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How Officialdom Works

Discusses how bureaucratic government organisations work and interact with people and how to work around them.

Erasmus Erasmus : Never forget that an organisation is made up of individuals. You may be dealing with an organisation – but you are in effect dealing with an individual in that organisation. This means that you will be dealing with a personality and with many human behavioural quirks. An individual may help you, not care about you or may hinder you. Any outcome is possible. So many things can happen that should not, depending on the personalities and behaviour of the people involved in the incident/confrontation.
If you run into someone who is not helpful or malicious – you can be redirected to anywhere to stop you annoying them.

Not everyone is helpful – though most people generally really do their best.

Big organisations are complex. Knowing how an organisation works takes time and experience. Most people do not tell you this – if they even knew themselves how to navigate through contacts in the organisation to begin with.


Kinkajou Kinkajou : Give some examples from the building trade.
Erasmus Erasmus : For example, building applications and approvals are complex issues dealt with by many sub- departments and offices in a government organisation. There is an office that looks at planning issues and then some offices that look at issues such as strength of framing, insulation, energy efficiency, storm survivability, access to services such as power / water/ sewerage /stormwater drainage issues, and vehicle access issues (driveways).

To connect to sewerage, there is often a particular office for sewerage applications (planning), road opening for sewerage connections, and traffic management for road closures associated with new sewerage connections. There will be inspectors and possible an office dealing with contractors as well. There is different office associated with the fees paid for this and their processing.

Possible (drinking) water connections have their own separate office and may also be associated with contractors and traffic management to road closures associated with new connections as well. The inspectors who supervise the contractors who do the work, can be in-house or contractors themselves. You may still need local plumbers as well as the specialist contractors.

Knowing what or who is difficult. The only way to learn this is to keep on asking “learning” questions, to anyone you have contact with. Most people understand “the little bit of the world they work with” and perhaps some of what the people they connect with do, but many people’s understanding is limited to their “little bit of the world”.


Kinkajou Kinkajou : So, ask:
What else needs to happen?
Who else do I need to talk to?

What other plans are approvals I need to have in place?
Who can I get to do the work for me? (Is this a private person or a government contractor”.

Is there anything you know that might help me to .....?


Goo the Numbat Goo : This is just an example, but it shows the complexity that arises quickly in dealing with government departments. But the real problem is no one tells you everything about what you need to do and no one knows how to navigate it all. Considering the government set up all these requirements, its disgusting that they cannot give people a full briefing on extra things that may need to happen to make it all work.

Erasmus Erasmus : Organisations have a culture too. If you are an hourly rate employee, you are probably very keen to go home at the end of the day – right on time. So only simple and easy things will ever happen at closing time.

The wife of an acquaintance inherited a house from her deceased husband. (As you would expect as she was a joint owner – tenant in common. In the event of a death of one of the owners, the property automatically becomes the property of the other owner. This is an excellent arrangement for husband-and-wife ownership of residential property).

In this case the husband had schizophrenia, and his wife was estranged/divorced from him. But there had never been a property settlement done as part of the divorce. The children knew about the husband’s death some years ago but had been hiding this from their mother. The father had promised the children that he would give the property to them. (This is not a legal undertaking because the law says it is the wife’s property: the ex-husband and wife being tenants in common.

In Australia, after seven years of not resolving the property maintenance issue, other entitled beneficiaries such as the children of the marriage are entitled to claim the property. The children had attached a number of liens and legal restrictions to the property in an effort to seize the property for themselves. It looked like the wife, who is the appropriate legal beneficiary of a tenant-in-common title, was going to be cheated out of her ownership of the property.

The wife’s new husband did not think this was fair. It was his wife’s property. The ex-husband had died. They had together in the early days of the marriage, (prior to the old husband developing schizophrenia), put in substantial effort into obtaining and developing the property.

The wife’s new husband assembled all the paperwork, all properly and completely done and lodged this at the transfers/Stamp Duties Office for processing at 4:30 PM on Friday afternoon. Everything was perfectly completed. No errors. It was stamped and processed in record time, negating all the liens and legal restrictions attached to the property.

Goo the Numbat Goo : If you know how the system works, you can get things done. But you need to be prepared and ready to undertake what needs to be done at the right time in the right fashion.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Officialdom is in general - very enneagram “one-ish”. Most employees have little capacity to bend or change the rules. There is no point in arguing with any government employees about fees and charges – as often these fees and charges are fixed by legislation. The role of officialdom is simply to enforce the rules not to make them.

Erasmus Erasmus : Officialdom generally grinds on slowly – seeking an outcome as per the rules. Generally, imagination and innovative thinking is not rewarded or advised to the employees of government organisations (or other officialdom).

A friend had two driveways on adjacent properties he owned. He talked to the council about putting in one large pipe for the stormwater flow for both these properties at the gutter site (together). His argument was it would save the council a lot of money and be much easier to do. By putting in one single pipe, the council will no longer have to engineer the bit in the middle at the gutter, which will course be difficult because it would need to be engineered to fit and to join.

Officialdom insisted that there must be two separate driveways. The friend replied that there would be two separate driveways as once the pipe was installed you would have to build a driveway over the top of each. In short, there would be as the law required- two separate driveways. Officialdom could not understand this.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : Issues here: You are dealing with individuals (one inspector) with no imagination in understanding the rules. This idiot will cost the council a fortune later in patching up his stupidity.  But in making no waves- no one can really challenge him or his decisions- he earns the council's approval and sanction for his actions.

Officialdom needs to show that they have followed the rules and the protocol correctly. Officialdom is impersonal. Officialdom does not care about you. It is just following guidelines so that it can be demonstrated that they are following the rules.
Goo the Numbat Goo : It is easy to see that if you/ yourself have no understanding of what needs to be done and they have no flexibility in interpreting what needs to be done, there will be a collision of clumsy intentions between the parties. Officialdom is not innovative. Officialdom follows rules and guidelines.

Erasmus Erasmus : Officialdom does not make new interpretations of what may be required. The safest thing to do for an official - is to do what has been done in the same way that it has always been done. Remember this. Don’t lose your temper. Don’t get angry. Seeking sympathy may be the best method to employ because you can at least have a chance of connecting at a human level in negotiations.

Officialdom does not seek conflict or attention from itself.

Someone complained a woman was not keeping her dogs restrained within her property –adequately. The householder and the council inspector began a vicious drawn-out fight. The neighbour stepped up and began to talk to the council inspector. He did what was required to dog -proof the property and communicated this to the council inspector.

The council inspector did not want to go out to the property again because she knew she would be in conflict with the householder to a significant extent. The council inspector then said to the neighbour – “I am happy with you having told me of what you have done to dog proof the property. I will mark this as a concluded issue with no further action needed to be taken. I don’t need to inspect the property. I will take your word that you have done what you have said you have done”.
Conflict over.

Goo the Numbat Goo : Officialdom can be human however. It is important to create a good impression and to fulfill your responsibilities within the relationship. Do your bit in other words.

A friend had a relative die. He lost his passport in the days just prior to travelling overseas. He was in crisis. Normally a passport takes up to a month to process. He filled in the application form, obtained the appropriate passport photos, and brought all the appropriate evidence to the passport office. Unlike the other Australian Yobbos present in the passport office, (dressed in stubbies (short shorts) and T-shirt and thongs), he was dressed in formal business attire and was well presented and clean. Those Yobbos in stubbies were arguing with the passport staff about paying the official legislated passport fee. Not an argument with any chance of success.

The official heard my friend’s story. The official asked for all his paperwork. The official asked for evidence that there was a funeral overseas. I think being well presented and pleasant is very important. ‘

They processed his passport application within three hours, and did not charge him at all for the expedited passport approval. Officials can be human as well – especially in times of crisis. But they like to be treated with humanity and respect – as do probably all of us. Foolish behaviour earns you foolish responses.


Erasmus Erasmus : Fear is important in dealing with other people and officialdom. Generally, my opinion is that if you are in breach of official guidelines, and in conflict with officialdom, there will be no resolution or adjustment reached – unless each party has something to lose.

A friend had an employee fail to submit a weekly pay timesheet. So, the friend  to be fair and helpful – filled in the form to enable a payment to be made to the employee. There was an error of two hours out of 40 hours claimed – underpaid. The employee became quite belligerent about this matter. My friend said – “We will just pay it for you next week. It takes ages to set up the computer systems and get everything ready for a pay run”. The employee said that this was not good enough and quit in front of many witnesses.
By Monday the ex-employee had calmed down. He realised that his benefits were greater if he was sacked rather than if he resigned. He put in a complaint to the workplace industrial inspector saying he had been sacked. Industrial inspector came to talk to my friend. My friend stated that he had witnesses and that he himself was a witness that this ex-employee had resigned, not been sacked.

My friend put in a counterclaim that the ex-employee had fraudulently completed his wage slip and he wanted to complain about this and have action taken against the employee for this. The Industrial inspector left, talked to the ex-employee and then returned to talk to my friend a week later. The ex-employee had decided to let bygones be bygones and to proceed no further with his action – largely because he now possibly stood to be convicted of fraudulent wage claims. The end result – the ex-employee was paid his two hours of underpaid wages and the entire matter was put to rest.

Kinkajou Kinkajou : I think the only reason any agreement was made here was simply that the ex-employee discovered that he had something to lose by continuing with his action.

Erasmus Erasmus : Corruption does exist.

Dr Xxxxx Dr Xxxxx : I had a patient who was involved in an incident with running a diesel forklift indoors in a warehouse. The carbon monoxide levels rose to the point that the patient needed to be taken to hospital and was judged to have suffered some brain injury as a result of the high levels – reaching 20%.

In spite of all workers compensation paperwork lodged, this incident was never formally followed up and investigated. In fact, everyone argued that this incident had almost never occurred – apart from the evidence of the hospital casualty measured carbon monoxide level of 20%.

The only explanation I can see for something so blatant not being followed up, is that there is a reason for something so blatant not being followed up. Corruption is the obvious answer.

Goo the Numbat Goo : Not a bad way to make things go away.
Kinkajou Kinkajou : True. And in a limited work sector such as workers compensations claims,, there is probably only a one inspector who would deal with an incident. So it is quite possible to find yourself only needing to suborn one individual to make the issue go away.

Erasmus Erasmus : Officials can be lazy and are often clock watching. If there is a 5 o’clock finishing time, most officials will definitely stop work by 4:45 pm or 4:50 pm at the latest. You are not going to get any official attention if you push the envelope by trying to get work done by “unpaid” official employees.

Goo the Numbat Goo : And so, it should be. Why should the officials be required to work unpaid to benefit you. You are getting the benefit – but what’s in it for them?

Erasmus Erasmus : Officials are human. If you have a fair bit to do with someone with repeated contacts over a period of time, it is quite possible that they have come to dislike you. Both you and the official have a personality which interacts with other people. The question in these situations where problems are developing is: “who is the problem, really?” Maybe it is actually you who is the problem not the other person. - not officialdom. Maybe it’s a personality clash issue- each of the parties failing to deal with the thinking process/ actions resulting of the other person

Publicity Publicity


Erasmus Erasmus : The government is averse to bad publicity. We mentioned in one of the other webpages about some Australians lodging claims for GST refunds. They collected refunds of up to a hundred thousand dollars in spite of having almost no wage declarations. All they needed was the approval of one official at the ATO on the phone to tick” one box “authorising their claim. And if the first person would not authorise it, they would ring back and the next person probably would – especially that they had now had some experience with getting the story right.

The fraudulent beneficiaries then spent the money completely. By the time the government was seeking its refund, there was nothing left. The government decided not to seek criminal action against these individuals – to avoid the publicity which legal action would create.

Dr Xxxxx Dr Xxxxx : Some government organisations have the ethos that “the complainer is always right”. All complaints are always investigated. And all complaints are always justified. Everyone is guilty if they have received a complaint. In short – government organisations have a culture and a personality all of their own.

Governments try to make it easy for people. But by not having a fee for processing each complaint, they encourage a huge number of complaints that requires a substantial investment of time and money and employees to process.

A friend of mine used to do after hours home visits as a doctor. He found that by adding a five-dollar fee to his home visits, over 80% of people would no longer call and ask for a home visit. Five dollars in today’s terms is probably equivalent to $10. He realised what a fool he was to have gone along with these expectations for so long for free.

Goo the Numbat Goo : So again, we have the example how government or official policy, colours the actions that officialdom takes. Governments like to avoid publicity. Some government departments act mas if the complainant is always right.
Dr Xxxxx Dr Xxxxx : Another friend of mine was undertaking some (Freedom of Information) requests. The reasons for the refusals to supply the information he received, were basically ridiculous. It became obvious that the organisation was committed to “we don’t have to help you or release the information”.

The reality is that – yes you do have to help and you do have to release the information, unless you can provide a satisfactory and legal justification for your actions.

The government officials had discovered a different work schema. The reality is that by challenging people and by refusing to help, most likely at least 50% of requests would go away as people would stop seeking the information they had requested. People requesting information would decide “It’s too much trouble” to continue with this. Also, the long timescales involved in the process create a situation where it is impossible to maintain the energy or drive to push along an application in the face of official refusal.

Dr AXxxxxDr Axxxx : Another example of officialdom culture was an acquaintance with a worker’s comp claim. The friend was a carpenter and had suffered a hand injury. His doctor knew him well and was quite believing of all his statements. The doctor believed the carpenter was well-intentioned and had not returned to work because he could not work - as his hand was injured and in pain.

As the specialists and workers comp assessors all lined up disbelieving him, the claim was destined to be refused. His doctor obtained an MRI of the hand and wrist. The list of problems that were evident on the scan went on for over a page. The specialists and workers comp assessors all disappeared from view, and the claim was approved.
Officialdom does not like to be caught out being unreasonable and doing things unjustifiably.


Kinkajou Kinkajou : Summary:.
Officialdom is made up of individuals with personalities and beliefs..
Officialdom is human. So, present yourself well and act well and you are much more likely to get a lot more sympathy.
Officialdom is in general very enneagram “one-ish”. It needs to be seen to be doing the right (official) thing. Government employees often have very little capacity to make decisions. They are often there simply to enforce the rules, not to interpret them.

Officialdom generally grinds on slowly – seeking an outcome as per the rules or the culture of the government organisation involved. Generally, imagination and innovative thinking is not rewarded or advised to the employees of government organisations (or other officialdom).


Officialdom can have political considerations and a culture:
The complainant is always right.
Avoid bad publicity. Especially if the government/officials have something to lose.
We do not have to help you – even though that is our job description. (FOI especially).
Finally, corruption does exist. And when this happens someone wins and someone loses. The problem of course is which one will be the winner and which one will be the loser.