MyGov website crashes, while desperate Australians overwhelm Centrelink

The crowd outside the Centrelink office on the Gold Coast last month. Photo: AAP

The crowd outside the Centrelink office on the Gold Coast last month. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP

The website giving Australians access to government services crashed on Monday, overwhelmed by surging demand as people deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

There were also problems with the MyGov app and lengthy queues outside Centrelink offices across Australia on Monday.

AS of 4.30pm, the MyGov website was still saying it was “unavailable”. However, the MyGov app on mobile phones was working.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert initially said the website’s technical issues were complicated by a denial of service attack (similar to that that brought down the national census in 2016).

In Question Time later on Monday, he backtracked on that claim, saying the huge number of people logging on to the site at the same time mirrored such an attack, triggering internal alarms.

MyGov website traffic leapt from about 6000 users a day to 55,000 at the weekend. The numbers peaked at more than 95,000.

Australians needed to be patient, Mr Robert said.

“Try logging on later today or even tomorrow,” he said.

Many families, workers and business owners have been forced to seek social security payments as the pandemic throws the national economy into chaos. In Question Time on Monday, it emerged that up to 1.7 million Australians could be on unemployment payments in coming months.

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed a near empty Parliament.

“Life is changing in Australia for every Australian and life is going to continue to change,” he said.

“For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives.

“We gather today at a time of great challenge for our nation and indeed the world. We are a strong nation and a strong people but in the months ahead this will put us all to the test. At no time like this, since World War II. But together, Australia, we are up to this challenge.

“We summon the spirit of the Anzacs, of our great Depression generation, of those who built the Snowy, of those who won the great peace of World War II and defended Australia. That is our legacy that we draw on at this time.”

Mr Morrison said queues stretching several city blocks outside Centrelink offices on Monday would have been unthinkable just two weeks ago.

“This is the biggest economic shock our nation has faced in generations. Australia, long an open trading nation, is now closed off largely from the world,” he said.

“This will be a test of all Australians. It is a test of our nation. Of our spirit. There are some who believe Liberal democracies and free societies cannot cope with these sorts of challenges. We will prove them wrong here in Australia.”

Under a stimulus package announced on Sunday, the government will double payments to the unemployed and increasing other family welfare payments as it seeks to cushion the economy from the devastating impact of the pandemic.

Opposition frontbencher Bill Shorten said the unprecedented demand on Centrelink and MyGov was “entirely foreseeable”.

Mr Shorten said Australians should not be forced to wait weeks to access welfare.

“At this hour of need, Australians are having to grapple with inadequate service, online glitches and a lack of planning to deal with demand at Centrelink shopfronts,” he said.

The surge in demand at Centrelink came because first-time welfare recipients had been told they could get a customer reference number only by applying in person. However, Mr Robert said later on Monday that new customers could start their claim online and their identity could be verified over the phone.

Mr Robert said Centrelink staff were following medical advice about social distancing, which had also contributed to the delays.

“We have less staff in our Centrelink offices,” he said.

But additional call centre operators were being recruited, and call centre hours would be extended.

“We have been preparing for a large influx of Australians who haven’t used centre services before,” Mr Robert said.

Mr Shorten said the minister must do better.

“He must ensure Centrelink services – online and in person – are working now when Australians need them most.”

-with AAP

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