Centrelink Queensland Rural call centre staff in Maryborough celebrate the centre’s first 10 years.
Centrelink Queensland Rural call centre staff in Maryborough celebrate the centre’s first 10 years. Valerie Horton

Centrelink call centre turns 10

THE FRASER Coast scarcely knows they are there, this anonymous 140-strong workforce that works out of the unmarked building in Maryborough, saves Australian lives many days, patches up millions of others – and regularly has the tissue box nearby to catch the on-duty tears no one likes to admit to shedding.

Meet the Centrelink national rural call centre team, 10 years old this week; proud, passionate, extra-mile-walkers – and finally out of their workplace secrecy after the Chronicle paid a visit.

“When someone from regional Qld, Northern NSW, or the NT rings a Centrelink Rural Call Centre, that call is likely to be answered by our team in Maryborough,” centre manager Jane Bellingham, one of 14 original staff, and a former Bank of Qld officer, said.

“Most people don’t know we exist. We are one of just two rural call centres in Australia. The other is in Port Augusta. Here, we handle every Centrelink payment across the board, including farm payments.

“When I came here 10 years ago we were 57 and now we’re 140 and handling more than half a million calls each year. The staff takes a positive, inspiring call one moment and a sad one the next. There’s a fantastic spirit in here and it doesn’t stop at taking clients’ calls. The staff buys pyjamas for children, supports two Smith Family kids and raises money for many other causes and charities.”

The centre’s track record is not quite the perceived genre or response mode of a government organisation. Workers come from backgrounds including cattle fitting (Shayne Lait), Indigenous Family Violence (Alissa Lowe), insurance (deputy manager Judi Crowley), pharmaceutical admin (Maryan McGown) and Ergon Energy (Tasmin Bates).

“The centre is geared to work in crisis situations. Cyclone Larry, the Victorian bushfires, flood assistance moving into drought, the Murray Darling Basin issues and the Farmers Assistance Line have been or are part of their workload,” Ms Crowley said

“We also run a mobile services unit, formerly the drought bus, except now it’s a semi-trailer.

“Staff are assigned to travel on the truck into remote community centres and are also redirected at any moment to cover bushfires or floods in other states.”

Certain calls make big impacts on this staff. Alissa describes an indigenous man desperate and talking suicide. The phone went dead but the Centrelink network kept operating and staff tracked down the distraught man.

When the government changes policy or announces new regulations, the staff gets no heads up except a computerised outline and then must handle thousands of calls.

“We have 10 minutes to get our heads around the new information before the phones start,” Alissa said.

But there’s humour. Judi recalls the country woman calling in and then having to run off to get the horse out of her kitchen because he was eating her freshly baked biscuits.

All staff treasure the thank you calls – especially when someone’s life is falling apart, they can fix it and the client calls back the next day to say thanks, mate.

But if you’re inspired to think you can now connect with any one of the Maryborough team, “Sorry,” says Tasmin. “You can’t. Anyone of us may take your next call.”

So it’s just the luck of the draw but at least now you’ll know you’re talking to Maryborough.

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