Joe Hockey was at one stage working on ambitious plans to make Centrelink more customer friendly. Apparently concerned by the fact that waiting times at the call centre were horrendously long, and that a lot of useless form filling could be eliminated by online submissions, Hockey announced a new client-centred Centrelink.

However, just as the Victorians divided the poor into the worthy and unworthy, it turned out that these measures discriminated between the upstanding students and pensioners who wouldn’t actually have to stand in line any more, and the useless dole bludgers whose non-attendance at Centrelink or failure to fill in forms would result in the dreaded “breaches” (bureaucratic jargon for payments being cut off).

Sensing a point of differentiation with Labor, whose shadow minister Penny Wong has recently suggested useful training programs might be the way to go, Hockey has now announced yet more form filling and standing in queues to keep the bludgers on their toes.

Newstart recipients are currently required to fill in a “dole diary” for three months, noting ten contacts with employers a week. Apparently alerted to the continued pestilence of “job snobs” and lazy sods who “don’t want to work” by employers crying out for workers, Hockey now plans to make all Newstart recipients complete diaries, have Centrelink staff call employers to verify “work efforts” and require dole bludgers to undergo fortnightly interviews.

One other Howard government program, once touted as a centrepiece of the fourth term agenda and much cheered on by business lobby groups, is a reduction in red tape. It’s also something we don’t hear too much of now.

It will be very interesting to see how employers react to constant phone calls from Centrelink employees. The reality of the situation, as anyone who’s worked in HR knows, is that entry level and unskilled jobs attract hundreds of applications – many generated by Centrelink and Job Network Providers’ requirements. It’s costly enough already to respond to all of them – many of which aren’t serious but are just written to make up an entry in a dole diary.

And pity the poor retail and fast food business owners being called to verify that the Paxton kids really did pop in at 1pm on the 21st to ask if there were any vacancies for milkshake operatives.

At the very least it should create some entry level jobs in HR administration, and create work for Comcare employees dealing with Centrelink staff stress claims. Perhaps Minister Hockey could institute an affirmative action program to get the dole bludgers to “work for Australia”?

Peter Fray

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