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Howard's End: Streamlining Bureaucracy

In a move to cut costs and streamline bureaucracy, people on welfare in Australia will be able to take out loans from the Government over the telephone to help them through emergencies. Maree Howard writes.

The New Zealand business community is always concerned about high taxes and the costs of running government and the government has introduced an innovation strategy.

It was refreshing, therefore, to see a conservative right-leaning government in Australia planning to introduce a move to simplify its forms and procedures and make things a little easier for welfare recipients while at the same time reducing costs.

Why can't a left-leaning government do it in New Zealand?

The proposed Australian phone loan service for welfare recipients is the first part of a drive by welfare agency Centrelink to become more user-friendly.

Like in New Zealand, welfare recipients in Australia are already allowed to get advances on their payments to pay unexpected bills. They repay the money through small deductions from future welfare payments.

Under the current Australian arrangements, people on welfare have to apply in writing to Centrelink for a loan and negotiate an often overwhelming bureaucratic process.

A report to Family and Community Services Minister, Amanda Vanstone, details the example of an unemployed person who needs to replace a broken fridge. It says under the new scheme the person would simply have to phone a call centre and assure them of an ability to pay - which would be electronically checked against the information already held.

After checking the details, the operator will put the money into the bank account the following day.

Senator Vanstone said; " Really this is about keeping it simple, ensuring that Australians who seek support in times of need can get that support without an upsetting and confusing bureaucratic process."

We could also add - costly and time-wasting.

Senator Vanstone said that checks were still firmly in place to make sure that the system continues to protect the public purse and that income support was provided to those in genuine need.

Centrelink also plans to slash the number of questions welfare recipients are asked on forms and also smooth the pension application process.

Those people reaching retirement age and becoming eligible for a pension will have the number of questions they have to answer cut from 230 to 115.

And welfare recipients who are moving to the pension will not have to fill out any new forms.

What was really striking for me in the Australian report was that people are called recipients. They're not called "beneficiaries" which to me has always been a derogatory and cruel term which puts people down. What's more people seem to be trusted a whole lot more than in New Zealand.

If this current government wants my vote come November, it had better make sure it lightens up on people and gets its bureaucracy under control.

And it should be warned, that there seems to be a whole lot of other people who are starting to feel the same way.


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