Left out of the Federal Budget, still no job and a Centrelink catastrophe

The Federal Government’s 2020 budget released in October has a particular segment of the population worried, and I am in this segment: people over 35 years old. The government has incentivised employers to hire people under 35, subsidising those who hire in the 16-30 age bracket $200 a week, and $100 a week for 30-35s.

I’ve spent the last ten years as a Communications Consultant, working on change programs in large complex organisations and in government communications roles. Freelancing worked well for me. I spend time in between contracts studying and in creative pursuits, like this blog.

But the age of Covid-19 has shut down the contract market. Am I to blame for pursuing a career that afforded flexibility and the ability to gain experience in different industries? Contracting allowed me to experience organisations as diverse as TAFE NSW, HSBC in London, the NSW Environment Protection Authority and legal publisher LexisNexis in London. It was rewarding and stimulating.

My last contract at Roads and Maritime Services NSW finished in October 2019. This is a difficult time to be off-contract, as companies wind-down their operations and wait until the following year to commence new projects.

I actually decided at the beginning of 2020 that, after living in Canberra, London and Melbourne, it was time to settle in my hometown and look for a permanent position.

The dream job

One of my applications was for Australian Communications Manager at a world leading renewable energy company. I wrote a good cover letter and they rang me up for a 30 minute phone interview.

My second interview was with their Human Resources team. Following this, I was invited for a phone interview with the Head of Communications in Europe. Soon after, HR in Sydney called to offer me the job! My first meeting was to be with the Australian CEO the following week.

The phone meeting with the CEO went well. I had thoroughly researched the industry and the company for each interview, going so far as to draft a bare-bones communications plan and possible story ideas. But the days rolled on. I called HR but no response. A week later I sent a polite email. No response.

The fact that the company was headquartered in a country severely affected by Covid-19 may have had something to do with them not proceeding. But not to be notified, after four interviews, was heartbreaking. This is an extreme form of “ghosting”.

Ship in rough seas, by Nat Skye, reflects my rocky year
Ship in rough seas, by Natalie Wen.

As the year progressed, interest from recruiters inviting candidates to be considered for roles … dried up. But another dream job was dangled before me: Australian Communications Manager for another European company: this one a world-leading arms manufacturer.

I may be critical of much of Western foreign policy over the last twenty-years, which has been opportunistic and provocative to say the least. But I’ve been fascinated by military hardware and cutting-edge technology from an early age.

This role didn’t even proceed to interview stage. It was withdrawn. It would have been nice to expand my military experience beyond a trip to Cambodia, where in Phnom Penh my driver, en route to the Killing Fields, surprisingly took me to a shooting range where I tried the AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles as well the M-60 sub-machine gun.

Social insecurity

If I thought I would have no more battles in 2020 I was horribly wrong. I applied for social security. After some hiccups linking my online account, Centrelink finally approved my application.

Yet little did I suspect that Centrelink made a terrible error when calculating my assets. My Decision Outcome stated that my allowance had been calculated based on a weekly income of $1200. Why I didn’t question this is probably due to the general stress of lockdown and looking for jobs.

In August, I received a letter advising me to review my assets. My assets had hardly changed, except for the withdrawal and reinvestment of a few thousand dollars of shares from my London account to a new Australian-based account. So I didn’t think the review was urgent.

Imagine my horror when I logged in on 14 September to find they had overestimated my assets by $1.2 million! They had wrongly entered my shares in Sareum Holdings on the London Stock Exchange, valued at about $4,000, as Saracen Mineral on the Australian stock exchange, valued at $1,300,000!

It has been a month and I am still fighting to have this rectified. They cancelled my payment. Additionally, I am owed at least $6000.

Rather than attempt to fix their mistake, Centrelink asked me for 6 months of statements from all my accounts. This took me 10 hours to prepare. But I did it. I uploaded the fifty documents on 22 September. This was to no avail.

I have been ringing every other day to get this rectified. I generally spend about 60-90 minutes on the phone while they look into it, say they will fix it, then nothing happens.

On Friday I rang again. They said it had been fixed. But get this – my Sareum shares were valued at $400,000 rather than $4,000: because they entered the value per share at 94p rather than 0.94p. So I will be on the phone tomorrow continuing this quest. The mission is now to get them to correct an error within an error.

How can a mistake of this magnitude happen not once, but twice? And each time Centrelink puts the onus on me to provide documents and call for a status update. I can’t do my tax while I have this non-asset tagged against my name. The whole sorry saga has caused me a great deal of pain and stress.

I would love to have a million dollars! To be accused of having it when you don’t is a real slap in the face. People are getting paid to make sloppy mistakes that have huge ramifications for others. They then show no urgency in fixing them. A simple glance at my statements would confirm my financial situation. Why did they ask for the documents then?

So 2020 has been one of the most difficult years of my life. Not only have I failed to get a job or land a contract for a whole year (the first time in my entire employment history of fifteen years) … I have now won the reverse lottery! Has anyone else had luck as bad as this?


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