Mark and Delma Tronson, while raising four children had ongoing dealings with the Centrelink system (and its predecessors) like other Australian families. This was inevitably not straightforward, and involved filling in endless forms, getting on the phone to sort things out and dealing with the clerk on the desk who quite possibly couldn't give an authoritative answer straight away.
Also, as a Minister, part of his M V Tronson's pastoral duties have involved people who found the Centrelink system a little daunting. Because of his own experiences, he has been able to help them through the maize of forms and explain what the questions mean. He has sometimes accompanied people to Centrelink in order to work through their situations more confidently.
On the other side of the desk, Centrelink personnel have a lot of deal with. Sometimes clients who are frustrated with the system get aggressive; sometimes the completed forms contain contradictions that take several meetings to resolve, or the required attachments are not provided; many times there is a language barrier, and sometimes there is just simply a long queue.
Many of the areas that Centrelink personnel deal with are also matters that relate to legal proceedings and court appearances. The staff need to establish a paper trail with much care so that it can be easily followed, and also to ensure their own system works. This can create a mountain of red tape.
One such difficult administration area that Mark Tronson has observed is where women recipients of child benefits have several children from different male partners, and each child's father is required by the courts to pay 'an amount' for his respective child. This is far more common than one might think.
These women may be single; or in a second marriage with children living with them from the first marriage; or in a long term de facto relationship after the breakdown of their first marriage or relationship; or they might have had a series of de facto relationships with children born in a number of those relationships.
These confusing financial benefit arrangements Centrelink have had to have incorporated into their systems. It is 'problematic' to say the least, to ensure the benefits are actually paid to the mothers so they have the appropriate support for raising the children, and that they have calculated correctly for each father, but that the fathers too are not disadvantaged by the system
When one of the former male partners loses his job or is re-partnered and starts a new family, all those considerations are once again are recalculated and a new formula is developed which maintains the financial support for the mother toward that child's welfare.
The drama is that Centrelink staff have to initially sort it all through and set up the correct systems, and this might take some time. Then when they find that a new set of circumstances come into play then everything needs to be done all over again. The same sorts of difficulties arise in reverse for mothers of blended families when a new father type figure comes into the home to live.
Since it is compulsory for the clients to inform Centrelink of any alterations in relationships and living arrangements, when anything at all changes, all parties necessarily make yet another trip to Centrelink; and the staff need to put into place a new set of circumstances or to chase up a wayward former partner, or whatever is appropriate.
Of course, this does not make life easy for the mother of young children, when she is enmeshed in this never ending cyclical situation. The younger the children, the more difficult it becomes to make the Centrelink trip, especially if there is no motor vehicle and the family is reliant on public transport.
Mark Tronson has been reflecting on his long experience in industrial and sports chaplaincy. He served for twelve years with the InterChurch Trade & Industry Mission (ITIM) as the Padre at Shell Refinery in Sydney.
He has also been responsible for appointing many chaplains to Australian sports, and in writing protocols for religious consultations in Olympic villages. He, himself, is still involved with chaplaincy within the Australian cricket community. He found this type of pastoral ministry with people in the everyday community both enjoyable and fulfilling.
With this background, Mark Tronson wonders whether Centrelink staff might well be assisted with a Commercial Chaplain who specialises in the 'pastoral care' of the 'normal' Aussie Battler staff; and who can be trained to liaise between the clients and the Centrelink staff, to make the final consultation at the office more productive and time-efficient.