Flat White

After their $60 billion blunder will our shinybums start speaking English, not bureaucratese?

24 May 2020

3:45 PM

24 May 2020

3:45 PM

“Look, that’s the Treasury. That’s where they keep the money.”

The dad was pointing out Canberra landmarks to his small son and I had no intention of correcting him.

Treasury isn’t where they “keep the money”, but right now they’re wearing a lot of egg on their faces. Treasury officers like to consider themself the creme de la creme of the public service (although Foreign Affairs would beg to differ).

After the discovery of the unexpected $60 billion JobKeeper, most Canberrans are keeping their opinions to themselves because undeniably, irrefutably, two of the most vital federal government departments — Treasury and the ATO — dropped the ball with a resounding thump heard all over the ACT.

Labor is quick to absolve both of all blame. Of course, the public servants are not at fault — not while they still vote Labor federally, anyway.

So it must be the Treasurer’s fault. Of course, who else to blame?

Well, in the city of public servants and former public servants, most concede that the forms that the general public must wrestle with are no longer written in English but in bureaucratese and simply finding a way through requires not just a sympathetic friend who knows the system but the knowledge that now, as in the case of public service job applications, much of the applications for government assistance are scanned not by human hand but an algorithm, artificial intelligence that picks up on certain words and either accepts or rejects the application.

Given that both the federal and ACT government did not know how many thousands of Australians would require assistance, medical or financial or both, and that all federal government departments were put on high-level alert to combat the anticipated catastrophe, and given that most applicants fumbled their way through the bureaucratese of the forms, mistakes were quite likely to happen.

There’s an umpty-million dollar field hospital erected in 37 days on a footy oval next to the Canberra Hospital in anticipation of the tsunami of patients to come. It stands empty, without a single patient ever entering its sterile premises.

Trouble is Canberrans will be paying for it.

Wish we’d found a $60 million windfall by mistake.

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons.

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