Information, privacy and the public service. A disaster.

The letter below is apparently an actual open letter sent to the DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) Immigration Minister currently doing the rounds on the internet. I wanted to highlight it here for a number of reasons; 1. because its funny; 2. because the language and attitude  reminds me so much of home; and 3. because it highlights some very good issues about information sharing in the public service in general that even prevents us at work from saving lives in Africa.



Dear Mr Minister,

I’m in the process of renewing my passport, and still cannot believe this.

How is it that K-Mart has my address and telephone number, and knows that I bought a television set and golf clubs and condoms from them back in 1997, and yet the Federal Government is still asking me where I was born and on what date ?

For Christ sakes, do you guys do this by hand ?

My birth date you have in my Medicare information, and it is on all the income tax forms I’ve filed for the past 40 years. It is also on my driver’s licence, on the last eight passports I’ve ever had, on all those stupid customs declaration forms I’ve had to fill out before being allowed off planes over the past 30 years. It’s also on all those insufferable census forms that I’ve filled out every 5 years since 1966.

Also… would somebody please take note, once and for all, that my mother’s name is Audrey, my father’s name is Jack, and I’d be absolutely bloody astounded if that ever changed between now and when I drop dead !!!

SHIT! What do you people do with all this information we keep having to provide? I apologize, Mr. Minister. But I’m really pissed off this morning. Between you and me, I’ve had enough of all this bullshit!

You send the application to my house, then you ask me for my bloody address!

What the hell is going on with your mob? Have you got a gang of mindless Neanderthal arseholes working there? And another thing, look at my damn picture. Do I look like Bin Laden? I can’t even grow a beard for God’s sakes. I just want to go to New Zealand and see my new granddaughter.  (Yes, my son interbred with a Kiwi girl).  And would someone please tell me, why would you give a shit whether or not I plan on visiting a farm in the next 15 days? In the unlikely event I ever got the urge to do something weird to a sheep or a horse, believe you me, I’d sure as hell not want to tell anyone!

Well, I have to go now, ’cause I have to go to the other side of Sydney , and get another bloody copy of my birth certificate – and to part with another $80 for the privilege of accessing MY OWN INFORMATION! Would it be so complicated to have all the services in the same spot, to assist in the issuance of a new passport on the same day?

No, that’d be too bloody easy and makes far too much sense.

You would much prefer to have us running all over the bloody place like chickens with our heads cut off, and then having to find some ‘high-society’ wanker to confirm that it’s really me in the goddamn photo! You know the photo… the one where we’re not allowed to smile?…you bloody morons.

Signed – An Irate Australian Citizen.

P.S. Remember what I said above about the picture, and getting someone in ‘high-society’ to confirm that it’s me? Well, my family has been in this country since before 1820! In 1856, one of my forefathers took up arms with Peter Lalor (You do remember the Eureka Stockade?!). I have also served in both the CMF and regular Army for something over 30 years (I went to Vietnam in 1967), and still have high security clearances. I’m also a personal friend of the president of the RSL Lt General Peter Cosgrove sends me a Christmas card each year.

However, your rules require that I have to get someone “important” to verify who I am; you know…someone like my doctor – WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED OUTSIDE AUSTRALIA! In a country where they either assassinate or hang their ex-Prime Ministers – and are suspended from the Commonwealth and United Nations for not having the “right sort of government”.

You are all pen-pushing paper-shuffling bloody idiots!


How does this prevent us from saving lives at work? Complete lack in most countries of a national identity system that can be used by the health care system to identify patients. This makes it very difficult to provide results, maintain patient histories, track patients progress in out-care or community care, and monitor infected peoples. All of which are key elements in treating and preventing the spread of infectious diseases like TB and especially MDR-TB.

Yes, there are privacy concerns, but they are not insurmountable.

A poem from Bua Geow

I’m sitting on the balcony of a restaurant in Chiang Khong, under a full moon, listening to Thai songs sang softly with acoustic guitar and harmonica. I look out across the ripling Mekhong river to Laos, and feel the cooling evening breeze. I feel at peace tonight, and truly appreciate this scene and setting.

It may have something to do with the monk and the drunk whose ride I paid for today when we were stranded. Maybe it has to do with the certainty that has been revealed regarding my future. Further still, I think it is due to my reading of Bua Grows diary, and thankfully, being reminded again to appreciate the little things in life.

A review will be published soon, but in the mean-time, here is a beautiful poem from the heart of a “bright-eyed innocent slip of a country girl… debased, enslaved”* and freed by her own courage.


Oh! The joy that you feel

Is to me as a tune

As a toy to a child

As a song to the moon.

Whilst the grief that you meet

Is to me as a pain

I would fain bear for you,

though I die of that grief.

So then live to the full,

While your youth is yet pure:

In the year of your death

You may pray and forgive.

But not now is the time

To sleep in the spring

Or to bow to the Gods

Or to kneel – but to sing.

But to sing to the sky

And to shout O’er the sea

And to bring to the world

The thrill that we feel to will and to be.

Author: Bua Geow


* In the word of John C Shaw, author and translator of “The diary of Bua Geow, Girl of Chiang Mai”

Where we get to. From country bumpkin to…

This post is dedicated to those increasing number of friends and family that are raising kids at the moment and those of us that are trying to deal with a world that is changing so rapidly, that we seem like kids – struggling to keep our feet, sometimes running, sometimes falling, sometimes going in loops, but always leaning and tottering forward.

Before: Growing up in a country with a population of ~25 million people, in town(s) with more trees or cows than people. Where the biggest concerns are who played footy well on the weekend, who got how drunk and whether it will rain or not. Picked fruit or sold popcorn for cash.

In between: family, sport, travel, reading, sport, travel, university (B.Bus), work, travel.

Now: I`m sitting in a serviced apartment, in Ginza, Tokyo – largest metropolis in the world with population of ~40 million, writing a greenhouse gas management bench-marking report on 16 global oil and gas companies for one of the largest professional services firm in the world. On a Saturday.

Time period: 24 years (I`m 29 but the first 5 years hardly count if you can`t remember them).

Point: Pace of change in this world is astounding and increasing. I could never have imagined this specific outcome even 5 years ago. Sometimes I do have to pinch myself. What of the kids that area growing up now? How will the deal with the ever increasing pace of change?

My tip: I don`t know anything about raising kids. I do know something about climate change. Because of climate change I suggest you raise your kids to be flexible, creative and adaptive. They are going to need to be. Why – Because 6 degrees of climate change this century is increasingly possible and the resulting change and pace of change will require it of them in order for them to keep tottering forward.


PwC recently released a report indicating that 6 degrees of climate change is possible this century. You can check these National Geographic Videos for an idea of what each incremental degree of global climate change has meant in the past and what it is likely to mean in the future. Note that images maybe depressing. For tips on how to raise your kids to be flexible, creative and adaptive try this page.