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.