Two days in a queue? How we deal with government

Two days in a queue? How we deal with government

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Imagine a government that paid you a benefit for which you were eligible, without waiting for you to apply? Picture: Dan Peled

Imagine a government that paid you a benefit for which you were eligible, without waiting for you to apply? Picture: Dan Peled

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Despite the internet's advantages, Australians still want to meet or speak to public servants.

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THE average Australian adult spends almost two working days a year dealing with governments, whether waiting in phone and office queues, navigating websites or writing letters.

And despite the promise of simpler interactions online, we're spending even more time engaging with our masters than we did four years earlier.

Consultancy firm Deloitte and software giant Adobe partnered to study the way Australians interact and transact with state and federal governments.

One of their more surprising findings is that, despite improved online services, people have barely reduced their use of traditional points of access - such as travelling to an office, phoning a customer service officer, or writing letters or emails.

The findings of the two businesses - which advise governments on digital services - are based on official data combined with estimates of how long different transactions take. They conducted a similar audit four years earlier.

They found each adult interacted with governments 40 times, on average, in 2014. This rose to 55 times in 2018. Measured in "lost hours", that's an extra hour and 11 minutes a year spent dealing with government, or a total of 12 hours and 37 minutes.

Transactions include applying for government payments, lodging tax returns, enrolling children in schools, renewing driver's licences, changing addresses and so on.

Most of the increase was in digital interactions, which, across the country, rose from 472 million in 2014 to 825 million four years later.

A Deloitte partner, John O'Mahony, said people were using government services more - especially to find information - because agencies had made it easier for them.

"In the past, they just wouldn't have bothered. But if they can hop online, and send a message or ask a question, they'll do it now," Mr O'Mahony said.

He said improving digital services would not necessarily reduce public spending, but was necessary to satisfy citizens' growing demands.

The report estimated the staffing involved in delivering services in 2014 and 2018, and found that, despite expectations of financial efficiencies, there was little evidence of it.

"The decline in traditional staff has been small, and this could reflect the fact that more complex transactions are still likely to require support from government staff, whether this be in person or over the phone," the report said.

However, Mr O'Mahony said that, if governments had not grown their digital services, "things would be much worse" for them.

"There are reasons to go digital but it's not necessarily about cost savings," he said.

"Governments that continue to keep [traditional] channels open are still going to bear the costs of those channels. And there will be cohorts that will always want to interact with governments on traditional channels."

Mr O'Mahony said the next challenge was to design services that eliminated the need for any interaction.

"[Governments] should be able to do more of the 'admin of your life' without a transaction," he said.

"For example, if you have children and you're therefore entitled to something, why do you have to fill in a form to get it? They should avoid that transaction."

He expected any future study to find significant improvements for citizens, noting that state governments in particular had invested heavily in digital services over the past two years.

The Adobe-Deloitte report, Rethinking the digital dividend, is available online.

The Canberra Times

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