their working hours reduced but who are ineligible for support?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Again, I'm here to talk about service delivery. I'll let policy ministers and national leaders deal with those questions.

Thanks very much.

Page last updated: 1 April 2020