Hank Jongen - the human face of Centrelink

Hank Jongen is the human face of Centrelink, a government agency on behalf of the Department of Human services, responsible for $100 billion in funds, 40,000 staff and 99% of the Australian population at some stage or another. But what is Hank really like? And what does he think of Centrelink’s service?

Born in the Netherlands, Hank’s family migrated to Australia and settled in the mining town of Kalgoorlie in WA. His dad worked in the mines. Next door lived a man whose name, of all things, was Ned Kelly. An Irishman who earned his living kangaroo shooting, the Kelly family was “classic Aussie”. With a steady diet of European food at home, young Hank used to hang around the Kelly household hoping to score one of Mrs. Kelly’s meat pies.
To this day Hank enjoys them, and makes his own meat pies using his favourite recipe from Maggie Beer.

After commencing work in the private sector in sales and marketing, Hank joined the public service in Perth in the 70s, working in management, policy and program development. In the late 80s he transferred to Canberra and worked on national strategies. In 1997 he assisted in the establishment of the new agency called Centrelink. Since 2005 he has been General Manager. In 2008 he was delighted to accept the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service, in particular for his role as Centrelink’s leading communicator.

It is about this role that we have interviewed Hank hoping to learn more about the way Centrelink serves the people of Australia. We also shared, on behalf of the many visitors to our site, some of the main questions and issues associated with being a Centrelink customer that we have received.

Q. What is Centrelink?
A. Centrelink is the government’s welfare delivery agency. It works on behalf of 27 departments delivering emergency assistance, social work, support and income.

Q. How do you do this?
A. We listen, we learn, we try to be helpful. We work face-to-face, on the phone and via email. We have high expectations of our staff who receive intensive training. Our role is always to help people through tough times. We are continually measuring customer satisfaction. An example of this customer focus occurred during the bushfires in Victoria in February 2009. Our officers drove down on the Sunday night with camping gear so they could stay there on the spot helping people sort out their needs and entitlements for as long as was necessary.

Q. Do customers have to reveal their names when making an enquiry with Centrelink?
A. No, if you prefer, you can call 132300 and speak with someone anonymously.

Q. Why is it possible to get two seemingly different answers to the same question from two different Centrelink officers?
A. Normally the variety of answers comes back to a variation in the information offered. It is often difficult to get a full set of information over the phone and our officers can only respond to the amount which is revealed. I always say the best way to test your eligibility is to lodge a claim.

Q. What is new at Centrelink?
A. Our site has been redesigned to deliver better and more services. In fact, 54 different services are now online. People can go to the site to register, lodge and claim – we are encouraging everyone to do their routine tasks there. We also support Work Ventures subsidised computers as an affordable way of giving seniors access to the internet.
Centrelink is the only website which assists people with visual impairment and illiteracy. We have also developed a text-to-speech Talking Website called “Listen to this page”

Q. And what is next for you?
A. At 58 retirement is the last thing on my mind.
I love my job and take immense pride in this organisation – and I still see great virtue in public service and being a public servant.
I don’t have much spare time but when I do I love photography, gardening and going on the internet. Even my mother, Mia, has embraced Skype and chats regularly with me as well as her sisters in Holland. I also have a new puppy, Charlie, who now runs the household.

Q. Can Centrelink customers contact you if they feel they have not receved a satisfactory response?
A. I don’t handle general enquiries, but am always happy to share my email address for those who feel they have a specific question that remains unresolved.

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