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Is it just me, or are we maybe making things just a little more complicated than they really need to be?

In the context of litigation, lawyers sometimes need to access and disclose copies of their clients’ financial and other records held by various government bodies. That means getting the client’s written authority to access their records, and then getting in touch with the relevant government institution. That should be pretty simple, right?

It used to be, but now… maybe not so much.

Recently, I contacted a certain federal government office ( which shall remain nameless) asking for a copy of my client’s records. Once upon a time, that just required a lawyer’s letter with the client’s signed authority enclosed. But nowadays, I learned, the process had been streamlined.

Now, two specially-prescribed forms had to be filled out and signed – one by me, the lawyer, and the other by my client – and then forwarded to the relevant email address of the institution, which of course I duly did. After waiting for almost two months for an answer, I eventually received a response, noting that the relevant office was more than happy to provide the records, but advising it was now no longer the policy of that office to accept requests for such documents by letter, email or fax, notwithstanding that precise procedure was still cited on their official website. Instead, I was told, I should re-send my request, again through the institution’s new and impressive online business portal, especially designed for easy use by private businesses, and packed with slick, you-beaut new features, such as a My GovID account (not to be confused – confusingly – with the eerily similarly-named MyGov account), which account, I was cautioned, was an absolute essential prerequisite for anyone wanting to access the business portal.

The only problem was, as I found out, for any business to create a My GovID account to use the business portal, the principal of that business firstly had to personally download the app onto his or her mobile telephone. Then, once the app was downloaded onto their phone, they must create an account, authenticated by receiving an email and entering the password provided in the email. Then, once the account was provided on the app, the principal had to produce three separate forms of personal identification, such as a driver’s licence, medicare card, or passport. Then, once each of those ID documents was duly certified by the institution in question (a process which, of necessity, would take some little time), the principal could then use their brand-new My GovID account on their computer, provided of course it had been first authenticated, this time through both the phone app and an email setting out the password to be entered into the online portal.

After having dutifully connected all those dots, I went to log into the essential My GovID account, only to find I had received no email to “authenticate” the account, which of course left me unable to log in. My only option was to telephone the institution in question on its single-number, one-size-fits-all-of-Australia telephone line. Naturally, that meant sitting on the line along with a  thousand of other people just like me, steam blowing out of both ears, waiting several hours for someone to respond. When they did, they apologised most courteously and then, after speaking with a supervisor, confirmed that unfortunately the office was having a particularly busy day, which meant I  should call back again some other time.

Having spent far more time than I could ever charge my client for, I eventually gave up, and delegated the inquiry. But I later learned that, for the lucky few actually able to log in, there are yet more intriguing hurdles to negotiate. Once the intrepid principal has somehow managed to log onto their My GovID account, they are then apparently required to register their business account, and link it to their My GovID account. Once that is done, with any luck they can actually speak to a real person in the relevant office, and inform them of the names of whatever other persons in their business they authorise to utilise the business portal on their behalf. Of course – as will no doubt come as no surprise to anyone – those employees must then likewise embark upon the same My GovID process of creating their own account, providing personal identification and particulars, so that the institution in question (and who knows what other affiliated government authorities)  knows exactly where everyone and their pet phone is at any moment.

Is all that more efficient than just sending a letter, and having someone answer it? Or will the bureaucrats assure us this is all about protecting people’s privacy? Really?

Whatever the explanation, many will be left to feel like they are walking down a long road of red tape that seems to just keep on getting longer, giving up their time, particulars and personal privacy so government can maximise its sway, and so some public servant doesn’t have to get up from their desk, walk to the relevant filing cabinet and pull out the records they were asked for, and which the asker was absolutely entitled to receive in the first place.

Jonathan Nyst

Queensland Criminal Lawyer

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