Bizarre advice as customer service counters close

A SECRET review has triggered plans by the Palaszczuk government to slash the number of customer service agricultural counters open to the public across regional Queensland.

The cutbacks mean farmers needing help with everything from drought assistance to biosecurity will be handed a switchboard number rather than talking to a person face-to-face.

Internal documents, obtained by The Sunday Mail, reveal just four of the 22 Department of Agriculture and Fisheries customer service counters will remain open to the public as usual, with others to either "transition to digital or phone service only", or face reduced opening hours.

The internal document was distributed to departmental staff last week.

It recommends staff at the locations where the public counters will be closed should consider hiding from public view if customers can see them in the building from the street.

Advice includes keeping the main door locked, exploring options to work from home and "if possible, relocate to another desk which is out of site (sic)".

Longer-term options to mask staff from view include door frosting and higher partitions.

"COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to review our service delivery model for efficiencies while maintaining excellent customer service," the internal document states.

"Our customers have adapted well to the change in delivery of our services and we are capitalising on this change.

"Some sites will see reduced hours for face-to-face counter hours and others will transition to digital or phone service only."

LNP Leader Deb Frecklington.
LNP Leader Deb Frecklington.

State Opposition leader Deb Frecklington has attacked the closure of public counters at a time when much of Queensland remained in drought.

"Two-thirds of Queensland is still in drought and COVID should not be used as an excuse to slash services to the bush," she said.

"An LNP government I lead will produce an economic plan to supercharge the regions and back our farmers to produce the locally grown food and fibre our state needs to be more self-sufficient and create a decade of secure jobs.

"Everyone in regional areas who has experienced the loss of banking, postal and other important services as part of a 'digital transition' knows this means less services.

"I'm calling on (Premier) Annastacia Palaszczuk to stop these cruel regional service cuts. This is clearly a cost-cutting exercise because Annastacia Palaszczuk has lost control of the state's finances, with state debt blowing out by $17bn in the last seven months."

Four regional sites, at Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns, will continue as usual.

The department document denies that the counter cuts amount to a reduction in services.

"It is anticipated this new way of working allows increased opportunity for staff to undertake flexible working arrangements whilst still ensuring we deliver excellent service to our customers," it states.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said "not one single staff member will be cut as a result of these changes".

"This is not a cut in services," he said. "Many DAF front counters actually receive a very low level of in-person inquiries.

"Reduced open counter hours at a number of facilities will free up staff to continue dealing with issues either on the phone or online.