Long lines outside Bega's Centrelink office this week reflect the increasing number of residents faced with unemployment and underemployment due to government-enforced shutdowns amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Out of work residents may now be eligible for payments of up to $1120 per fortnight under the federal government's new JobSeeker supplement. With estimates of over a million Australians now unemployed, the government will also allow some affected residents to draw $10,000 on their superannuation for both this financial year and the next.
There's all ages and walks of life waiting to get in.Rebecca Lamont
With the department's website unable to handle the increase in demand this week, residents were forced to wait in lengthy lines outside Centrelink offices across the country, including in Bega. New social distancing regulations meant only ten residents were being allowed inside the office at any one time.
Single mother Rebecca Lamont was one of over 20 people in line at Centrelink on Tuesday, and she said a number of elderly residents were struggling to wait in line without anywhere to sit and rest. Her visit lasted over three hours, most of it spent in line on the street.
"There's a bit of frustration about and people are shaking their heads," Ms Lamont said.
"People haven't been able to get online. I've had trouble getting online. One lady just walked out after being here four hours."
Many residents living a long distance from the local office and unable to travel were forced to wait out the website difficulties at home. Others were forced out of self isolation, with website outages forcing them to visit the office.
Website downdetector.com.au showed a spike in reported issues surrounding the MyGov website around midday on Tuesday. Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said 3.2million people attempted to access the website on Tuesday.
Government services minister Stuart Robert said the site was unable to cope with unprecedented demand, despite a weekend update by Services Australia in preparation for the increase in users. He also claimed the site had been hacked, before retracting the claim and placing the blame squarely on the fact almost double the 55,000 predicted users had attempted to access the site on Monday.
Mr Robert's backflipped position was backed up by the Australian Cyber Security Centre who said there was no evidence of "malicious cyber activity".
People haven't been able to get online. I've had trouble getting online. One lady just walked out after being here four hours.Rebecca Lamont
In Bega, Ms Lamont said she had to come to the aid of a number of elderly and disabled residents. At one point even borrowing a chair from a gallery next door. Another man waited hours on crutches with nowhere to sit.
"There's a security guard putting hand sanitiser on everyone as they are allowed inside, but they could be keeping an eye on the line outside," she said.
"There are a lot of casual workers in the area, including me.
"There's all ages and walks of life waiting to get in."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday the government was looking to bolster the social services department as the economy quickly slows.
"We are working in a very flexible environment and we're in a position to take further decisions. I'm looking to hire 5000 people to ensure that we can get the support into our social services system so people can get the benefits and we can upgrade the systems and we can roll that out," Mr Morrison told journalists on Tuesday night.
The new Services Australia staff will begin work next week.
During her recent visit to Bega, ANZ bank deputy chief executive Alexis George said she hoped government stimulus packages "trickle down quickly" to residents already struggling.
South East Women and Children's Services' Caroline Long said the enforced self isolation and rising unemployment will be adding extra pressure to some families.
"People are still recovering from the fires and now we are seeing more job losses. This is not going to help," she said.
"The promise of extra money, but the delay in receiving it, the increased risk of homelessness, and pressure in families may see an increase in domestic violence.
"There are people working from home with kids home from school and no food in the supermarkets. None of this is helping."
She said reports from many services across the region are that they are for the moment having very little demand. Ms Long said the current quiet period may be the calm before the storm when people come out of self isolation.
"Maybe it's too early yet," Ms Long said.