I was a private IT contractor when I lived in Canberra where the vast majority of the work was for government departments. At the time of writing this, I was working on a team called Revenue Re-engineering at the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. A friend asked me what "Revenue Re-engineering" did, and the below was my response. Before you go getting all upset and start sending me threatening e-mails and letter bombs, remember that this is my private corner of the world where I get to rant about everything I see as wrong. I may disagree with the way government does things, even when it's the department or team I am working on, but if the direction is set out in legislation (as it is in the below case) then I have no right to interfere in my capacity as an AQIS employee. For better or worse the government is the elected representation of the people and the public service is just here to provide advice and then implement the policies of that government. If I want things to change, then I am free to vote in elections and lobby members and senators. Until things change however, I will continue to rant and rave here.

AQIS is funded almost entirely by industry. When an inspector checks an importer’s food and denies entrance because the food is full of BSE and Foot and Mouth, the importer is charged for the inspection. In fact, everytime some service is provided by AQIS to industry the company is directly charged.

Your average pig farmer has now got it into his tiny little mind that because he’s paying AQIS to run it’s services, then every cent he spends on AQIS is only going to be spent on himself or other tiny-brained pig farmers, not the accursed evil beef farmers down the road. Damn them and their evil beef ways!

Currently AQIS collects this money in a ‘random’ way. The tiny-brained pig farmer pays or doesn’t pay, his choice, and AQIS notices, or doesn’t notice. (So I ask you, who really is tiny-brained?) Revenue re-engineering is about changing the way AQIS collects the money from industry. Our first attempt was some software that’ll supposedly make it easier to track. If that doesn’t work, we’re hiring some large Maori guys, and I’m sure they’ll be very efficient.

The whole project shouldn’t exist. The inspector who goes out is an expert in beating up flowers to find any bugs, they have science degrees and know a hell of a lot about botany, entomology and the like. Filling in all this paperwork to collect money off the TBPF is way outside his expertise, and he hates having to do it. There’s this little government agency in a couple of buildings in Canberra called the Australian Taxation Office. They’re really good at getting money off people, you could say that’s all they do. Instead of this user pays rubbish, the ATO should just be taxing industry directly, we could even provide data feeds so they knew how many times each importer had imported something and tax off that.

Right now, the TBPF gives us $100 and insists that $50 of that be torn in administration fees to be sure that the other $50 only gets spent on him and other TBPFs, rather than see $25 go to chicken farmers, even if $75 would then go to the TBPFs.

And let’s take a step back here. There’s a name for this form of government spending: “User Pays.” Some people will never be convinced of the moral and ethical reasons why “User Pays” is a Bad Idea, but here we have a nice solid economic rationalist reason. From the inside, it’s a waste of money. The extraordinary expense in identifying which particular dollar needs to be spent on which particular program is pretty incredible. Consolidated revenue people, it just makes more sense.