Drought, bushfire, now Centrelink: joblessness just the latest trial for farming family

Drought, bushfire, now Centrelink: joblessness just the latest trial for farming family

Coronavirus
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"You don't like to ask for handouts but you've got to make ends meet."

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In six months, farmer Margaret Yarnold has survived Australia's worst drought, a water crisis and lost a home to a deadly bushfire.

Joining an hour-long unemployment queue outside Centrelink on Tuesday morning was just another trial.

Her son, Oliver, 23, lost his job as a delivery driver last week.

After giving up on a fruitless wait on Monday, Mrs Yarnold joined him for a second day in line at Tamworth Centrelink, alongside dozens of other new jobless in a scene reminiscent of the Great Depression.

They took their place towards the back of a queue out the door; first arrivals turned up at 6.45am for an 8.30am opening.

But he's now all set to sign up for unemployment support for the first time.

Mrs Yarnold, from Kentucky, a village about 80 kilometres north-east of Tamworth, said she felt "a bit crappy" about the family situation.

You don't like to ask for handouts but you've got to make ends meet.

In November the family lost a house, a shed, and cattle to the deadly Yarrowitch blaze. The home is still in ruins and has not been cleaned up.

She cooks and cleans on a property, but she worries the COVID-19 crisis could hit the family income even more.

"With rebuilding it'll make it really hard and I don't know what's going to happen," she said.

"With the fire we've got to do the clean-up first before we can even think about what we're going to put back down there."

They are among hundreds of local residents who have already signed up for income support this week.

Teamo coffee shop is located right next door to Centrelink. Cafe owner Pru Russ said they were lucky to be in the best spot in town.

She estimated Tuesday's line was just as long or longer than Monday, with many of them ordering a cuppa for the wait.

The Yarnolds lost their property to a bushfire in November last year.

The Yarnolds lost their property to a bushfire in November last year.

"We've actually stopped the door this morning, so that people aren't trying to cram in, we don't want them to cram in," she said.

It's estimated as many as 2 million Australians could be out of work, with businesses shutting their doors often under Commonwealth orders to slow the coronavirus pandemic. Pubs, cinemas, restaurants are banned from offering sit-down service. Gyms, clubs, sporting and religious institutions have also been ordered to close their doors to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Some economists estimate unemployment will triple to 15 per cent, the highest rate since 1932.

The My.Gov.au website crashed yesterday and phone lines jammed with unprecedented demand, driving thousands into unemployment queues across the country.

Unemployment benefits have been doubled for the period of the crisis, with most set to earn around $1100 a fortnight. But the jobless face a month-long wait for financial help.

Mrs Yarnold said the layoffs would hit particularly hard for farming families who have already had to battle a worst-ever drought for two years.

Many of them would have taken off-farm work as casual labour to supplement their incomes - only to be the first to go during layoffs.

To add insult to injury, her family has to drive about an hour to do a once-a-month shop, sometimes arriving to find bare shelves.

"[Staff say] 'but it'll be in tomorrow', but you take pot luck by the time you get there that it's going to be there," she said.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston asked newly unemployed Australians not to turn up at Centrelink, saying changes to the system meant proof of identity could be done over the phone.

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