Long lines outside Centrelink offices have been spotted around Sydney as the city’s lockdown continues.
NSW Labor MP Rose Jackson tweeted a picture of a line outside a Centrelink office in Rockdale and said the sight was heartbreaking.
“We live around the corner from that Centrelink and I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she said.
“There was a queue there all day yesterday and I walked past again this morning there was a queue again.
“Centrelink is completely swamped and people are desperate, rocking up in person and standing in line for hours because they have no other choice.”
The Community and Public Sector Union, which counts Centrelink workers among its members, called for the commonwealth government to make sure people could access the services from home.
“Staggeringly, JobSeeker rules and the new Covid Disaster Payment rules are requiring individuals to attend a service centre for an in-person identification check,” the union said in a statement on Wednesday.
Out of the three Australian states currently in lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus, NSW has been restricted for the longest.
The outbreak in Sydney began on June 16 and the entire metropolitan area was locked down 10 days later, with more restrictions imposed over time.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has defended her government’s decision to shut down construction as necessary to stop the spread and in line with health advice.
“I don’t want anyone feeling they are going to go without the basic things they need safely in the next couple of weeks, but I make this point that our job in getting out of the lockdown is getting kids back to school, is getting people to their workplaces safely, and that is what we are working towards,” she said earlier in the week.
Ms Jackson said the Centrelink queues showed the financial hardship suffered by the state’s residents and said the commonwealth should reinstate JobKeeper.
That grant was made available to businesses last year so that they could pay to keep their staff employed even as the pandemic restrictions took a heavy toll on the economy.
But Scott Morrison maintained on Wednesday that reinstating JobKeeper was not on the cards.
“I’m not trying to solve last year’s problem, that’s what JobKeeper solved,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
“I’m trying to solve the issues and provide the economic supports directly to individuals fast.
“You’ll recall that when we put JobKeeper in place, it took 4-6 weeks in order for the system to be rolled out, for businesses to go to their banks to get the loans for their cash flow, to then actually make the payments to those who were working with them and to work through that process.
“I don’t have six weeks. I need to make sure that we’ve got $200m out the door now, which is exactly what we’ve done.”
Australians living in a Covid-19 hotspot are eligible for a $375 disaster payment if they’ve lost between eight and 20 hours of work and $600 if they’ve lost 20 hours or more.
The NSW government has also offered grants for businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus restrictions.