Centrelink’s general manager has admitted the service isn’t coping with the unprecedented demand created by mass layoffs due to the coronavirus crisis.
Tens of thousands of Australians have queued outside Centrelink offices and tried to log onto the MyGov website in recent days amid the shutdown of non-essential services as the nation struggles to combat the pandemic.
At least one in 10 Australians have lost their jobs in recent days with thousands more out of work after federal government announced the shutdown of further services on Tuesday night, according to a national survey by Newgate Research.
‘We have never been in a situation like this,’ Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen told Channel Nine’s Today show on Wednesday morning.
‘Nothing really could have prepared us for the demand that we’re now facing.’
Centrelink is struggling to cope with the unprecedented demand after thousands of Australians lost their jobs in recent days in the coronavirus lockdown. Pictured are the lengthy queues outside Centrelink in Melbourne on Tuesday
Centrelink’s online portal crashed on Tuesday, despite the federal government assuring those out of work they would be able access welfare.
The website’s capacity has now been boosted so that more than 100,000 individual users can access it at any one time.
Centrelink is also recruiting 5,000 staff for its call centres, where operation hours have been extended to 8am-8pm.
Mr Jongen copped a grilling from Today hosts Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, who questioned why Centrelink was so unprepared for the unprecedented demand.
‘The prime minister has been talking for some time that this was going to be very bad, that there were going to be a lot of job losses. So how is that we have been caught so unawares?,’ Ms Langdon asked.
‘People are really scared right now and they find themselves without a job, for a lot of them for the first time in their working career.’
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen (pictured) said much of the overwhelming demand Centrelink is currently facing is unnecessary
Mr Jongen said he understood people’s fears and frustrations.
‘Normally with our massive systems, when there’s a change, we have months to develop the changes, to test them and to implement them,’ he said.
‘The government is asking us to do this in a matter of weeks. Now, we will do it, but it’s important to understand that we can’t just do it at the flick of a switch.’
He added that much of the crippling demand that Centrelink is facing is unnecessary, with existing customers clogging up the system with inquiries about recently announced stimulus payments and supplements.
The first $750 stimulus payment will be automatically distributed to bank accounts from next Tuesday through to April 17.
Not even the rain could reduce the crippling demand for assistance from Centrelink. Pictured is the queue outside Centrelink in Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s east
‘People don’t need to do anything. It’s all automatic. You don’t need to contact us. This is really important,’ Mr Jongen said.
‘The other thing is that in relation to people that are now finding themselves unemployed, our advice is this – don’t come into our offices. Don’t queue up.’
Mr Jongen also discouraged those out of work from coming into Centrelink offices.
‘I just want to reinforce that we are doing everything possible, but my advice is this – be patient and persistent. The quickest way for us to get you into the system is for you to ring,’ he said.
‘Don’t put yourself at risk by coming into our offices. Once you get through, we will give you the links you need to enable you to then get into the system.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government is doing what it can to relieve the crippling demand on Centrelink, including 5,000 additional staff.
‘Now, that goes to how we can upgrade the Centrelink systems, manage the lines better, manage the call centres and do the things that we’re responsible for and everybody’s doing the same,’ he told 2GB morning show host Alan Jones on Wednesday.
‘All of the public service, I met with all of the secretaries of all the departments yesterday and they have all very clear instructions about how they have to be redeploying their workforces so we’re focusing on the areas of greatest need to provide support to Australians.’
‘But those who have lost their job, those who are waiting, those who are waiting for the information to come back from them, know this – people are working night and day to get that help and support to you.’
The long queue outside Centrelink Darlinghurst in Sydney on Monday morning, hours after the Prime Minister announced stage one of the coronavirus lockdown
He conceded the Centrelink system was under pressure due its complicated systems.
‘Our problem at the moment is building up the capacity of the system to take more applications,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We’re normally at around 6,000, we had to move to 55,000, then we went to 150,000. Now we’re seeking to take that even higher to cope with the demand, so extraordinary times.’
Mr Jones asked whether it was possible for the Centrelink hotline to be manned 24-7 to help relieve crippling demand.
‘Well, they’re working on all those plans,’ the Prime Minister replied.
‘We’ve already expanded the call centres to be operable 12 hours. And as I said, I’m looking for 5,000 people right now.’