From the primary carer of a mother with dementia, to the student, to the pensioner – the message is the same – the Commonwealth’s Braddon Service Centre is a vital piece of community infrastructure and needs to stay open.
Labor Member for Canberra Alicia Payne on Thursday continued her campaign to save the Lonsdale Street centre which houses Centrelink and Medicare services, with a pavement push outside the offices to add more names to a petition that has already garnered nearly 600 signatures.
Joining her were members of the community who regularly use the centre, which the Federal Government has confirmed is for lease and that it was “considering its face-to-face service offer for North Canberra”.
The Federal Government is reviewing its service centres across Australia arguing that the uptake of digital services such as MyGov and Express Plus mobile apps and self-telephone services meant there was less need for face-to-face services.
That may be the case for basic issues but complex matters could not be dealt with online or over the phone, Ms Payne said.
“People with disabilities, older people, vulnerable people need to be able to talk to a person at Centrelink not just go online,” she said.
Rebecca Scouller, who is the primary carer for her mother, lives in the inner south but works in the city.
The closure of the Braddon office would mean she would have to use her leave to take time off work to visit another site to deal with the complex Medicare paperwork related to her mother’s dementia.
Ms Scouller said many carers didn’t have that option.
“Where are they going to find the time,” she said.
She said it was not possible for her to make a Medicare claim for her mother on her phone app because her mother is not on her Medicare card.
Ms Scouller also used the office for her mother’s aged care issues and the reams of forms have to be hard copy so none of it can be done online.
“If you want to risk the post that’s great – it’s not something I’m prepared to do,” she said.
“Given how important they are and they’re in hard copy, I’m going to physically walk them in.
“It’s removing the only option I have which is conveniently using my lunch break to get the work done.”
Pensioner Jack Lloyd of O’Connor said personal service was vital to sort out his pension issues.
“I find it really hard to do that online unless you can actually talk to someone,” he said.
Mr Lloyd said he had sometimes waited hours on the phone to be dealt with.
He also struggled to find affordable housing, moved a lot and had major health issues, so he relied on face-to-face contact at the Braddon centre to provide the necessary information about his changing circumstances.
“We can’t have personal dialogue with computers,” he said.
ANU student Josh Yend who receives Youth Allowance and works part time, said it was presumptuous to assume everything could be done online.
“What the last year has shown is that an online or remote option just isn’t the best option to do a lot of services,” he said.
“If you have an overdue phone bill I’m more than happy to call up Telstra and have a chat to them and sort that out over the phone, but when it comes to cutting off, say, a $600 a fortnight payment, the last thing you want to do is be stuck on an automated phone call when you could easily just be in a centre within an hour sorting it out in person.”
Ms Payne said people needed this service in Canberra which is the only one in the central and inner north area.
She said the Government had not consulted with the community before advertising the office for lease and had not offered any real explanation.
Ms Payne hoped that if the Government was giving up the site the services would move to a better location but she would not trust it with Centrelink.
“This is the Government that brought us Robodebt, they’ve been closing offices around the country and it’s incredibly concerning particularly in a pandemic when people are relying on Centrelink in record numbers,” she said.
CPSU Regional Secretary Maddie Northam said the uncertainty was having a huge impact on staff and the people they work with.
She said shop fronts were really important community hubs and staff developed relationships and grew to understand people’s individual circumstances.
“The CPSU will be working closely with Services Australia over coming months but what we really need is a commitment that this Centrelink will not close,” Ms Northam said.
The Braddon centre had about 25 staff.