Verdict in on e-government

Australia's use of online government services has nearly doubled over the last two years, with taxpayers swapping standing in queues for Web transactions, according to the most comprehensive study of the subject to date.

Compiled by a consortium of Dandolopartners, Roy Morgan Research and BDO Consulting on behalf of the Australian Government Information Management Office, the survey of nearly 6000 Australians found usage of e-government services has jumped from 21 percent in 2002 to 39 percent in 2004.

In terms of what Australians liked from their local, state and federal government online services, it seems the Web has appeal for the daily necessities of life: community and social services (20 percent), transport (18 percent), land, property planning and construction (15 percent) and taxation, business services, finance and economics (11 percent) made up the top four rankings, followed by health (7 percent).

The figures appear to vindicate a sustained move by both state and federal governments to wean their citizens off costly call centre, direct mail and face-to-face communications where Web-based information or transaction services are more appropriate and convenient.

Such services include registering vehicles, paying council rates, lodging development applications and collecting on the billions of dollars in election cash giveaways like the federal government's Family Allowance, Baby Bonus and various childcare subsidies.

On the vehicle registration front, VicRoads CIO John McNally said the survey correlated with his own experience of "close to 100 percent of licence renewals now done electronically".

As to why Australians prefer the Web to standing in a line at Centrelink or the local council office 42 percent cited as the persuader the convenience of being able to do business at a time that suited them, followed by 37 percent who felt it took less time - especially the prospect of a two-week turnaround on their tax return.

In terms of why people avoided electronic contact, 37 percent reckoned ("rightly or wrongly" according to the report) that face-to-face contact was the only way to get a meaningful dialogue going with those employed by their tax dollars.

Special Minister of State Senator Eric Abetz said the survey revealed Australians were switching from telephony to browsers as a preferred means of communication.

"Not only are more people using the Internet to contact government, they're increasingly happy with the results in comparison with using the telephone. A solid 90 percent of study respondents said they'd achieved what they set out to do using the Internet," Abetz said.

Either that, or Australians are fed up with paying for the privilege for being put on hold.

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