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Busy signal bugs rural regions

When Margo Sullivan phones Centrelink, from her family’s remote cattle station the Northern Territory, she hopes to hear hold music, ABC News reports.

She hates “the music” but it means she has at least reached a hold queue.

Ms Sullivan is not alone.

Last financial year more than 55 million calls to Centrelink were met with “user busy” signals.

Department for Human Services spokesman Hank Jongen said the figure did not paint an accurate picture of how many people were affected.

In a statement Mr Jongen said 3 million callers, out of 5.8 million, did not get the engaged tone.

He said automatic dialling applications were inflating busy signal figures.

Mr Jongen conceded it was “no secret” Centrelink phone lines were busy, adding “we do recognise that some people wait too long”.

“This is why the department is in the throes of a major transformation to make it easier for people to interact with us,” he said.

Last month the Government announced plans to contract 250 extra staff through multinational company Serco to answer select phone calls.

Digital assistants have also been made available to answer simple questions online.

Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association (ICPA) president Wendy Hick said driving to the nearest Centrelink office was not an option for many people who could live 1,000 kilometres away.

“If they do decide to actually tough it out and do it when they get to town, quite often the centres that they visit don’t have specialties in those areas.

“Members can be told ‘well look you really do have to call the hotline’ and that can be very frustrating for them.”

Ms Hick said ICPA held regular meetings with Government representatives and was confident improvements would continue to be made.

Former Centrelink employee Gavin Simmons does not hold hope for change.

He claims the Government had deliberately made it difficult to access staff members, to reduce welfare expenditure.

FULL STORY

Centrelink ‘brick wall’ frustrates rural and remote Australians (ABC News)

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