The first step was to sign up with australia.gov.au for an account. It was not a good start – the first few days I tried the servers were unresponsive with absolutely no explanation. If I hadn’t had the ulterior motivation of writing this article I’d have just given up at that point. If I was someone of my mother’s generation I would have never tried again. However, being made of sterner stuff and having time on my hands, I persevered.
Finally, today, I got to create my account. Security is based on a user-ID issued by the site and your choice of passwords. There are also six security questions, one of which will be asked each time you log on. Given the compromise between ease of access and security all this seems reasonable enough. I can’t help but think, though, that they would have been better served using some of the better features from banking security systems – or even linking it directly to my bank’s security, sadly I’m more inclined to trust my bank’s security efforts than the Government’s.
After completing all this I get to a boiler-plate front end. It turns out that in itself this account doesn’t do much. I can register my address and my interests with the Government but I can’t see any reason to do that given it doesn’t, for example, mean that my address is updated with all the Government agencies. And my interests are a big brother step too far for me at the moment. I can’t really see what the point of this initial stage is at all when taken by itself. To make this useful I then need to link to online accounts with particular agencies.
This is the Government so I’m not expecting this to be particularly user-friendly and I’m not disappointed. The actual process is not that bad in itself, but the language is intimidating and there’s little useful explanation. I’m trying to link my Medicare account and suddenly I’m confronted with signing up to the “Department of Human Services” (is there a Department of Inhuman Services?). What is a “program reference number” if you are not in the know? I make a mistake filling in the form and it doesn’t tell me where – that might be security but it is deeply frustrating when I make the same mistake again the second and third time because I don’t know what I’m looking for. I’m struggling with this process and I keep thinking of how I’d feel if I was not as confident as I am with computers and the Internet.
In the end I fail to get Medicare connected to my new australia.gov.au account and have to resort to phoning Medicare up. The delightful person on the end of the phone explained that many people have problems getting connected and that, in fact I’ll need to register with Medicare first before I can connect from australia.gov.au – and she immediately jumped to the next inevitable response “yes, I know that’s not what it says on the website”. What’s really funny though is that she can change my bank account details over the phone with minimal security.
Anyway, I then go back online and sign up directly with Medicare online. That works OK but I now have another six security questions and a different password – one, by the way, with different requirements. Why does it have to be only eight digits long; why does that make any sense at all?
So finally I return to australia.gov.au to try to link my new Medicare online account with my australia.gov.au account. At one level I’m feeling squeamish putting all this information in one place, but then I figure the Government has it all anyway. So I forge ahead and follow the link… and get a largely blank page saying ‘Access denied’. I just give up.
So in summary that was a totally rubbish experience. One which validates all of our fears of Governments undertaking IT projects. One which creates self-fulfilling failure for the system by making it completely confusing, intimidating and irritating. And the saddest thing is that it’s going to be most confusing and intimidating for those who might need it most.