Wednesday, September 26, 2012

bureaucracy gone mad

If you think ‘bureaucracy gone mad’ is a tautology we are already on the same page.

What follows is boring. It’s boring because government forms are boring and because filling them out chews up such a hunk of my life my life is, by extension, also often boring.

This post is a whinge. You won’t read it all unless you are looking for a cheat’s version of a book by Kafka.
Or unless you would find it hard to believe how stupid governments are, and want to find the mistakes in my reasoning.

Just remember what Lily Tomlin said:

No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.


Back in a more reasonable era, a form was a long bench people that several people could sit on. [I nearly said “long stool” but would hate someone with a tacky mind to get the wrong idea.]

Now, of course, forms are paper diarrhoea spat out at great speed and with alarming frequency by government computers.

My specific whinge today is Senna-Link related but has nothing to do with age pensions or unemployment benefits. This whinge is about the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card Review.
This “fantastic” benefit is available to people who are officially old farts, i.e. old enough to get an aged pension if they could manage to jump through the hoops but can’t manage it at all.

Mother is above age pension age, but a “self-funded retiree”.
This is not to say she has ever been rich.

During the brief but glorious 2 ½ year reign of Gough Whitlam [Prime Minister 1972-1975] god bless him, several things happened:
  • Women were finally allowed to have full time permanent jobs with Australia Post;
  • Equal pay was phased in; and
  • Australia Post and other Government employees were actually able to join a super fund.

In those days, working class wage or salary earners, for the most part, had no access to any kind of superannuation scheme at all. So when the old girl got herself into Gough’s very generous super fund it was a miracle, because the door slammed shut on the fund the day Gough was given the boot as Prime Minister.

[At the risk of precipitating violence in the streets, I personally think of Mecca as the nursing home where the great Gough now lives.]


So, getting back to Senna Link, even though the old girl receives only 1 dollar and 57 cents per year too much to qualify for an aged pension, every year I still get a million forms to fill out and one of them is the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card Income Review.

Most people’s eyes glaze over when they get government forms. My own eyes glaze over when I get government forms. For people like my mother who only went to grade 6 at school one might understand if they find forms quite intimidating. Ain’t she lucky English is her first language?

The Australian Government
  • Administers the super fund in question;
  • Runs the tax office; and
  • Runs Senna Link which exists mainly to give everyone the runs.

Senna Link and the Tax Office swap yearly gross earnings data. Nonetheless, I get a form every year asking me to tell Senna Link how much my mother received in the previous financial year from this government run super scheme, as shown on her latest Tax Assessment Notice:

Reportable superannuation contributions are the sum of your:
  • Reportable employer superannuation contributions, for example salary sacrifice contributions and
  • Personal deductible superannuation contributions – contributions for which an individual can claim a deduction on their individual tax return.

Back in the day, people used ter get a rebate on the portion of their super income which represented a return of capital. Got that? So, before he croaked, my stepfather used to claim 3 dollars and some cents every year.

The first year I did his return after retirement it was such a piddly amount I ignored it. The last thing I wanted to do was get into a bureaucratic pen pal relationship with the Tax Office and have to prove how many days of the year following his latest birthday had passed before he retired multiplied by the percentage of payments taken as cash relative to the amount retained as capital to fund an annuity. To claim that I would have had to attach an attachment to the return anyway – don’t ask.

You would think if people miss an opportunity to claim something so small they wouldn’t worry. Wrong.
The Tax Office amended his return, sent him a cheque for the extra 3 bucks, and explained he should claim the amount every year.


The question on this current Commonwealth Seniors Health Card Income Review form relates to people who are currently employed full or part time and are still putting money into a super fund - not people receiving an income which includes a return of capital on contributions made 40 years ago. Clear? At least I think so. I doubt anyone old enough to remember the type of deduction available to my stepfather can actually find a job.

I’m just going to write NIL because I’m over it all, and I don’t want to spend 2 hours on hold waiting to confirm it with someone who will just keep repeating the phrase on the form back at me in case he/she gets into trouble for misleading me by departing from the wording on the form.

If Senna Link can’t get the info from the Tax Office [yeah, right] why doesn’t the form just suggest we send back a photocopy of the Tax Assessment notice? Then they could look at the Notice and decide if the amount labelled Superannuation Pension or Annuity [non-refundable tax] offset should be written on the form next to the words Personal deductible superannuation contributions.

Well, the form goes on and on, but I wonder how many people who can’t afford it are paying someone 80 bucks to get help filling out the form.


Now for a somewhat related comment on how much money the government wastes on stupid forms when the money could better be spent subsidising free air travel for retired Members of Parliament…

Every year, on behalf of the Department of Health and Ageing, Senna Link sends me a form asking me to provide an estimate of how much my mother will earn in the following calendar year – as opposed to the first form which is about the previous financial year.

This one is easy. All I do is right down the gross amount of superannuation income for a year. What happens next is the bit that is crazy:

Funding for nursing homes is complicated, but the key factors are:
  • How much a day will the government chip in; and
  • How much a day can the resident afford to pay?

The government takes my mother’s annual income and divides it by 365 point 25 then multiplies it by 14 to get a fortnightly income. It then tells the nursing home how much my mother has to pay per day. The nursing home bills me for the coming month.

Every few months or so there are 5 Thursdays in a month, and every so often when this happens my mother has 3 “fortnightly pay-days” in a month instead of two.
Using my advanced estimate of her income, the government goes “holy crap” – 3 pay-days in a month multiplied by 12 months is a bucketload more annual income than 2 paydays multiplied by 12. Obviously my mother should be paying more per day for her nursing home care.

Every time this happens, they write to my mother and say “Your income has changed”. I put these letters in the bin. The government writes to the nursing home and the poor book-keeper has to credit my mother’s account at the old amount then charge her the new higher amount. It takes a tree load of paper for the nursing home to list all of the adjustments, including the changes the government makes to its daily contribution.

The very next month, the government notes that my mother is now only receiving 2 pays in a month and writes to her saying “Your income has changed”. I put these letters in the bin. The government writes to the nursing home and the poor book-keeper has to credit my mother’s account [paid in advance for the next month] at the higher rate and charge her the new lower amount. At the same time, she lists the higher daily government contribution and cancels the original lower rate listed on my invoice. Down goes another tree.

I could be really cynical here and say they are just doing this to squeeze every possible cent out of my mother, and reduce government debt by a similar amount.
I wouldn’t have to be cynical to think this exercise costs the nursing home a lot more than the government saves out of it, plus it costs the government more than they save, every time the rate changes.

Wouldn’t it be more practical to just calculate the average daily price for the year in advance, and save on manhours, paper and postage?

But here’s the bit that’s really stupid. There is no monitoring of income from investments that aren’t locked in for the next 12 months. It’s all calculated on estimates. I report this amount at the beginning of the calendar year in January, but my mother’s superannuation income is indexed at the beginning of the financial year, in July.
They think they are being shifty, but are ripping themselves off anyway.


Why is life like this? Why must we give so much of our energy to this crap? 
Because our lives are so over-regulated that nobody – nobody anywhere – knows how many stuff-ups like this are already buried in legislation, or how many more are created every time legislation changes.

The Roman Empire did not collapse because homosexuality was tolerated, it collapsed because the Romans had brilliant plumbing. Consuming water conveyed through lead pipes eventually leads to brain damage. The Empire collapsed because it was being run by people with only half a brain.

The end of civilisation as we know it will also be caused because our lives are run = by.people with only half a brain. We don't have lead pipes as an excuse.


  1. I don't understand much of what you're saying; but it sounds tedious and depressing.

    It's one of those things that make me want to go live off in the wilderness.

    Sorry you're having to deal with it.

    1. Dina I wasn't looking for sympathy but it's lovely of you to offer it and I'm grateful to have it.

      Sometimes I wonder if all of this is the wilderness.

  2. That is almost unbelievable. The same must happen all over the country. Yet we hear both sides of politics thunder on about bureaucratic waste.

    1. Andrew, it's almost unbelievable anyone bothered to look at this post. TY.

      It's a little like having a couple of dozen insulation batt schemes built into every act of parliament.

      It drives me crazy, not that I am asked to do these things but because they are so utterly pointless. And I cannot imagine how distressing this rubbish must be to most people who find it impenetrable, but have no one to relieve them of the burden.

  3. Omg Fruitcake, I've always maintained that a necessary qualification for 'Senna Link' (haha) employees is have just comfirmed..

    1. Grace, I once applied for a job with Senna Link, but failed the psych test. It was one of the proudest moments in my life.

      And as they say, "anyone who tries to give me a lobotomy will get a piece of my mind!"

  4. I know exactly what you mean. The form filling, holding on to telephones for hours, queuing for hours...been there done that. My biggest bitch is Senna Link making old pensioners STAND in line for up to an hour to be served at the counter. Even the transport dept can give you a number and a seat while you wait. Can't you organise your mum to lower the capital so that she can qualify for the pension. Spend some. That is what we did. We went on some luxury holidays and thanks to the economic crisis our balance has dropped low enough to score a card, which is a boon for medical expenses. You forgot to mention that Medicare is also in cahoots with Senna Link.

    1. Your advice about reducing the capital is quite sound. It's a whole heap nicer than that Reserve bank chappy who said there are too many 50 and 100 dollar notes "out there" because old fossils have got tens of thousands of 100 dollar notes stashed under their mattresses, just so they can cheat and get an aged pension.

      In 1982, the old girl was "invalided" out of work, so she retired very young. She was wisely counselled by someone not to take all of her super as cash, but to leave $40k in the fund so she would have income for life. Over the last 30 years she has received back that pittance many times over.

      At first, when she still knew her mind, she was just downright stubborn. No way were she and the stepfather ever going to "live off the government". To be honest, they were on a really good wicket. They spent more money in a year on alcohol, fags and racehorses than I could earn.

      TO was beside herself with excitement a few years ago when she saw one of mother's x-rays. The arteries looked like solid bone, and the bones looked like dust. When TO took the x-ray to various hospitals on her teaching rounds, she entertained experts by putting it up against a light-box. "This person is still alive?" was the standard reaction.

      Believe me, I really do love reading about your travels, and holidays to America and around Australia. I love reading that you have so many good friends, and make the most of your life.
      To be honest, for some people there is not a lot to gain in quality of life by making more sensible arrangements. She has been 81 years old for decades.

      In any case, the income has shrunk a little over the years, but now that the total payments are more or less neck and neck with the pension, it's really not worth the hassle. Not to me, anyway. Any change in assets or income will just be reflected in a change in nursing home fees. The good thing is that she has always been able to afford private health cover - and boy has she received those payments back many times over! Apart from that she has no use for discounts on utility bills, car rego etc anymore.

      I'm glad that you are not only organised, but making the most of it. I also sincerely hope your mattress is about 20,000 in 100 dollar bills higher than it is supposed to be!

  5. The reason no one in politics 'does anything' about bureaucratic waste is because they are responsible for it. While I don't doubt there are losers all the way up the food chain, let's not forget that C-link is just a big ol' gov't unpopular-policy-laundering organisation AND that in order to buy election votes without making it look like anyone is losing out, those who actually ARE losing out are dying the death of a thousand (paper) cuts!

    1. The death of a thousand paper cuts. Another entry for my list of "red-isms". Ta.

      I like the idea that all bureaucracies are living organisms, growing and multiplying and doing whatever it takes to ensure their continued survival. Well, it's not the idea I like so much as the explanation.

      Some days it's like trying to wade through wet concrete.