Passing Bull 86 –  Government, privacy, and madness

You may recall that I had a sad experience with Medicare.  I emailed a query about an unpaid doctor’s bill.  A machined response said they would not discuss private matters by email.  I should ring.  I did and I gave up after 20 minutes.  I tried again at 3.30 am.  I got straight through.  But Lo!  I had to have my file ready.  Not so fast, Sunshine!

After a decent interval, I emailed again.  I referred to my prior sad case and asked if they could write to me or ring and I authorised them to email me.  Silly me.  I got the standard response.  The law, Sunshine, is the law; and the machine is the machine.  No deus ex machina here, Sportsman.

The sender was and it was ‘Re’ my Medicare number (SEC: UNCLASSIFIED).  Its text went:


Thank you for contacting the Australian Government Department of Human Services (DHS).

Accessing personal information from an email is restricted to protect your privacy and the integrity of Medicare records. 

Our phone line is also open Saturday and Sunday to assist you.

Please call the Medicare public line on 132 011, 24/7 and, subject to a security check, a service officer will assist you with your enquiry.

I trust this information will be of assistance.


Yours sincerely


Enquiry Resolution Team – P18236

Health Support & Business Services Division

Australian Government Department of Human Services

I have two comments on the response – one of form and one more substantial.

How could Team P18236 be sincere?  For that matter, who, how, and where does ‘I’ fit into Team P18236? It is the quintessence of impersonal anonymity. Or, does the DHS know I’m a republican and automatically switch from the royal plural to the republican singular – the smooth-talking bastard of a machine?  And why bother to define ‘DHS’ when it does not appear again in the message?  Why bother to define it all?

Now for the substance.  When I screwed up the courage to ring again, I got through after not much of a wait, and a helpful lady soon ascertained that the refund had been sent to my bank in May last year.  In the sweet name of the son of the carpenter, couldn’t someone have sent an email saying that their records suggested that the refund had been credited with my bank and that I might take it up with them?  What’s so bloody private about that?

And does anyone believe that there is such a thing as privacy when you entrust your soul to the Net?  If you do, ask Vladimir Putin.

We might compare our civil service to that of the English.  I recently directed a question by email to Cambridge University.  I got back the following response.

Good Morning Geoffrey,

Thank you ever so much for your recent enquiry regarding our short courses at ICE.

Unfortunately our last set of short courses will take place between 7-9th July and then restart in September.  I do apologise for any disappointment this may cause. However, if you are interested in joining our International Summer Programme you can find further information here.

If you have any further questions or queries please do not hesitate to ask.

With best wishes,


Emily Wells
Programmes Assistant
Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge
Madingley Hall, Madingley, Cambridge CB23 8AQ


Don’t you just love that ‘ever so much’?  It’s so English that it could almost be sexy.  (How would you be if Julie Christie raised her eyes and said ‘thanks ever so much?’)

We’re going bad if the convicts have to ask the screws for lessons in civility.

Poet of the Month: Chris Wallace-Crabbe


Sternly avoiding the asphalt, treading on grass

I pick my pernickety way across

this common urban transliteration of landscape,

the oddly broadcast parks and median-strips,

saluting the god of grass with the rub of my feet:



feet which are held at bay by animal-skins,

tanned, sewn, polished, and frequently scuffed.

Whitman wrote about your multiplicity

as leaves, and yet those thousands of blades are you,

 rather. Bland in your closepacked greenness,



your number exceeds those from whose fate you sprout.

Lushly after rain or wispily blond in summer,

bowing briefly you offer a carpet’s welcome

still to the odd with

 Lightly arriving

at a roundabout, I would choose the diagonal,



taking note of kikuyu, buffalo, bent and sedge,

feeling in touch, treading a kind of worship

or else, playing with language, my worship of kind.

Old Whitman thought you the hair of young dead men

but you whisper at my feet

 that something will survive.