New Centrelink boss has eye on Southern Downs' problem
AFTER just six weeks in Stanthorpe, the new manager of Centrelink, Lisa Lewis, has found herself plunged headfirst into the area's growing unemployment problem.
She is keen to overcome the "negative perception” of Centrelink, saying the service is eager to promote the services and assistance that go beyond payments.
"Losing your job is one of the most stressful things that can ever happen in somebody's life,” she said.
"We will do what we can.”
Apart from payments, Centrelink can offer emergency relief, referrals to agencies such as Lifeline, and the services of a job capacity assessor to help people find new work. A social worker is always readily available by phone.
"Losing a job through no fault of their own can put people in a terrible financial position,” Ms Lewis said.
"Things happen with illness.
"People can lose their homes - things can go south very quickly.
"Every day we see people who say they never thought they would be in this position.”
Ms Lewis said that when she started with the Commonwealth Employment Service in 1996, the program was very much "payment driven”.
"Now, we try to put the focus on the customer,” she said.
Helping with mental health issues that arise out of job loss and other negative life events is also part of the service.
Ms Lewis was previously the front-of-house team leader at Centrelink in Beenleigh. As the largest service in south-east Queensland, it had 33 staff.
At Stanthorpe, there are just five.
"At these smaller regional sites, you have to do it all,” she said.
Ms Lewis and husband Steven have long been keen visitors to the Southern Downs, attending festivals over the past 12 years.
They wanted to move to the area earlier but resolved to wait until their children had finished school.
With son, Joseph now 19, they looked around and found their dream property, a 1920s cottage at Applethorpe that Steven, a cabinetmaker and carpenter, is renovating.
Initially, they looked at acreage, but decided the cottage, on 0.56ha but surrounded by a 20ha farm, was perfect.
"My neighbours are cows,” Ms Lewis said.
"In the paddocks around are all the pregnant mummas - I give them a carrot and apple.”
Throughout her working life, Ms Lewis has taken a strong interest in her community, taking on the secretary role at her son's rugby club, joining the Parents and Friends group at her children's primary school and working in the tuckshop at the high school - "that cost me more than I took” - where her son would bring his friends for a free meal.
Ms Lewis said that as the face of Centrelink, she was keen to be out in the community and so attended functions such as the St Vincent's 125th anniversary party and the NAIDOC events.
"I want to show that we are invested in the community in which we live, play and work,” she said.
"I'm loving the change. I'm very happy to be here.”