Tugun local Vivi Baker, 18, was one of the many hospitality staff laid off as a consequence of the government's coronavirus restrictions on restaurants. She is pictured here outside Currumbin Centrelink Photo: Jessica Lamb
Tugun local Vivi Baker, 18, was one of the many hospitality staff laid off as a consequence of the government's coronavirus restrictions on restaurants. She is pictured here outside Currumbin Centrelink Photo: Jessica Lamb Jessica Lamb

GROUND ZERO: What it's like standing in line at Centrelink

SOME sat despondently on the pavement, others sweated through the Gold Coast heat clutching the water bottles a good Samaritan had handed out.  

The sight of the 100m snaking line of those waiting at the Palm Beach Centrelink office yesterday was almost as heartbreaking as their stories.

Scenes like this one at the Murwillumbah Centrelink awaited patrons in Currumbin.
Scenes like this one at the Murwillumbah Centrelink awaited patrons in Currumbin. Scott Powick

Many had lost their jobs in the local areas once-thriving hospitality, retail and tourism industry and were forced to seek government help to survive.  

Because of delays in the welfare system, most didn't know where the money was going to come from to pay rent this week.  

ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES

Tugun local Vivi Baker, 18, was one of the many hospitality staff laid off as a consequence of the government's coronavirus restrictions on restaurants. She is pictured here outside Currumbin Centrelink Photo: Jessica Lamb
Tugun local Vivi Baker, 18, was one of the many hospitality staff laid off as a consequence of the government's coronavirus restrictions on restaurants. She is pictured here outside Currumbin Centrelink Photo: Jessica Lamb Jessica Lamb

Vivi Baker, 18, should have been saving to travel Europe with her friends for a gap year.  

Instead, the Tugun waitress had been laid off at the Italian restaurant she had worked at since she was 15.  

The new coronavirus pandemic government ordered closures had forced the third-generation small family business to turn to delivery takeaway only.  

"The saddest part is I am one of the luckiest ones by a mile because I still live with my parents and they don't have a mortgage. A lot of girls I work with cannot say the same," she said.  

"I work with girls who are on foreign visas who can't qualify for Centrelink and can barely pay rent week to week. They are having to strike deals with their landlords to clean apartments, so they don't have to pay as much rent."  

While Ms Baker has savings, she hasn't lined up for Centrelink herself but said inevitably it was something she would have to do.  

Ms Baker said her mother's acupuncturist business had been affected by the coronavirus and her 14-year-old brother was staying home from school and learning by correspondence.  

"I feel a lot of anxiety, it is pretty scary because I am of the generation who has just entered the workforce and we have all these friends who are having to come home from the university degrees they just started and do it all online," she said.  

"It sort of feels like it is a time in your life where everything is meant to be happening and it has all sort of been put on freeze.  

"It is a lot to adjust to, but I am very much aware in so many ways I am in the luckiest demographic of people who are going through this right now. So, I am counting my blessings."  

CALL FOR MORE RESOURCES

Senator Murray Watt
Senator Murray Watt

Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt said he is "horrified" but what he saw at the Gold Coast's Centrelink ques.

"We know the Gold Coast is ground-zero when it comes to hospitality and tourism workers in their thousands," he said.  

"One party of the solution here is the government has got to do more about income support for people," he said.  

Mr Watt said many other countries around the world were providing direct wage subsidies to businesses to help them pay the work force and keep them on "rather than just throw them on the unemployment scrap heap".  

He took aim at the Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert and called for speeding up the process of income support, he claimed punters could wait up to four weeks to get their share of the coronavirus stimulus package.

"The media manager of Services Australia was on the radio this morning admitting they hadn't employed anymore staff in preparation for what was going to come," Mr Watt said.  

He said the people he had spoken to in the Centrelink line were not aware of the change they could apply for a Customer Reference Number online.

Previously this has required an in-person visit to a service centre.

"They have to do a better job of communicating with people, put a lot more resources into the system and they have to try harder to keep people in work," Mr Watt said. 

'NO CONFIDENCE' IN THE SYSTEM

Labor’s Currumbin candidate Kaylee Campradt (centre) with her mum Mavis Campradt and daughter Indie Campradt, 13.
Labor’s Currumbin candidate Kaylee Campradt (centre) with her mum Mavis Campradt and daughter Indie Campradt, 13.

Labor candidate for Currumbin Kaylee Campradt said the day's scenes was a sign the system was not adequately addressing people's needs and called for more funding to be injected, particularly into Centrelink staffing and rental assistance.  

She described seeing a friend in the Currumbin Centrelink line.  

"She is a single mum, she knows she has to keep up her rent payments now she doesn't have a job. The system says she will only get a part-payment and she is worried she won't have the money to pay her rent," Ms Campradt said.  

Ms Campradt claimed the same woman was told on the phone to come into the branch to talk about her concerns, only to be turned away after waiting hours.  

"They told her they don't want to talk to people who are already in the system as staff had confidence in the system it is going to support her. Well she has been on the websites, she has been on the phone. The website continually drops out, she said she has no confidence at all and she is very concerned because she has two young children who she cares for," Ms Campradt said.  

"I think there is a real danger here that lots of people are going to fall through the very big gaps in the system that are not adapting or firstly, the amount of people who are using it or reflecting the situation we are in."



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