By Jed Lanyon
Long queues formed outside of Centrelink locations across Australia, including Lilydale, despite the federal government insisting those who seek welfare to do so from home.
The crowds gathered outside the Lilydale office for several consecutive days from Monday 23 March as Centrelink struggled to keep up with the demand following the crash of online services.
This follows the temporary closure of non-essential services in a bid to combat the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many casual workers in hospitality and retail were left without work.
The federal government announced a $66 billion stimulus package, which included $750 payments for welfare recipients and support for small business.
Yarra Valley residents took to social media to share their concerns for the long lines and the frustrations with the process.
“Waited three hours in total to be told even their systems aren’t working, try again later,” one user said.
“The majority of people here, including myself have been made redundant and because barely anyone is hiring right now this is one of the only options.”
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said, “There’s no need to go to centrelink, we would actually prefer you to do it online and over the phone. We’ve been working overnight to make sure that our technology is as robust as it possibly can be.
Ms Ruston told ABC that the government underestimated the “escalation of the decisions” made by state governments across Australia on Sunday 22 March, which resulted in the closure of borders in some states and territories and the closure of schools.
“I don’t think anybody expected that we were going to get the immediate upspike of demand.”
Ms Ruston asked for calm to ensure that services would be open for those who need them most.