The extent to which Government Services Minister Stuart Robert bungled the Centrelink response to the Coronavirus pandemic is revealed in new figures from Services Australia.
In late February the Morrison Government declared a pandemic and pulled the trigger on its emergency response plan with lockdowns, social distancing, economic ‘hibernation’ and the extension of JobSeeker and JobKeeper imminent.
But weeks later Mr Robert failed to bolster Services Australia to support Australians through the crisis and respond to a foreseeable surge in use.
Mr Robert initially blamed the myGov website crash on the phantom menace of invisible hackers. He later recanted saying “my bad” and that it was his own lack of preparedness that was the cause. New Services Australia figures obtained by Labor in the Senate reveal just how bad that “my bad” was.
In the fortnight from 23 March, there were 6.5 million busy signals, 2 million congestion messages, 1.5 million unanswered calls, and an average call wait time of over 40 minutes.
Amongst the worst hit groups of Australians in that fortnight were:
• The hotline for parents and families had 2.3 million attempts met by busy signals
• Almost 300,000 enquiries to the Older Australians hotline were met with a busy signal while only 37,711 got through to speak with someone
• Basics Card inquiries had an average waiting time of well over an hour, with many of these card holders having no other source of income to rely upon
The number of answered calls were comparable to other reporting periods, and did not significantly increase until after 20 April, signalling that capacity in this area was not sufficiently ramped up to meet the needs of Australians until four weeks after the initial hit to unemployment.
Desperate Australians who did not know where their next pay was coming from deserved better.
FRIDAY, 12 JUNE 2020