This is from the Sydney Morning Herald by Catherine Xie
The Centrelink basket case goes on and on and on. Something deeply wrong with Services Australia.
“It is 2pm and I am listening to hold music on my mobile’s speakerphone, a mix of instrumentals and other melodies – the widest array of tunes I have ever heard while waiting for a person to answer the phone. Jerome Alexander’s Wasps is my favourite.
I have been on hold so much that I can now predict which song will be next. Of course, my preference would be that Centrelink answered the phone.
Today I tried to call 17 times using seven phone numbers. I cheer silently at being slotted into a line, as I’m told the wait will be a minimum of an hour and a half.
Every time I repeat this process, a cheery automated voice will ask me for my customer reference number before informing me that “we all deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect” and asking whether I’ll agree to complete a quick questionnaire at the end of the call.
Then the voice brightly alerts me that all their operators are busy, before promptly ending the call with a chirpy, “Goodbye!”
When I call back, the robot has remembered my number, and this time, she is more curt in her message. “We know you have been trying to reach us,” she says before the line cuts out entirely.
During a February Senate estimates hearing, Services Australia, which oversees Centrelink, revealed that between July 1, 2022, and January 31, 2023, two-thirds of calls to Centrelink went unanswered.
Of the 25 million calls made during this time, only 8.35 million were answered, and an executive for Services Australia confirmed the majority ended without the caller speaking to an actual human.
My bills are late and things that once were necessary are being put on hold. I can feel the tension in my ribcage, in the hollow right beneath my breast.
In December 2019, I opened a cafe in Melbourne. With hindsight, mine is a simple fable that reflects what happened to so many businesses nationally, globally. The cafe closed in May this year.
I applied for the Austudy payment in August. There are individuals and families who have waited months to receive their first payment. Twenty-two days ago, someone at the local Centrelink office told me I’d “hopefully” have an answer to my application within 48 hours. She crossed her fingers in front of me and winced a little when she said, “hopefully”.
As a first-generation Chinese Australian, I feel bashful and spoiled to even complain. Like many immigrant Australians, I have an intimate understanding of what life could otherwise look like, and I would never claim that I am not thankful to be here.
As a country, we owe it to ourselves to develop a welfare system that will cushion and protect people when times become tough.”