Tuesday, 14 February 2012

You're Just As Confused As I Am

That's Mr Key I'm referring to in the title of the post.  Fact is, I think he is more confused than I am.
The dull neo-liberal drive for smaller government has been given sheep's clothing.  This time it's presented as modernisation and efficiency.  Stuff reports:
Key said yesterday that people wanted to use their smartphones to apply for passports and other tasks, rather than wait in line in offices.
"It really doesn't matter if there is a street frontage there ... We are living in an age where kids have iPads and smartphones. That's the modern generation ... and they actually don't want to walk in, for the most part, and be in a very long queue and be waiting for a long time."
I applied for a passport a year ago.  It was really easy; download the forms, print and fill them out, post in with credit card details included, done.  A week or so later my passport turned up in my letterbox.  Sure it could have been easier if the form could have been submitted electronically, but this myth of people standing in queues waiting to apply for passports is, well, a myth.
As an aside, why are these imaginary people queuing, in Mr Key's imagination?  The obvious answer is they need a passport to join the brain drain to Australia.  However, back to interactions with the government...
My daughter needed her birth registered.  Forms off the internet, if I recall correctly.  The trickiest thing was picking names.  Birth certificate turned up in the post.
Then she needed an IRD number.  I'm pretty sure that was all done on line, with confirmation by mail, all pretty quickly.
I registered and operate a couple of companies.  The Companies Office are really good to deal with.
Have I ever had to stand in a queue?  Yeah, sure, I'll explain shortly.  But just to spell it out, there's a common theme here.  For a lot of interactions, the government are really quick and easy to deal with.
The other thing to consider is that the process of processing the various interactions I've had over the last few years would not be made significantly more efficient, or less costly, by implementing full internet accessibility.  Someone still needs to read the documents, make an assessment and take some form of action.
The only place I stood in a queue was at Work and Income, or whatever they were called back in the early 1990s, when Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson's combined economic abilities dropped me in a job market where jobs were non-existent, and I spent several months receiving the unemployment benefit.  More recently I've seen the grandparents of my children queue to apply for their pension.
I wonder whether that's fair enough, or whether one should be able to apply for financial support from the government through a smartphone?  Part of me says one should turn up and talk to a human; there is something extremely personal and intimate about applying for a benefit.  There's also nothing like having another person available to help you work out exactly what support is available.  Another part says it would be more efficient to do it all electronically, because it provides a consistent model for interaction, it would be fraud-proof (not), the fraud-proofing wouldn't be used as an excuse for more government intrusion into our lives (not) and everyone who needs to apply for a benefit can work it out based solely on a website without any help from anyone else (not).
It's this idea of people queuing that has me floored.  I don't know where John Key thinks these people are queuing.  I'm inexorably drawn to the conclusion that he has a tendency to open his mouth before he engages his brain; the whole "it sounds like a good idea" approach leads to a reality that will be explained as "it sounded like a good idea at the time", when of course it was aspirational bullshit, aka a bad idea.
Is there room for improvement?  Of course.  Will Mr Key's ideas lead to improved public services?  Probably not.

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