The Warrawong Centrelink and Medicare office will close for good on Friday afternoon – a move that leaves one of the region’s most disadvantaged communities “out in the cold”, Illawarra Labor MPs say.
Friday is the final day of trade at the office, located inside Warrawong Plaza, with its closure effective from Monday.
The intention to close the centre was first flagged last month, with Member for Cunningham Sharon Bird and Whitlam MP Stephen Jones promptly launching a petition to fight the closure.
The petition has since garnered more than 1000 signatures – but hasn’t persuaded the Department of Human Services to keep the centre open.
A spokesman for the department confirmed on Friday that the Warrawong office would be closed from Monday.
In a joint statement, Ms Bird and Mr Jones slammed the government for “refusing to listen to the local community”.
“Warrawong and the surrounding suburbs are home to many people who migrated to the Illawarra from the 1950s to work at Port Kembla Steelworks – many of whom are now elderly and have English as their second language,” the statement said.
“Closing the Warrawong office just isn’t right.”
The MPs met with Human Services Minister Michael Keenan about the issue and had called on him to overturn the decision.
The department said the closure was the result of a drop in customer foot traffic over recent years, as more people opted to use digital services.
Last month, Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said the services at Warrawong were primarily digital and “customers requiring more complex support” had always been directed to the Wollongong service centre.
The department said there would be no job losses as a result of the consolidation of services, given the Warrawong office was currently run by staff on rotation from other offices. Only one permanent staff member was based at Warrawong.
Residents have been directed to face-to-face services at the following locations:
- Wollongong One-Stop-Shop – 43 Burelli Street, Wollongong
- Dapto Service Centre – 41 Baan Bann Street, Dapto
- Shellharbour Service – Lake Entrance Road, Shellharbour
- Corrimal Service Centre – Cnr Underwood Street & Collins Street, Corrimal
Some of the people adversely affected by the Warrawong Centrelink closure*
Trajan: Trajan is an aged pensioner aged 71. He is the owner of an investment property from which he receives an income. He reports his earnings to Centrelink on a monthly basis. Trajan is not computer-literate and does not use a smart phone. He also suffers from industrial deafness. Trajan does not drive and has been reporting his income to Warrawong. It will be difficult for him to get to Wollongong.
Cveta: Cveta is aged 64 and in receipt of newstart allowance. She does not own a phone and is computer-illiterate. She attends the Warrawong office on a regular basis to submit forms. She has some mobility issues and will find it difficult to get to Wollongong. She does not use a computer.
Jono: Jono is 56 and on newstart allowance. He lives on his own and has mobility issues from an old injury. Jono works casually and reports his earnings to Centrelink every fortnight. He does not drive and lacks family support. He is an old factory worker who is computer illiterate and suffers from mental health issues. The journey to Wollongong will be difficult for him.
Veronica: Veronica is in receipt of carer’s allowance. Her payments are affected by casual earnings so she has to report her income each fortnight. She does this by attending the Warrawong office. She is not computer literate and has trouble using a smart phone while she finds it difficult to understand reporting by telephone.
Veronica says the closure of Warrawong Centrelink will create a problem for the injured and unwell who aren’t eligible for the disability support pension. The Macedonian community is both the largest and one of the oldest CALD communities within the region. Levels of computer literacy amongst older members are not high and they remain dependent on face to face services.
Warren: Warren is on newstart. He lives in share rental accommodation in Berkeley and does not own a computer. Like many people on newstart he often cannot afford phone credit. He currently walks from Berkeley to Warrawong to access Centrelink. He will find it very difficult to get to Wollongong.
*case studies provided by the Illawarra Legal Centre and the Macedonian Welfare Association.