Big Service: where the customer is always wrong

Centrelink: A great place for you to queue.
Centrelink: A great place for you to queue.



The Centrelink worker yells this out a few times. Eventually Mrs Noy’s husband tentatively dares to approach her. Yes you’re the one I want. The Noys sit down looking nervous.

“You need to listen, I almost abandoned you. I called you out four times,” Mrs Noy is lectured for all to hear. She has wasted 25 seconds of valuable time. It continues. “You need to listen, I called you out four times.”

Mr and Mrs Noy are South-East Asian so they have to be spoken to loudly. That’s how we break the language barrier.

(Noy is changed slightly from the real name used, which may or may not have been the correct way to pronounce the lady’s name.)

After a while Mrs Noy is told very loudly there will be $428 in her bank account soon. Bet she’s glad we all heard that.

I’m in the Centrelink because that’s where Medicare is these days. For efficiency no doubt.  There's a grand total of four staff handling people – Medicare, Centrelink and whatever else. Another two staff are occupied receiving customers and directing them somewhere. Like at Bunnings at those times when there's someone to say hello and goodbye to every customer but only one staff member available to work a register.

Standing over everyone is a security guard. He joined in the lecture of Mrs Noy, also indicating they should have listened better. He’s chewing gum so hard it's like he's sending a message.

Two women walked in over towards the wall of forms. Whadda yous want? They wanted some forms to fill out.

I’m sure he has to deal with some tricky customers and he’s saved hard working staff members from assaults. But if his role is to intimidate he's doing a great job.

The clock works but day and date are out of order. Behind partitions computers sit empty. Perhaps they’re the robocallers.

When I was younger a Centrelink office was dominated by case workers and job search terminals. Now there’s four staff members, prison-chic wall-fixed heavy-duty telephones, and the space is dominated by 40 chairs in the waiting area. Does that tell you something?