Australians who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis queued up in lines for Centrelink from 4.30am in an attempt to beat yesterday’s hours-long wait time.
Lines to access Centrelink in Brunswick, Melbourne, were 200m long by 7am after 88,000 hospitality workers lost their jobs on Monday when the government closed all pubs, bars, cinemas and gyms to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Tens of thousands more people were let go earlier this week from a variety of industries. Experts predict two million people could be laid off in coming weeks.
Within hours, workers who had never been unemployed before were queuing up at their local Centrelink offices to register for benefits.
Many missed out on ever making it through the doors. On Tuesday, people arrived at 4.30am, while it was still dark, to beat the queues from the day before.
Centrelink offices don’t open until at least 8.30am, meaning they’re prepared to wait four hours to speak to a teller.
One man, who is fourth in line at the Lilydale Centrelink, in north-east Melbourne, described the circumstances as ‘a little like trying to get grand final tickets’.
People arrived at Centrelink offices throughout Australia by 4.30am on Tuesday in an attempt to beat the rush
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told the Today Show nobody ‘expected or could have prepared for… such an accelerated demand that came yesterday.
‘We clearly understand the distress that this coronavirus is causing,’ she said.
The federal government is now appealing to people trying to register with Centrelink – many for the first time – to hold off for a few days.
‘We are asking for patience and calm… What we saw yesterday was heartbreaking.’
She said nobody needs to physically be in store unless they don’t have access to a phone or internet.
Centrelink will boost its workforce by 5,000 people to deal with the influx of applicants and extend call centre hours.
But there will be fewer staff at the centres because of social distancing requirements. No pop-up shopfronts are planned.
More than 300 people have lined the streets of Sydney on Monday morning, desperately waiting to get into Darlinghurst’s Centrelink office to claim unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic
At least 300 people were waiting outside Darlinghurst’s Centrelink office in Sydney before doors opened at 8.30am on Monday to lodge claims for unemployment benefits and emergency assistance.
There were similar scenes across Australia as newly unemployed workers rushed to see what their entitlements were.
Pubs, clubs, restaurants, gyms, and other places of gathering were forced to close to slow the spread of COVID-19, leaving huge numbers of workers out of a job for the coming months.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australians they were facing the worst economic crisis in generations.
‘Together, and with the rest of the world, we face this unprecedented challenge. A once in a hundred year event,’ Mr Morrison told federal parliament on Monday.
One welfare recipient told Daily Mail Australia she has been queuing since 7.40 this morning, and by 9am still hadn’t reached the front of the line
Just days after losing her job, physiotherapist and practice manager Danielle Hocking (pictured) joined the almost queue outside Darlinghurst Centrelink on Monday
‘A global health pandemic that has fast become an economic crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.
‘Life is changing in Australia for every Australian. Life is going to continue to change. For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives.
‘Across Australia today many thousands of Australians will lose their jobs. They are lining up at Centrelink offices as we speak.
‘Something unimaginable at this scale only weeks ago. They have lost their jobs, many, and we know many more will.’
Just days after losing her job, Danielle Hocking joined the almost 100-strong queue outside Darlinghurst Centrelink on Monday.
The physiotherapist and practice manager admitted she was feeling ‘really s**t’ about receiving government assistance for the first time in her life.
‘I’m just trying to get any money I can really,’ Ms Hocking, 36, told Daily Mail Australia.
People are seen lining up at Centrelink in Bondi Junction on Monday, the same day non-essential services across NSW and Victoria shut down – resulting in thousands of job losses
Hundreds of newly-unemployed people queue outside Centrelink in Darlinghurst, Sydney on Monday morning
As part of the government’s new package, those already unemployed or soon to be forced out of work will be able to get up to $1,100 a fortnight in Centrelink payments
‘I worked at a physiotherapist as practice manager and in client rehabilitation, I’d been there for seven years but my work wasn’t considered essential so I’ve now lost my job.
‘It’s the first time in my life I can’t get a job anywhere – even with qualifications.
‘I’ve got my own place too so I’m going to have to call the banks, I’ve got no way to pay at the minute.’
Swimming coach Nicole Giovenale spent two-and-a-half hours in the Centrelink queue on Monday.
She said she and her partner would struggle to pay their rent without any government support.
‘I lost my job and my boyfriend is a waiter, but his restaurant is going to shut down,’ Ms Giovenale said.
‘We spoke with our house manager and he didn’t want to listen, he said: ‘If you don’t have money to pay, get out’.
‘We don’t know what we are eligible for, so we have to go home and get online and see what we can get.’
Full-time student Nathan Marsh found out over the weekend that his job was gone as the popular Sydney pub The Erko Hotel was closed from Monday.
A sign urging Centrelink recipients to maintain a healthy social distance from each other while lining up in Darlinghurst in Sydney on Monday morning
One welfare recipient told Daily Mail Australia she has been queuing since 7.40 this morning, and by 9am still hadn’t reached the front of the line. Pictured: Long queues pictured at Centrelink Darlinghust, Monday
The long Centrelink lines came as Scott Morrison warned Australians they were facing the worst economic crisis in generations
The 37-year-old admitted it was an ‘uncertain’ time.
‘I’m a student and I get Austudy payments, but I just lost my job and I don’t whether I’m eligible to get more money,’ Mr Marsh said.
‘It’s a really uncertain, scary time, but there’s some comfort in the fact that a lot of people are in the same position.
‘It does seem the government is putting a really healthy stimulus package together, but the amount is really concerning.’
Another welfare recipient told Daily Mail Australia she had been queuing since 7.40 this morning, and by 9am still hadn’t reached the front of the line.
‘They are letting five people in at a time, and we’ve been told to prepare to wait to be seen,’ she said.
The woman, who is originally from the United Kingdom, claimed a Centrelink worker accused her of ignoring social distancing measures to go to Bondi Beach over the weekend.
There were similar scenes outside the Centrelink building in Cairns, in far north Queensland, as hundreds lined the streets waiting to be seen
Incredible queues in Cairns at the Centrelink benefits office after Australian prime minister Scott Morrisson offers a new benefits package for individuals whose livelihoods have been impacted by the Covid-19
A woman is seen leaving Centrelink in Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs
Thousands of Australians and backpackers drew widespread condemnation for crowding the eastern Sydney beach during hot conditions on Friday, prompting a shutdown on Saturday.
The woman said despite the Centrelink office being at full capacity, people were still social distancing while waiting to be seen.
‘There was only meant to be 25 people in there but there would’ve been more like 60 when I left,’ she said.
There were similar scenes outside the Centrelink building in Cairns, in far north Queensland, as hundreds lined the streets waiting to be seen.
Meanwhile, the MyGov website – which gives Australians access to government services – has crashed.
‘There is unprecedented demand for the service right now, but Australians need to be patient,’ Government Services Minister Stuart Robert told AAP on Monday.
‘Try logging on later today or even tomorrow. MyGov is working, but the best option right now is for people to be patient.’
Services Australia says people applying for income support should start their claims online and defer identity checks until a later date if possible.
‘We’re working hard to respond here so please understand it will take a little longer than usual,’ the agency posted to Facebook.
‘We’re also getting a lot of the same questions, so be sure to read through other posts to see if your question has been answered.’
Many families, workers and business owners have been forced to seek social security payments as the pandemic throws the national economy into chaos.
As of Tuesday morning, there were 1,716 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, and more than 374,000 cases around the world
Opposition frontbencher Bill Shorten said the unprecedented demand was ‘entirely foreseeable’.
Mr Shorten said Australians should not be forced to wait weeks to access welfare.
‘But at this hour of need, Australians are having to grapple with inadequate service, online glitches and a lack of planning to deal with demand at Centrelink shopfronts,’ he said.
First-time welfare recipients have been told they can only get a customer reference number by applying in person.
Another person in line said her rent is so expensive she has no idea what to do now that she’s out of work.
‘Everyone has their notice letters here to say they’re lost their jobs… They are giving half price Opal cards for anyone who has lost their job, but it’s very tense,’ she said.
The MyGov website – which gives Australians access to government services – crashed on Monday morning due to unprecedented traffic
‘Together, and with the rest of the world, we face this unprecedented challenge. A once in a hundred year event,’ Mr Morrison told federal parliament on Monday
Another woman said she was let go from her bar job last week and now fears she will be evicted because she has no money.
‘The website kept crashing and I need to claim for the crisis money and apply for Centrelink,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
Mr Morrison announced a second stimulus package over the weekend that pushed the total amount to $189 billion, and acknowledged the economic damage from this pandemic would be far worse than anticipated.
‘We now expect the economic shock to be deeper, wider, and longer,’ Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a press conference on Sunday.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 1,716
New South Wales: 704
Western Australia: 140
South Australia: 134
Australian Capital Territory: 32
Northern Territory: 4
TOTAL CASES: 1,716
As part of the government’s new package, those already unemployed or soon to be forced out of work can get up to $1,100 a fortnight in Centrelink payments.
The $750 payments to pensioners will also be doubled as Mr Morrison expected the worst economic aspects of the crisis would last at least six months.
Those struggling to make ends meet on reduced incomes – especially sole traders – can withdraw $20,000 from their superannuation tax-free to tide them over.
Assets tests and waiting periods for the jobseeker allowance will be waived so sacked employees can keep food on the table.
‘The coronavirus supplement will provide an additional $550 a fortnight on top of the existing jobseeker or new start payment,’ Mr Frydenberg said.
‘It will be available to sole traders and casual workers who meet the income test. This means anyone eligible for the maximum jobseeker payment will now receive more than $1,100 a fortnight.’
Everyone earning less than $1,075 a fortnight will be eligible to receive the full benefit, with it scaling back with additional income.