Thursday, February 11, 2010

My quest to engage in democracy continues...

And so today my quest to engage in our democratic processes as a voting citizen of this fine nation continued. (Hmmm...perhaps too much Stephen Colbert lately).

It began with me making a polite phone call to the Deputy Prime Minister's office. I very nicely explained who I was and why I was calling. First, the woman who answered the phone directed me straight to the department. I did however manage to ask if there was an email address I could use to put my concerns to the DPM and she gave it to me. She did however tell me that I shouldn't expect a response any earlier than 4-6 weeks because Julia Gillard's portfolio is (and I quote) "very large". I said, yes I know, thank you very much for your help and promptly rang the 1300 number she provided for DEEWR.

The phone was answered very promptly by a slightly jaded sounding woman, who in spite of this listened carefully to me explain who I was, and what information I was looking for. She had to ask me twice what university I was from. I know we're at or near the bottom of the rankings but really, we're not all inarticulate dolts incapable of ringing a government department. (just clarifying for anyone who is wondering...either that or I'm slightly paranoid). She offered to put me through to an "education policy specialist". How helpful I thought. Sadly, no-one was answering the phone. "Is there an email address I can use to put my query in writing?" Sadly, and VERY surprisingly, the answer to this was a big No. The best offer was that she write my concerns in an email of her own, so when I rang back later in the day I would be put straight through. I thanked her very much for her assistance.

Then I sat through a three hour teleconference.

Then I ate my lunch.

Then I came back to my office and rang the 1300 number again. This time a nice young man answered the phone. I explained my story AGAIN. He attempted to put me through to an "education policy specialist". There were three of them and on the third time I got lucky. Or unlucky. Mr Education Policy Specialist is clearly more used to people who are bristling for an argument. I did not want to have an argument. I wanted INFORMATION. Apparently, this was beyond his brief, which was also the nature of our conversation which he concluded as quickly as he could by directing me to the policy information sheet on the website (which I had downloaded and read yesterday) and told me he knew as much as I did. I don't believe that for a minute and visions of The Hollowmen were now dancing through my head.

So waiting in the generic Deputy Prime Minister's inbox is a formal, and carefully composed email. It explains who I am AGAIN, my concerns,AGAIN, and what I would like to know AGAIN. For instance I would like to know what sort of interim measures or contingency plans does the government have in place if the legislation fails to pass the Senate AGAIN. I would also like to know how soon the bill is scheduled to go back to the house. I would also like to know if it doesn't pass until later in the year will students be able to be paid for the full academic year. I would really like to know a lot of things. I would also like to know why it should take 4-6 weeks to get a response to some simple questions about higher education and government support for struggling students.

I have strong doubts that I will get answers to many of these questions, but what a jolly day in attempting to do so.


Wendy said...

I've just noticed "generic Deputy Prime Minister's inbox"....i think I'll leave it that way though...;)

The Second Half said...

Good luck! I can commiserate with what you are going through from years of experience inside government departments where a lot of people made an art of duck-shoving.

2paw said...

I had heard about the debacle on our local ABC radio. Last year some students went to lobby the Generic Deputy PM. It is disappointing to find that students et al are being put in such a terrible position. Good luck, though I hold little hope of a satisfactory reply reaching you soon.

Wendy said...

Yes I hold little hope either, but I couldn't leave it sit and not try. Let's hope the GDPM might not be so Generic after all.