Why’s it called Centrelink anyway?

Why’s it called Centrelink anyway?

Centre of what? Linking what? I’ve been there. It’s hopeless. It’s like trying to find the centre of a cloud that keeps changing shape. And whatever it links, it certainly isn’t people with help. The Centrelink website introduces itself with “Centrelink – giving you options”. It goes on to say it’s an Australian Government statutory agency, “assisting people to become self-sufficient and supporting those in need.”

Notice it doesn’t say anything about “helping” people. That’s because it doesn’t. Look, I’m an old person. Mature-age, as Centrelink likes to put it. I go to Centrelink to talk about age pensions. I’m not dole-bludging; I’m over 65. I’ve worked and I’m still working; just not so much any more.

I was walking past Centrelink so I thought I’d pop in and talk to someone. But you can’t. You have to make an appointment, said the man. He was very nice about it. They’re all very nice about it. Mostly. I don’t have a problem with Centrelink staff. Mostly. I have a problem with the morons who set up the systems Centrelink staff have to work with. Except that I don’t think the systems have been designed by stupid people. I think they’ve been designed by smart and devious people to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get anything other than a smile and a pat on the head, and definitely not money. Yes, I said to the man. I’m here to make an appointment. Except that you can only make an appointment by phone. Can’t have people walking in off the street and expecting any kind of help, can we? So I phoned. I got an appointment. I gathered up all the documentation I needed to prove I’m really me, how much I earn, where I live, what money’s in my bank account, the state of my toenails and what I ate for breakfast; I filled in the forms, including questions with bits like: “At any stage during a financial year, this amount will comprise all payments already received excluding commutations by the customer and those expecting to be paid for the remaining period.”

I answered the 101 questions on 22 pages, not to mention the 50 questions on 16 pages about my assets and income and my size in underwear. and I turned up for my appointment. Waited an hour or two; didn’t mind that. Spoke to a nice bloke, who was helpful. Went away. Two days later I got my form back because I hadn’t ticked one of the little boxes on their 101 questions. And I dropped it back into the Centrelink office. Except that you can’t. Well. you can, but you have to wait in a queue again. And this time, I was warned, the queues were long! Is there a box I can drop my form into? Possibly even an old-fashioned mailbox? No. You have to queue and hand it to a person. You’re a person. Can I hand it to you? No.

An audible sigh of frustration passed my lips. Yes, I know. Rude of me. I’m only the customer, after all, and I’m there, cap in hand, asking for temporary financial help. I should expect to have obstacles placed in my path. I should expect, too, the customer service representative – note the words: customer service – to suddenly turn dismissive and surly. “You can post it to us,” she said. “Here’s an envelope.” And she thrust an old, crumpled envelope into my hands as she turned on her heel and walked away. It was addressed to Centrelink. So here I am, in a Centrelink office, being handed an envelope to enable me to mail something to Centrelink. And that is only part of the proof that somewhere up there in the corridors of faceless (and mindless) government there is a policy of making it as hard a possible for anyone with an IQ of less than 140 to get anything other than a smile and a pat on the head – and possibly not even that – from Centrelink.