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Access Canberra reopening plagued by queues, violent incidents and possible staffing issues

Lottie Twyford11 November 2021
Tuggeranong service centre

A violent incident where staff were subjected to threats last week meant Tuggeranong Service Centre had to close for two days. Photo: ACT Government.

As was seen after last year’s post-lockdown reopening, Access Canberra Service Centres across town have been overwhelmed by a large number of customers coming in to sort out what they couldn’t during lockdown – establishing registration for their new cars and getting an ACT licence are among some of the top issues.

However, after this year’s reopening, there are suggestions employees have been told not to discuss staffing issues openly, while the Tuggeranong Service Centre was closed for two days after staff members were subjected to violence on multiple days last week.

A spokesperson for the ACT Government said the closure of the centre on Friday, 5 November and Monday, 8 November was to allow time for follow-up support of the team at the Centre who were ” subject to unacceptable occupational violence, and repeated threats of personal violence on Wednesday and Thursday last week”.

A spokesperson for ACT Policing said no charges have been laid in relation to a man attending the Service Centre.

However, he was arrested on Wednesday because he was already subject to an outstanding arrest warrant. The man subsequently returned to the Centre on Thursday and was again removed by police.

During the closure, and after consultation with the team, a review of safety arrangements was undertaken at the Centre.

“Every worker should feel safe and respected at work and it is incredibly disappointing that due to the actions of a member of our community, this was not the case for the team,” the spokesperson said.

“Access Canberra apologises for the inconvenience the closure may have caused for those who were planning to visit that centre; however, the safety of the teams and our customers at Access Canberra is a priority”.

During the closure, security guards remained at the centre to redirect community members who arrived to find their nearest alternative Service Centre.

“Access Canberra would like to remind our community that all our frontline workers must be treated with respect for undertaking the important work they do to support our community. Any disrespectful, aggressive or violent behaviour is not acceptable and may be referred to ACT Policing when required,” the spokesperson added.

They said the majority of Canberrans had been patient and understanding during the busy time.

Tuggeranong Service Centre reopened yesterday at 9 am (9 November). Service centres in Woden, Belconnen and Gungahlin also reopened, while the smallest centre, in Dickson, is only currently completing Land Titles transactions until February next year.

Asked if this was due to reports of staffing pressures, which staff have been allegedly told not to talk about, the spokesperson said, “this temporary service change was made to support COVID safety requirements at the site and workforce priorities across the agency”.

“Due to high service demand and associated service delays, the community is also reminded that most transactions can be completed online or by phoning Access Canberra on 13 22 81,” the spokesperson said.

Asked specifically about the reasons behind the long queues being experienced at each centre, the spokesperson was able to provide several reasons.

Primarily, service centres being closed meant there was a backlog of services. Also, many of the transactions which could not be completed online during lockdown are “complex in nature or require additional support, which means the time of transactions is longer”.

The spokesperson said that queues outdoors are also longer than usual because fewer people are allowed in the Service Centres due to capacity limits.

“Physical distancing to support staff and customer safety also means that not all counters can open and the number of people who can wait inside a centre is reduced to ensure compliance with current Public Health Directions and density limits,” they noted.

Anyone with non-urgent transactions to complete is asked to delay their visit to a centre at this time. None of the centres are accepting cash payments.

Original Article published by Lottie Twyford on The RiotACT.

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