Thursday, 13 September 2012

Buried in government paperwork

After being away for a week, my post office box was chock-a-block.  I carefully sorted through and handed back the stuff that is addressed to my post office box but is for someone else and also the letters that have just been missorted.  Once I'd completed that, there was still a lot to go through.  One of them was an envelope from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

I opened it and discovered the energy, Water and Environment Survey 2011-12.  Initially I was quite pleased.  I don't mind providing my opinion and I'm passionate about the environment.  My enthusiasm was quickly quelled when I saw it was addressed to my business and the booklet had 23 pages.

I sighed.  I braced myself.  I opened the booklet and took up my pen.  From the first moment, it was clear that this form was geared towards miners or manufacturers or electricity generators.  I'm a single person operating from my kitchen table!

Back to the front page, I read the instructions on the front to see if I was required by law to complete the form.  The wording was vague.  My "cooperation" was sought.  If needed, the Australian Statistician is empowered by the Act to "direct" me to provide the information sought.  Yes, but would I be fined, jailed, sneered at or scandalised if I was defeated by the form?  I called the phone number.

I've never called the Bureau of Statistics before.  I'm not sure that I've ever spoken to a statistician before.

A woman answered and I immediately knew the conversation was going to be hard work.

"I've received the Energy, Water and Environment Survey.  It looks like it has nothing to do with me.  I'm just a one person operation.  Do I have to fill it out?"

The response was in gibberish.

I tried another tack.

"What happens if I don't fill it out?"

"You need to fill it out."

"When you say I need to fill it out, what happens if I don't?"

"It's really not that hard.  It looks daunting...just tick "no" to everything."

"I'm not just going to tick "no" to everything.  That's ridiculous.  Am I required by law to fill it out?"

"Oh, you've only got the short form.  You should hear the people who ring up who have a copy of the long form!"

I almost fainted.  There's one that's longer than 23 pages?

"You mean there's one that's longer than 23 pages? Is that really the short one?"

"Oh, you've got the long one...You really should fill it out.  For example, look at question 1."

I surrendered.

Before I knew it, I'd ticked "no" to everything, especially the questions about my electricity generating activities.

20 minutes later I was done.  If I hadn't called, I'd still be going.  I'm still unclear what my obligation is, but at least it's done.

Before I had my own business, I thought that small business people who whinged about government compliance obligations were wimps.  Now I understand.

Someone slap me if my politics drift!

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