Australia: You’re more efficient than you think

In October 1980, I immigrated to Australia and it struck me that things were a little behind here compared to

In October 1980, I immigrated to Australia and it struck me that things were a little behind here compared to Canada where I grew up. In Canada, computerisation had already arrived in the banks. Here, tellers were still writing deposits and withdrawals by hand.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Cheques have virtually disappeared. While I have a personal debit card on a “Cheque” account, I have not seen or written a cheque in years. Virtually every business transaction is done through direct bank transfer or BPay – quick and efficient.

Now you would think the USA, the country that gave us Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos would be the most efficient and computer savvy country in the world – wrong! I have travelled extensively in both the US and Europe in recent years and am sometimes shocked by the level of inefficiencies in both regions.

We have business interests here and in the US, operating accounts in both countries. Just this year the US has been issuing credit cards with embedded chips. We have had them here for several years. Some merchants haven’t transitioned their machines and are still reading customers’ cards with the magnetic strips.

On the property tax bills, there is no indication of how to pay them online. They expect you to mail in a cheque or pay by credit card on the phone. I only recently found out through persistent inquiry that there is a number assigned to government departments for online payments though it seemed foreign to some in the department.

When you see how the post offices operate in Europe and the US, you have to shake your head. Last year we were in Reno, Nevada and needed to post an article back to Australia. The post office had two employees at the counter with 20 people waiting in line, and the building looked grotty and dated. It took me an hour to get my article processed. In Italy, the post offices close for a few hours in the middle of the day. When you enter you have to take a number and then wait your turn, which could be a lengthy period.

Contrast this with our post offices. They are modern, well-stocked with a myriad of items and even when busy; things flow. While we often criticise Australia Post but look elsewhere, and you’ll appreciate that it works well.

The other area of thoroughness is dealing with government departments. Having dealt with the IRS in the US, it is inefficient and vague. To speak to someone you are on hold for an inordinate period. The paperwork for tax filing is colossal and redundant. It’s amazing; I now have a healthy respect for the ATO. Recently, I attempted to assist my daughter regarding a Canadian government department. There was a phone number listed on the website to speak to a real, live person. Unfortunately, when I called the number I was met with, “Sorry, this number is not in service”. I rechecked and dialled again, I received the same response. Pretty poor for a government department!

I haven’t even touched on the healthcare system in the US. The recent changes in attempting to introduce a government run system there has been disastrous, including building a website that was totally insecure. They really could learn from our system of basic universal coverage along with an optional private system.

You may be thinking that I am out to trash the US and other countries; not at all. There are a lot of great things about America. There has been a tendency, however, for Australians to complain about inefficiencies in our system. While there are some shortcomings, there are many things that we do right. We need to have a greater appreciation for how well things are working here. As the adage from the 1960s says, “You’ve come a long way, baby”.

Do you agree? Do you think we have a lot to be grateful for?