Saturday, July 14, 2012

time and time again

 Melbourne’s Lord Mayor would be jealous of Frankston’s derelict buildings. There are so many of them, spoiling the shopping strip near the waterfront. The only ‘tower’ has been empty for years, the building’s name ‘Peninsula Centre’ spelled out on each side of the building’s top floor.
Oops, some of the letters ‘fell off’. Imagine those poor millionaires who live on Oliver’s Hill sitting on their balconies, watching a beautiful sunset over the bay… looking in the wrong direction and spotting a building called the “Peni s    Centre’.

Would you be surprised to learn that visiting the Frankston Centrelink office is a lot like… well… visiting downtown Frankston?

The Centrelink office is, like many government offices, rather swish inside. Although nearly all things Centrelink are now phone/internet based, the visiting in human form queue is invariably long.

The last of Aunty’s super investments has been in ‘administration’ for over four years now. She has a four year old letter saying she will probably be lucky to get 1 or 2 cents in the dollar – no projected time frame – but, at regular intervals, a Centrelink computer program ‘deems’ it to be worth so many dollars a week of income that her aged pension is cut back to 3/5ths of sod all. Off to Centrelink we go.
She has a unit on the Gold Coast she can’t afford to live in any more. It has been her primary place of residence for yonks, but as she took out a reverse mortgage she is not allowed to rent it out even though she is now living in Franger. At regular intervals some computer program deems that she is earning a phenomenal amount of rental income, and her aged pension is cut back to 1/5th of half of sod all.
Sometimes a computer program adds two and two together and deems that she has two?? investment properties plus a stream of income from a super investment.

One day we did try the phone thing. The Centrelink phone person told me Aunty should use the online reporting system. I suggested that she’s of a generation that finds it all a bit confusing. The Centrelink phone person seized on the word ‘generation’ and returning to the issue of the [dud] investment told me that people of ‘that generation’ expect they are automatically entitled to a pension. I did my best to be polite when I put her back in her box. She climbed back out of her box and told me if Aunty won’t use the online reporting system she will have to go to the Centrelink Office.

A ‘bouncer’ wearing a headpiece with microphone travels down the standing queue at regular intervals, screening the waiters in case there is some way they can bypass the standing queue and go straight to a sitting queue. She nods sagely and soothingly while people explain while they are there. Some of them nod, soothed, as they learn they have to stay in the standing queue. Everyone has to stay in the standing queue.

Everytime she goes to the Centrelink office she takes another little knick knack with her to try and make it look more like the home it has become. [Last time it was a sideboard to put her favourite vase on]. She has given up spending an hour and a half on the phone only to be told she has to provide documentary evidence of her claims and now just goes straight to the office. She provides certified copies of documents, they are scanned into the system but somehow disappear from the system a short time later. The hard copies disappear between Franger and head office.

She’s 83, has a gammy leg, an irreparably torn rotator cuff and, thanks to a crappy gene pool, has pulmonary fibrosis even though she has never had one cigarette in her life. Then there’s the bit of lung missing from the battle with TB. And other stuff.

The Other took her back and forth to the office three times, one day. She grabbed a chair from the pre-arranged appointment section for Aunty to sit on while she waited to slowly shuffle forward. The ‘bouncer’ suggested The Other put the chair back. The Other returned the chair and told Aunty to sit on it in the pre-arranged appointment section while The Other waited in the standing queue on her behalf. Aunty sat on a green chair. The green chairs are for Medibank clients. Aunty moved to the orange chair section.

At regular intervals one of the bona fide orange chair people will do something to break the monotony. One lady, say in her forties, stood up one day and screamed a complaint about being kept waiting sitting on a chair even though she has an appointment. the only intelligible word was that four letter one which starts with f, ends with k, and has a uc in the middle of it. A security guard asked her to tone it down. The lady screams she has a mental illness and can’t wait ‘cos it makes her angry and she can’t help it.

She was supposed to stand in the standing queue so the bouncer would discover that she had an appointment and tell someone through the microphone that a customer with an appointment had turned up. No one knew she had been sitting in the orange chair queue section.

One young girl in the standing queue sends and receives texts while waiting with her three friends who are also texting. She multi skills, of course, texting while discussing piercings, tattoos and having to leave the club early because they got her a job and she has to get up early to go to work it’s making her tired and she doesn’t like it and anyway she’s done her bit, she’s stuck at it for 3 weeks now. She’s going to tell Centrelink she has to go to Perth, and they should pay her fare there so she can get a decent job she likes. She reasons that they’ll pay it because they’ll be impressed she wants to work.

The man behind me in the standing queue tells no one in particular it’s an effin disgrace. He’s nearly 60 and he shouldn’t have to stand. He has been waiting for 28 minutes. He shouldn’t have to wait. Nobody in front of him says “oh, I haven’t been waiting as long as you, here, you go first.” Each time he announces how long he has been waiting now he is ignored by the people in front of him, but he keeps making the announcements just in case.

The security guard goes to one young bloke who has just walked in, and tells him to go to the end of the queue. The young bloke explains where his spot was [just in front of the woman with the tight jeans and thongs]; he had been waiting 20 minutes so he had to go outside for a smoke. The security guard tells him to go to the back of the queue. The young bloke turns around and effs it out of there.

Aunty sits on an orange chair and waits. She is the only waiter in the building who is reading a book. Frankston has a great library, and a great arts centre, and a great independent bookshop and a launching ramp and an impressive foreshore and great views of the bay and every service anyone could possibly need – and even a resident who knows how to spell Peni s.


  1. We used to go to the Sunday market and found it quite pleasant. Once I walked from there to the shopping centre which was ok too, but the area felt a bit 'walled' and disconnected from the bay. For mine, I would have the Centre demolished. It is a bad building in the wrong place.

    My partner has just started down the Centrelink path. I won't tell him about your tales.

    1. I can't imagine R will have to deal with anything as ridiculous as Aunty's situation.
      I haven't even mentioned yet the mess created when The Other applied for an aged pension even though she is working, and how this affects my own unemployed status. He he.

  2. Who needs hell when you have all that?

    I guess it's good for the people watching though. You're very good at people watching.

    Well, a lot of people are good with the watching. But you're also good at describing what you see.

    It all sounds very frustrating though.

    1. I don't blame the Centrelink people - they are simply enforcing morally bankrupt policies, and usually try to achieve the best for people within the rules. [Except for the snippy young thing that accused Aunty of being irresponsible to just expect the world owes her a living.] But Aunty doesn't deserve all that crap - it's only happening because she was honest at the beginning.

  3. oh Fruity that is such a divine post and I laughed a lot but of course the core topic is Not Funny At All. when Clunklink give you the shtis, the key words are: "I wish to see a SUPERVISOR now please". Everything will change within a minute you will meet a new nametag and be asked if you want to fill in a complaint form, but before that, you will be processed.

    she can't let it out, she can't sell it, and they are penisalising her for having it? how very very Franger.
    That would be a Liberal MP you should write to, wouldn't it?

    1. Anne, how silly am I to forget all those years as a pubic servant when the world was run with paper and red tape and pig-stickers. And that very special PANIC stamp reserved for cases where people threatened to go to MPs, or current affairs shows, or newspapers. Thank You!
      The Other and I are gathering material for an hilarious comedy script with our own 'clunklink' issues, but it really rankles that they are treating this wonderful, self-reliant woman so shabbily. As soon as it happens to her again - as it undoubtedly will - I shall start a vigorous campaign of letter-writing and parading with placards. The bastards... that decide how the system should 'work'.
      The question is, are they literate enough to have read Kafka or is this simply something they do instinctively?

  4. Don't start me on Centrelink. I've been all through what you describe now I ring and sit the phone on my desk on loud speaker and wait for hours to be listened to. I cannot understand why they make old people stand in line for ages. It is insensitive and bad management. Our transport department has it sorted. You walk in get a ticket with a number on it and sit down and watch a screen for your number to come up. They have many people working on the counter. Why can't CL do that?

    1. Diane, I'm sure the whole idea is to discourage people from even bothering.
      Insensitive, yes. Unfortunately, too many members of generations after ours have little idea of how much the world has changed in 50-60 years, and less idea of how much older generations have done to give them the privileges they now enjoy.

  5. It's possibly worth remembering that Centrelink's very reason for existence is as a massive unpopular-policy-laundering bureaucracy. The reason ticketing won't work is that in order to shave a few dollars off the less fortunate and well deserving, the rules for each type of payment have become ridiculously complex, but with C'link's staffing formula reducing in inverse proportion. That means each query generally needs its own category; ergo no ticketing system has yet been built to cope with such a minefield.

    I reckon the scattergun approach works best. Write a letter and send it to anyone and everyone. It won't change Centrelink, but your Aunt might have a year or two of respite.

    Good luck!

    1. Interesting comment about complexity and the inevitable result that each enquiry will have its own category.

      The good news is the unit has finally been sold, so in the fullness of time that will be one potential snafu off the menu. Another reader emailed me a brillo suggestion about the dud investment. Perhaps the suggestion will sound appealing when it becomes an issue again.