After the Federal Government demanded closure of large sectors of the workforce that dealt with the public, which primarily affected those working in venues (cinemas, theatres), hospitality (restaurants, pubs, clubs), performance arts (bands, actors, comedians), and indoor sporting venues (public pools, gyms), thousands of newly-unemployed tried to register at Centrelink offices.
On Monday 23 March, tens of thousands of newly jobless Australians attempted to register for Job Seeker hardship payments. However, despite a steady stream of casual workers being laid off in the weeks prior to the government’s 22 March announcement of a mass shutdown of social gatherings, the inevitable surge of people to the dole office overwhelmed the unprepared government agency supposed to manage the situation. Long queues lined the streets outside Centrelink offices across Australia as staff struggled to cope.
To rectify the problem, newly unemployed workers were instead advised to return home and register online instead of in person. Necessary details like proof-of-identity could wait until after registration, because initial crisis payments won’t be available for several weeks – for most people that means April 27.
However, the MyGov website that manages Centrelink services ground to a halt too and welfare claimants were literally stranded, unable to visit an office and unable to apply online for services like the emergency coronavirus payment, rent relief or child welfare payments.
Strangely, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert then claimed the MyGov webpage had been subjected to a cyber-attack, also known as a DDoS (direct denial of service). “More than 55,000 Australians tried to access at the same time, as well as the issue we had with the denial of service attack,” he declared.
However, a DDoS usually involves a website being simultaneously accessed by thousands of malevolent forces with the intention of overwhelming it to disable its effectiveness. When cyber experts poured scorn on Robert’s claim of a DDoS, he confirmed their suspicions several hours later and admitted there was “no evidence of a specific attack today.”
It was revealed the MyGov website can only handle 55,000 people accessing it at once. As it transpired, that is a recently-adjusted increase from its previous capacity of 6,000.
This strongly suggests the Federal Government seriously underestimated how many people would be affected by their Sunday night call for a nationwide lockdown. It appears they only predicted 49,000 new claimants would register for unemployment assistance on Monday morning.
An estimated 15,000 jobs in hospitality alone are set to be axed in central Sydney before other occupations are taken into account. Westpac Bank predicts the national unemployment rate will jump to 11.1 per cent by June, on a par with the 1990-91 world recession, with up to 814,000 people unemployed.
2 million unemployed?
However, on 23 March, the Sydney Morning Herald said “senior sources in the banking and the forecasting sectors” who “could not be named for commercial-in-confidence reasons” have predicted Australia is destined for an unemployment rate of 15 per cent or more.
This would mean over 2 million Australians out of work within the next few months, the highest rate of unemployment since The Great Depression, a severe worldwide economic depression that began in 1929 and continued well into the 1930s, and ultimately precipitated World War 2.
Unemployment in Australia currently stands at 5.1 per cent.
Despite adjustments to facilitate an increase in demand, on Tue 24 March the MyGov website again froze and denied access to new claimants, while the queues outside Centrelink offices increased.