Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Centrelink: queueing in hell

I had plenty of time to draw as I waited 2 hrs on hold to speak to the participation team - a team of one serving warmed over turdballs to the whole country. I spoke for a while to the operator,  I wasn't pleased and I told him just how corrupt and stupid, not to mention counterproductive the whole work for the dole notion is, in general and as applied to me. In short I want to get off the dole, not be trapped on it for life. He put me on hold, then quietly hung up. I'll be making a formal complaint about this

I'd missed a meeting, my bad I guess, not that I'd received notification.

OK, for a year or so since I chucked my moon boot I've had trouble wearing shoes and have put in the odd medical certificate to that effect. I can work, but can't wear shoes all day, I don't possess a pair that I can wear more than a couple of hours. After being called into Jobs Statewide a couple of weeks ago I put in another so I could hang the next exhibition rather than waste my and other people's time doing some art therapy(gag) with some shysters called Gemology, or Gemconnect or some such.

I spent a couple of years as a volunteer painting a last supper in 2013-5 at Newtown Mission, in lieu of work for the dole, a project that did me a lot of good, which memorialised the volunteers and poor of Newtown, and which should last a hundred years or more. The pastor there, Brian Unterrheiner is keen to have me do more, couldn't I go there and paint some more as well as conduct drawing classes, that would be of benefit to me and the community, and might actually create something of lasting value, rather than doing this useless therapy which only serves to demoralise and thwart, and prove to yourself that your labours are worthless in the eyes of government. Nope, rules has changed and rules is rules. Though the staff is so demoralised, and subject to endless churn(noone with a shred of humanity lasts more than 3 months working in those places) that they probably ignorant of them anyway, apart from their quotas

I'd told them I was making some money since the start of the year, was about to lodge a profit and loss statement. Could my earnings be counted as if they were wages, in which case they are counted at the minimum wage rate, reducing work for the dole obligations by the amount of hours that comes to. Well maybe, if they are signed off on by an accountant. I'm currently netting about $100 a week, how do I pay for that? Does the job network provide any assistance with one? Fat chance. In fact the consultant acted as if I was delusional, despite having seen the mural and being visibly impressed by a recent commission I showed her. So artists are lower than criminals and junkies in government's eyes. "No of course not, but she couldn't look me in the eye as she said it.

Anyway I wrote some waffle to the PM, my local MP, which I'll paste in below


The Hon Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister
member for Wentworth
Locked Bag 1

                                                           John O'Driscoll
                                                           xx/x Greenknowe Ave
                               Potts Point
                               NSW 2011
Dear Prime Minister

I'm a 52 year old artist who lives in your electorate in Potts Point. I'm currently on Newstart benefit.

By way of a preamble, 3 years ago I suffered a bad break to my right foot - a section of the third metarsal was shattered etc. I was in a moonboot for close to a year. In the period since I've had full use of my foot at the expense of some pain. I have wide feet and always have had trouble finding shoes that fit, and now find it difficult to wear shoes for extended periods. I have at times had a medical certificate to the effect that I'm fit for work, but can't wear a shoe for more than 3 hours.

I am indeed looking for work, recently finding some. Around the time I broke my foot(2013-4) I painted a 2:3 scale Newtown Last Supper at Newtown Mission, http://newtown-last-supper.blogspot.com/ - the main panel can be seen in all its stages at http://newtown-last-supper.blogspot.com/p/evolution-of-main-panel.html All the parts are played by clients and volunteers at the Mission. This was done in lieu of Work for the Dole, though I continued work when in the moonboot, and Employment Plus were so dysfunctional they never properly authorised it properly, or checked out OHS or anything. Pastor Brian Unterrheiner received absolutely no contact from them in the whole 2 years. This is work that exercises my skills, and is a memorial to people at the margins of society that people will be looking at for 100 yrs or more, something of value - maybe $100000 worth if they ripped out the wall and sold it

I have been exhibiting and sometimes selling canvases since I lived and worked at, co-directed the gallery at the Gunnery in Cowper Wharf Road in Woolloomooloo from 1985-91. In recent months I have had the use of the walls at a cafe in Newtown, I'm about to mount the third show there. I've succeeded in selling a number of my paintings there, as well as a couple of small commissions. Over the past month or so sales have taken me into modest profit so I am about to submit 3 months of accounts to Centrelink.

The medical certificate for my foot recently lapsed and I was called in to Jobs Statewide in Redfern for an interview. These places are utterly inept at placing people in actual paying work, even for more regular clients than me, a career artist. I did a course a year or so ago, at my previous provider, with a private sector job placement specialist, who literally had to show the reluctant staff how to actually connect clints with the interviews he'd arranged for them - I posted a few drawings and reflections on one of my blogs around http://name-of-liberty.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/a-very-tedious-seminar.html

This time, my new case worker - the churn in these agencies is incredible - had only one thing on her mind, work for the dole. I told her about selling paintings at Buzzzbar, said I was about to lodge a statement. She ran for her supervisor.

Her lack of curiosity about what I was doing would be breathtaking to the uninitiated. Rather than try to find out if the thing was real she didn't want to know about my business whatsoever. She'd seen my Last Supper, and was visibly impressed by work I showed her, and I sensed a certain amount of personal sympathy but her professional position seemed to be that art and business were unmentionable together, and since I was artist I'd be thrilled to go down to Gemology, or Gemconnect or whatever it's called and get my creative urges out there! Like art is some therapy, totally interchangeable. If I had nothing better to do I'd have no objections. I'm a portrait and landscape painter, I'm selling work, most everything I paint recently, and what's more I have an opening the day after I'm supposed to commence this, er, therapy.

I told her that Pastor Brian Unterrheiner had asked me to come back to the Mission and make a few additions in the periphery of the Last Supper, and that I'd suggested to him that I lead a course of drawing classes. Why couldn't I do that, that's actually of some benefit both to me and the community. Rules apparently, stupid ones.

I asked if earnings from business as declared to Centrelink would be counted in the same way as wages in determining if I needed to do work for the dole and how many hours. Catch-22 - would my accounts be signed off by an accountant? haha, nice one, how am I supposed to afford that at this early stage? So you guys love me so much you want me to stay on the dole forever. I cannot allow any distractions to prevent me from attaining a measure of success for my work an myself which I can see ahead after many years of work and struggle. I might remind you that the economic life of an artwork does not cease when sold by the artist, in fact it has barely begun, anything half-good can go on being traded, realising tax revenue, for centuries

By this time I was so frustrated by the counterproductive lunacy of this dialogue that I neglected to ask if there was a program to pay for accountancy services for small businesses starting up. Or for example why they don't match me up with a job seeker who's keen to get into marketing and online sales, I already have considerable online presence and post all my work, not that the agency cares about that, or even knows, it was one thing I didn't manage to communicate to my current incurious case worker

What assistance is available to someone like me? What is the point of this endless sabotage? It's obviously not to save taxpayers money, judging by effects, rather than pious hopes.



John O'Driscoll

An addendum:

After this debacle I went and got another medical certicate covering 3 months from mid-April. Since thenI have hung another show, got deposits on a couple more painting sales-about $1000 but I will be waiting months for final settlement and obtained a couple of commissions which are mostly completed but I have not received anything for them yet, here is one, an Opera hHouse view from the Botanic Gardens - http://name-of-liberty.blogspot.com/2016/05/sydney-opera-house-from-botanic-gardens.html . I've completed a 3 month profit and loss statement showing me netting just over $100 weekly, but not yet lodged it as I am currently breached. The next period, if I don't throw in the towel, and I won't, should show an incremental increase at least.

Centrelink accepted my medical certificate, I wasn't penalised for not attending my first session of work for the dole(20 April), and received my next payment as normal, but then was breached the next fortnight. I rang the participation line yesterday, waiting 2 hours before I spoke to an operator. According to him the medical certificate has been logged as covering the period from mid-January to mid-April. I find it impossible to believe that my doctor has given me a certificate for the period that had passed, a period mostly covered by another certificate from January, so someone in Centrelink has either made a convenient error or is playing silly buggers. Either way it's unacceptable. I intend to find out what has transpired.

After this I was put on hold, and then the connection was broken. I did not hang up, so the other end must have, barring an unlikely technical problem. I had made no bones about my view of the system, but was not insulting to the operator, in any case isn't there a procedure for informing the caller that what they say is abusive, and that the operator is hanging up? The calls are logged and recorded, so again, I want to know what has occurred, and I'd like to make a formal complaint about the participation team member I dealt with.

Here's a drawing I did while waiting on the phone - queueing in hell http://name-of-liberty.blogspot.com/2016/05/centrelink-queueing-in-hell.html - demonstrating that I will make good use of my time no matter how much anyone attempts to waste it, is a drawing of the scene in Centrekink


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