Dear Centrelink, it's time we broke up

January 22, 2014
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Dear Centrelink,

It’s time we broke up. We’ve had a good run, but we need to end things.

When we got together five years ago, it was something of an arranged marriage. My parents had informed me they couldn’t support me through university, and I would need to find another way to fund my education. And there you were. The answer to my pecuniary needs. You swept into my life like a gallant pro-education knight, or a disturbingly bureaucratic sugar daddy. You were going to fund my move to Sydney, cover my rent each week (almost), and allow me to study full-time and work part-time, not the other way around.

I loved you so tenderly at first. My first purchase with my first payment from you was (and this is reflective of how I used all your pay cheques): food. I remember standing in the fruit and veg shop giddy at the thought that because of you I could buy tomatoes and bananas, or, if I wanted, a 20kg pumpkin or a bucket of cumquats. Thanks to you I would not, like the three guys who lived in my house before I moved in, get scurvy.

There were other good times as well. I remember that magical day in 2009 that Kevin Rudd introduced a bonus Centrelink payment at the beginning of each semester to help students pay for little trifles like textbooks and bond. Or the joy of having a healthcare card, which meant I could afford to go to the doctor, even if I couldn’t afford to fill my prescription afterwards.

But I’ll be honest, we’ve had our rocky periods. Long, unrelenting, rocky periods. Like the occasional moments you would cut off my payment for no reason. (Was it just caprice, Centrelink, or were you worried I was taking you for granted?) Or the fact that whenever I wanted to talk to you I would have to wait 40 minutes listening to Vivaldi while you mockingly reassured me my call was very important to you. Or the fact that every time I moved house – every time – you wouldn’t update my address in the system. I still get your letters sent to three different suburbs.

Or there was that time you sent me a letter informing me that I owed you $27,000. Twenty. Seven. THOUSAND. Dollars. At the time of receiving the letter I had $40 in my bank account. That was just unkind.

If I’m really frank, Centrelink – and let’s face it, it’s now or never – I don’t think I’ve had a more exasperating relationship than the one I’ve had with you. You have often been a tyrannical patron.

So, it’s time to say goodbye. I have a job now, which means I no longer need you. I can finally exit your confusing online portal. I can forget my Customer Access Number and the answers to my ‘secret questions’. I must confess that leaving you is a relief, I’ve been wanting out of this relationship for a long time.

But as we dissolve this union, I want to say more than good riddance, I also want to say thanks. Despite all your faults (and they are considerable) I’m glad you exist. I know that a lot of countries don’t have a government body who is virtually a benefactor of the masses, a bureaucratic Saint Nick with a fetish for multi-page application forms. I know I’m lucky. Yes, you made me waste hundreds of hours on hold, and yes you made decisions on a whim that dramatically affected my life, and yes, occasionally your “administrative errors” led to visceral terror when I realised I wouldn’t be able to pay rent that week. But you also basically made it possible for me to go to university.

I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. Thanks and goodbye.

Your friend,

Kate Lyons

Kate Lyons is University of Sydney Alumni and writes for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Daily Life. She is a former a former editor of student publication, BULL, and blogs at katelyons.net.

Photo: Nicolas Marot, The University of Sydney

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