Monday 21 October
My promised confirmation letter never came. I fronted up to the Centrelink office again to make some noise about it. They took my Centrelink number and made sure all my details were up-to-date. They were.
I was assured that my claim was being processed and told to wait a few more days.
Thursday 24 October
My promised payment never came. I fronted up to the Centrelink Office to bang some heads together. They took my Centrelink number and made sure all my details were up-to-date. They were.
Once again, I received that pained, slightly lost expression from a Centrelink employee faced with everything she had asked for. She agreed it was strange that I hadn’t been paid and called up someone at DHS in Canberra to ask “what the hell?” I secretly imagined the Canberra people asking my Centrelink lady for her ID number and date of birth.
After squinting, nodding and saying “mm-hmm” for a few minutes, she hung up and informed me that my payments had been approved a week ago, but that they required a final sign-off from the team leader in the Darwin office, who hadn’t got around to it yet.
“I guarantee you that she will call you by tomorrow afternoon to sort it all out,” she promised me. I thanked her for her time and left.
Monday 28 October
My promised phone call never came. I fronted up to the Centrelink office again to burn the building down and scatter the ashes as a warning to others. They took my Centrelink number and made sure all my details were up-to-date. They were.
Today’s service provider informed me that my payment had been approved, but that I had to make a report of my employment details for the past two weeks in order to unlock it.
“I’ve been unemployed for almost four months,” I answered. Again.
“Okay,” he answered, “and in that time have you done any paid work?” I stared incredulously at the man for a few moments to figure out if he was kidding or not. He wasn’t.
“No,” I answered very slowly and carefully, “I haven’t done any paid work during my time of unemployment.”
“Okay,” said the man as he ticked a check box on his clipboard and entered my answer onto my Centrelink records. “Your pay will be processed overnight and will be in your account tomorrow.”
The Story Doesn’t End
Looking around at the faces of the other people waiting for attention from the Department of Human Services, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am. Sure, I’m unemployed and banging my head against a wall, but I have the necessary education and cultural confidence to stand up for myself against what would otherwise be a bewildering and utterly devastating wall of needless bureaucracy and staggeringly ineffective communication. I have emergency funds on hand to keep myself from starving or losing the roof over my head. I have a blog on which to vent my frustrations and the knowledge that even when things go completely and utterly pear-shaped, I’ll probably be okay.
But what of the other dozen or so people waiting for service alongside me at any given hour of any given day who don’t share my privileged background? Those who don’t speak fluent English, or don’t understand why people will ask so many personal questions before agreeing to help you, or haven’t been educated to understand the processes the office is going through. Hell, I have an honours degree and some it still left me mystified.
My point isn’t “Thank God I’m not like that tax collector over there,” but more to wonder how many people in much worse circumstances than me never manage to get the help they need because they don’t have what it takes to be more belligerent than the computer system. My unemployment support eventually did come through. But I’ve worked for an Indigenous credit union. I know how many cases come through every week from people expecting financial support that never comes. I’m sure there are a booklets and booklets of reasons why we can’t have a slightly more efficient welfare system. I just can’t think of a single one right now.
Make of that what you will.
Garry with 2 Rs