I had to call Centrelink today.
I got the “On-Hold to Centrelink (With a Whiny Toddler) Blues”.
My youngest is starting preschool this Wednesday, so naturally I got a call from the centre director last week to say they were having trouble adding him to their system and that I would need to call Centrelink to sort it out.
The problem is at their end, you see?
It’s the phone call I forever dread, and it seems to happen a lot now that I have children.
“Centrelink bad. You must call”.
I was holidaying on the Gold Coast at the time, which meant that my already-low threshold for giving a fuck was even lower than usual – particularly after several cans of beer – so a number of phone calls and emails bounced back and forth as I did everything in my power to delegate this unseemly task to my husband, who was not on holidays with us at the time.
My reasons for delegating were not entirely selfish: I had no access to any of my logins or reference numbers for the Centrelink website, no access to a landline phone so I could sit for endless hours on hold and – most importantly – no access to a decent length of good quality rubber hose that I could bite down on whilst performing said activities.
Long story short: it was specifically my reference number that needed to be linked to my child’s reference number, because Centrelink are clearly running their systems straight out of the 1950’s, where the female is automatically the primary carer of the child because vagina.
All of this means that in between baking scones, starching my aprons and rolling my hair into curlers so I can look pretty when my husband gets home, I am also the default Centrelink contact for everything related to the products of my womb.
(Disclaimer: I have no idea why they are insisting on this but I’ve got my ranty pants on so I’m not going to let something like actual facts get in the way of self-righteous accusations of chauvinism here, because that’s no fun at all)
I had to fall on my sword and take one for the team.
I dialed the number and immediately got one of those automated menus that asks you a series of simple questions before inevitably failing to comprehend every single one of your answers; working you up into a delightful state of foamy-mouthed frustration before kindly informing you of how many minutes you will be left to stew in those juices while you are on-hold.
And as much as I enjoy their selection of soothing classical music, phoning the helpline is always my least preferred option of dealing with Centrelink. Even though I can hate it from the comfort of my own home I still hate it more than going into the local office or subjecting myself to the hallucinogenic mind-fuck that is their online services website.
Navigating the Centrelink website is kind of like finding yourself trapped in a David Lynch film. As the main protagonist, you are tasked with solving a mystery that no one else knows the answer to, because there is no answer. Nothing makes sense. You question your own sanity. Like a bizarre dream sequence, it’s the place where logic and common sense go to die, and you are doomed to wander around in aimless circles forever, cursing the witch-doctors disguised as web developers who brought this evil into the world.
The thing I needed to do today was not something I could do online anyway, so I settled in with a raging toddler at my knees and nodded wearily as Voicebot informed me they were experiencing unusually-high call volumes, and that it would take 30 minutes before an actual human was available to answer my call.
Upon informing me of these things, Voicebot then hit repeat on “Random Classical Concerto # 5” before leaving me to breathe out my rage to a literal soundtrack of tiny violins. It was almost poetic.
Forty minutes and several concerto loops later, it became abundantly clear that Voicebot had lied to me.
I did what any irrationally-annoyed person would do, which was to leave a stream of petty commentary on the social media channel I had adopted as an ad-hoc venting board for my on-hold experience:
“Voicebot, you lied to me. I will never trust an automated phone menu ever again”
Thankfully, just five minutes later a lethargic-sounding human being answered the phone. I worked for years in frontline retail as a youngster, so I have a blanket policy of never being rude to service staff.
I recognised a tone of voice that was beaten down, the emotional toll of hours spent swallowing shit sandwiches from angry people who were on hold for 45 minutes and suffering bureaucracy-fatigue; that unique state of frustration and bewilderment we feel when forced to deal with government departments and their indecipherable policies.
When I deal with Centrelink I no longer feel like a confident, tertiary-educated adult who is in control of her life and capable of managing her emotional equilibrium.
Trying to navigate the Centrelink website inevitably makes me feel like a lower-order life form that has just been scraped from the faecal specimen of an even lower-order life form.
Forty five minutes of mouth-breathing had left me in a remarkably calm and almost fugue-like state of tranquility, so I pleasantly stated my business and eagerly awaited the immediate solution to my pending issue, with a zen-like expectation of positive outcomes.
It was like I’d totally forgotten who I was dealing with.
And then it happened.
The operator wearily announced that the thing the preschool told me I needed to call them about had already been done, so I didn’t need to call them in the first place. Just like that. It was all over in less than 60 seconds.
The problem is at their end, you see?
I DIDN’T… NEED… TO FECKING… CALL THEM.
Several minutes of frantic mouth-breathing resumed before I regained my composure, only to realise with dismay that this was not over.
Far from it.
Now we were at the perfect stalemate:
Centrelink says “Not my problem – their problem”
Preschool says “Not my problem – their problem”
Hugzilla says “Not my problem – zero fucks given”.
In other matters: They still have to take my kid, right?