Incessant beeping. That’s the soundtrack for the theatre piece about Centrelink I swear I’ll put on stage one day. It’ll be set in the waiting room of my local office at about 8:35am. Relatively quiet. Except for the beeping.
So now I have this conundrum: what does one wear to Centrelink?
Do I show them I’m a competent young person capable of winning over future employers by wearing a freshly ironed aqua pantsuit and tying back my hair? A shirt and tie? Or will that make me look too rich and have them scrap my support entirely?
Do I maybe arrive in my trackies then? Show them a sad face and tell them I ate no breakfast? Remind them that every day they continue to postpone payment, I am losing money I do not have? Tell them the truth? That young people in university are consistently dropping below the poverty line because they are refused support?
Do I attempt to find a middle ground? Maybe I can wear jeans and a clean shirt. Pick one that’s just the right colour and cut. Something to win them over and secretly earn me better treatment in a system that is, without fail, here to fuck me up.
Oh, I so very much wish there was a correct answer.
I wish I could guarantee that my jeans would work and I could assure you that heels are DEFINITELY a bad idea. I wish I could say that blue shirts work better than red – that there’s some pretty click that occurs when I pick the right outfit: a switch that makes Digital Assistant Sam from the myGov site say “You did it kid! You picked it! Have your money right away!”
There isn’t one though.
Instead, I live in the knowledge that even once I have uploaded my eye colour and shoe size, there could be months of waiting before I receive benefits. I bond with people over how long they’ve waited and I cross my fingers that my blue shirt will toe me over the line.
Then, at the end of three hours of filling out forms with my housemate, we stand outside and listen to the neighbours’ fire alarm, which has been going off since they made toast 20 minutes ago and we sigh. I turn to her and say, “When we’re too poor to buy food anymore, we’re eating you first.”
17% of students regularly go without food or other necessities.
Several thousands of university students live below the poverty line.
Something is clearly broken here.
It’s not me.