Turnbull uncoops 'electronic pigeon hole' for all Australians

Single source for communications between government and citizens, replaces snail mail

Shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull

Shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull

The federal Opposition will look to create a national government-funded ‘electronic pigeon hole’ for all Australians in an effort to cut the costs of ‘snail mail’ communication if returned to power at the next election.

According to Opposition communications ministers, Malcolm Turnbull, the pigeon hole would effectively act as a life-long single source of storage for communications between each citizen and government.

The service would be free for Australians in exchange for their agreeing to no longer receiver paper-based communications from government agencies and other related organisations.

Citizens would likely be given a name and date of birth as an account name for the service to be hosted on the country's Australia.gov.au domain.

“We know storage is cheap. The cost of communicating with people is in snail mail format is incredibly expensive and getting more expensive,” Turnbull said at the National Digital Inclusion Summit. “We also know that one of the problems of managing email data bases is that people change their email addresses a lot.

“Government could save hundreds of millions — if not over time billions — of dollars by saying to any Australian who wanted it: we will give you a lifetime address a lifetime pigeon hole.

Despite research — cited by Turnbull himself — that Australians on low incomes were eight times less likely than the rest of the population to have an internet connection, many people would still gravitate toward the new service.

“I think in time people will find that preferable and much more convenient you would always know where government communications were,” he said. “If could perhaps be expanded to include communications from some other providers.

“You can imagine a service like that would save a fortune for government, cut costs and make people’s interaction with government far more efficient.”

The comments were part of a wider discussion of the benefits and risks of Australia’s increasingly internet connected society and economy.

Commenting on the risks, Turnbull said markets did not always work for all actors and participants at the same speed, and as a result, both individuals and industry sectors can and did get left behind.

One such example of this was the Australian retail sector, which was currently suffering from its inability to adjust to online risks and opportunities.

“We see people in bricks and mortar retailing saying that online is only a small part of [the market] It’s not a big deal; it is only going to be a niche thing; it is going to be complementary,” he said.

“Mark my words: these trends have a habit of accelerating almost at the point where people start to wonder if they were right in thinking it was a coming trend. Just as people get bored with a new technology is when it takes off.”

Turnbull said Australia’s high dollar combined with the internet’s ability to open up industries and make them trade-exposed was one of the major risks aspects, or downsides, to an increasingly digital economy.

“In reality… the shopkeeper competed with the shopkeeper across the road or across town. Now it competes with the whole world,” he said.

“Look at analysts, researchers, lawyers, accountants, people who assess medical information… that work is now being outsourced to other parts of the world in other time zones. People in those categories are becoming trade-exposed.”

Turnbull’s comments come just days after billionaire retailer and online-retail sceptic, Gerry Harvey, told Computerworld Australia that he would make the vast majority of the products offered at Harvey Norman stores online next month.

Harvey’s most notable reaction to online retail has been to call for the GST to applied to online overseas purchases of less than $1000.

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Andrew Wilson


So, an Electronic Pigeon Hole for ALL citizens?

That would require, I don't know, some kind of National Broad Band scheme to reache every Australian.

Do you think it is possible? Could they even do that? Please Malcom, lead the way....



The first poster implies Turnbull is opposed to a national broadband network. I don’t know whether that’s because he is a smartarse, or just plain ignorant, but in fact Turnbull doesn’t. He supports A national broadband network. What he is opposed to is THE expensive ultra-high speed Rolls Royce Labor NBN that a great many poorer Australians won’t be able to afford.



Paragraph 7 "eight times as likely" should perhaps be "eight times less likely". It doesn't make sense in the context of the sentence to say that poor people are more likely to have an internet connection, I would think they'd be Less likely to have broadband.



@2 Gordon, are you serious? The definition of 'a national broadband network' should be considered over the ~50 year life of the infrastructure. The coalition mashup of technologies and companies can not sensibly be called a proper network, let alone a national broadband network.

It's not an NBN replacement now, and is little more than a joke when future needs are considered. It's time the coalition moved on from their dogged belief that the current and future definition of high speed broadband is 'anything faster than dialup'.

Tim Lohman



@3 Justin. Indeed. Thanks. Which also begs the question: what good is a pigeon hole to society's poorest? Presumably digital skills for this part of the population would also be an issue, so even if they could afford broadband could they use the service?

Tim Lohman



@2 and @4. Turnbull also spoke about affordability of NBN services, which would seem to be an issue when it comes to accessibility. That said, the argument that we don't need 100mbps isn't the best: can you imagine eGov, online retail, on-demand content and the like on dial-up?

Semantics Nazi


I think you mean it raises the question.

Tim Lohman



@7 I'll stick with 'begs': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

Further, why not just sign everyone in Australia to Gmail? The pigeon hole would be exactly the same.



Yes I agree Malcolm, the NBN will open up enourmous opportunities for many years to come including your pigeon hole idea. Universal access to fast broadband will be taken for granted by many future generations. Where would we now be if previous generations and PMG/Telecom had not rolled out copper right across Australia all those years ago and at higher cost too no doubt? Its good to see you ignoring those negative mates of yours (Abbott, Hockey, Hunt) who do nothing but whinge and will say anything at all to find fault, no matter how absurd their argument may be. They will no doubt fall by the wayside soon enough so keep up the good work.



Beat your idea by 5 years, 4 months, Turnbull


You might have to register, but it makes more sense in context.



Oh, and a slight variant of the above idea, only a year ago.

"We need virtual boxes. Not virtual as in online, though that would be a great option.
No, a unique Australia wide number that is linked to a real address in a database.

Basically, you give your unique number to whomever you want to send you mail.
When you move you update the endpoint address with Australia Post (online or via a callcentre).

Someone sends a letter
Machine reads unique ID
Database looks up street address for that unique ID
Machine stamps letter with actual address
Machine sorts, routes etc
Postie delivers

In some cases, email may be preferred. In which case, you give the unique ID with an E in front.
Company emails to your AuspostEbox, which can be setup with a redirect to another email address.
Only registered companies can use this facility.
The first time a company requests to send mail to you, you have to accept them as allowed senders or it bounces.
The email is a completely closed loop with no external input. It is entirely within Auspost.

In the case of Return To Sender;
Machine cancels endpoint address
Notifies sender of unknown address
Stores mail in warehouse
SMS is sent to customer requesting they update endpoint
After X days; ticket goes to call centre to call customer

In the case of no contact
Mail is stored in a warehouse pigeon hole
Births deaths and marriages records checked
If dead, request for next of kin
If unknown, mail stored indefinitely
rental charges on collection

It will work because it is one system.
You can move, and you can save a crapload of time on updating your addresses with the various companies, people, etc that mail you.
From the privacy side, these people wont know where you actually live unless you tell them or they get a court order.
Nonetheless real physical post will be delivered accurately to wherever you may be living."


Francis Young


The government already does this, thanks to the "Tell Us Once" initiative linking personal profiles to their Centrelink, Family Assistance Office and Medicare accounts through a single Web portal.

All our family's correspondence with them is now electronic and we get an email whenever a new letter arrives, then login to read it.

So, what Malcolm Turnbull is promising today already exists, yet he still hasn't committed to the NBN project that will make it available everywhere. Hope the coalition catch up soon.

Ken B


So everyone in Australia would get there own unique identifier in a scheme run by the government! Hmmmmm - Where have I heard that before?



AP has been working on this baby for years. They have spent well into 6 figures on the consulting merry go round, trodden a beaten path to and from canberra for donkeys years and have seen several projects rise and fall to try and get it off the ground. And they have no chief privacy officer (in fact they abolished the role) or any one with half a clue in the entire organisation about the personal, business, ethical and technical aspects and impacts of privacy . They seek to trade on their trusted reputation. But are they trustworthy or capable in the privacy field? Really?

Richard A


WikiLeaks could have a pigeon coo......

Tim Lohman



Some good perpsectives here. Keep them coming.

@14 Would privacy be an issue if it's just basic, electronic form letters from governement?

If we are talking sending tax bills, electronic health record information and the like then the security and privacy implications are pretty severe.



Potentially it would be an all of government model. So it feasibly could contain TFNs, medicare nos, social security ref nos.... all the good stuff you can use to create or steal identities. Then of course there will be the ability to deliver "messages' to citizens unrelated to their uses of services but related to the 'business of government'... think spins on carbon tax, etc etc. Looks like spam, smells like spam etc but is a specific carve out from the Spam Act.

It would be a very, very attractive honeypot of personal data to hacker groups - and other like minded persons - not just for potential profit or to bring down the provider, but for on-line street cred and giggles.

Then of course you have government agencies that can either share personal data on a discretional basis, or are compelled to share it, with other government agencies. So, it wont be that private will it?

And lastly, what are the odds of receiving unsolicited marketing offers in your e-letter box, especially if the solution was to be hosted by a government business enterprise such as NBN Co or AP? Pretty good I would say. No doubt privacy will not be the default, it will not be engineered into the service and you will have to opt out of these other, totally unrelated uses of your personal data. It would be a marketer's wet dream!



@11 myne - I really like your idea. Are you running for parliament soon?



Thanks for your submission. I also believe that laptop computers have grown to be more and more popular
these days, and now tend to be the only form of computer employed in a
household. The reason being at the same time potentially they are becoming more and
more affordable, their working power is growing to the point
where these are as highly effective as desktop coming from just a few in years past.



Thanks for your submission. I also believe that laptop computers have grown to
be more and more popular these days, and now tend to be the only form
of computer employed in a household. The reason being at the same time potentially they are becoming more and more affordable,
their working power is growing to the point where these are as highly effective as desktop coming from
just a few in years past.



I'm not sure why but this website is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end? I'll check
back later on and see if the problem still exists.



The poultry is usually an Nintendo DSi's manner of providing more nintendo 3ds xl rofl :-)

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