Artificial Public Servants not so intelligent

by JOHN MIKKELSEN – I OFTEN wonder how many Australians, like me, have found communicating with our national health bureaucracy about as easy as winning the lottery? 

“Oh, it shouldn’t be too hard, their website contains a 24-hour contact number, right?” 

Might I suggest we could improve health services by having the Medicare call centre actually answer calls. Or call back when they can. Or just include a contact email that actually works.
John Mikkelsen
Freelance Writer & Author

Well yes. But after finding that a refund of $41.40 owing on my wife’s recent visit to our non-bulk billing medical centre hadn’t made it back to our bank account via her debit card in more than a week – despite a receipt showing it had been paid – she re-visited the GP’s office.

She was told she’d have to contact Medicare.


“It’s obviously been paid somewhere,” was the helpful advice. Maybe, but not to us.

How many other people even bother to check and how many other “refunds” end up “somewhere”?

So I jumped on the phone to the giant health entity to enquire how that could happen.

I didn’t really expect a human to answer my call – what bureaucracy or big business does that these days?

So, I listened to the pleasant female-sounding AI bot asking what the call was about in a couple of words, I said “Unpaid refund”.

She/it then rattled off a variety of numbered options, I chose one that sounded vaguely appropriate – but was then told I could find the answer to various questions via the Medicare app or through their MyGov link.

“Have a nice day,” she/it concluded in the same cheery voice before hanging up on me.

I had already had a look on MyGov and checked the list of refunds paid. This latest one wasn’t included.

I called the Medicare hotline again, went through the options with bot lady and chose the last on the list: speak to an operator.

Finally, I might get somewhere, but then the same pleasant voice told me that because of the volume of calls, none were available.

“Try again later.” Click. Call ended.

No option of waiting in a queue for an hour listening to the same boring tune played over and over, no option of requesting a call-back, which some non-government service providers include when inquiries reach overload.

Right. With a slight trace of steam coming out my ears, I went on-line again in an attempt to find another way of contact – like an email address.

That should be simple and easy, let alone logical, and it would relieve pressure on their “24 hour, seven days a week” call centre.

Well so I thought, and after searching through a multitude of word salads I did finally discover what was claimed to be an email address, which I copied and pasted into an address bar, and cc’d my own address.

I then outlined the case of the missing refund, attached a copy of the receipt stating it had been paid, and asked for the matter to be rectified.

A second after hitting send, it bounced back with a message that the address wasn’t recognised. WTF?

More steam out the ears – was it an old address or did it only apply in some other State? Maybe … back online again searching all Medicare links and options through MyGov.

I finally found one for complaints, so let’s try that!


Again, there were numerous options for what the complaint might entail – but finally I managed to type a message about the missing refund and asked for it to be paid.

I also included the suggestion that they could save everyone a lot of bother if they just provided a genuine contact email address.

They did provide a feedback number a few days ago but at the time of writing, there has been no response.

The Albanese Labor Government made a big fanfare announcing its $6.1b “Strengthening Medicare reforms” last October, claiming it was “the largest investment in bulk billing in Medicare’s 40-year history”.

According to Health Minister Mark Butler, Australians saved an estimated $15m in GP gap fees in November and December, “helping to ease the cost-of-living pressures on household budgets”.

Well, Mr Butler finding a GP that bulk bills in our neck of the woods which also happens to be one of Australia’s major tourism hot spots, is a bit like my analogy of winning the lottery. And ours have actually increased their fees since your bulk-billing largesse.

Might I be so bold as to suggest you could improve services by making the Medicare call centre actually answer calls. Or call back when they can. Or just include a contact email that actually works in each State and territory. How hard can that be?

On a related topic of online banking anomalies and service providers, I recently had a similar experience when attempting to renew my Optus mobile account online.

After linking with our bank account, I clicked submit and received a return message saying the payment couldn’t be processed because of “activity” on the account.

Again, what the ….?

So, I logged into the account and sure enough the sizeable payment had actually been deducted…

Call Optus, go through an identity check and finally get to speak to a foreign lady who has difficulty understanding me, and likewise, me her.

But finally she grasps the concept that I’m claiming to have been charged for a service that hasn’t actually been renewed.

“Can you hold the line, I’ll have to talk to my supervisor.”

“No problem.”

Queue the elevator music that plays over and over for at least half an hour.

Finally, she returns and announces: “Yes, I can confirm that we did receive payment and we can refund it to your account but that might take a few days.”

I let out an audible sigh: “Well if you’ve received the payment can’t you just renew my mobile service, otherwise I’ll have to do all this again?”


“Oh, well, I’ll have to check with my supervisor again so I’ll put you back on hold, okay?”

“No problem!”

Finally, after another extended wait listening to the same mind-numbing tune, she comes back and informs me, “Yes, we can do that…”

Glory be! Then she asks if I can rate her service and switches me through to a survey. I give her a reasonable score for solving the problem and that was that.

But why does our modern switched-on life have to be so bloody complicated?

Back when I was a boy not even space traveller Flash Gordon had a computer and the nearest thing to a smart phone belonged to comic book detective – extraordinaire, Dick Tracy (except his was more a futuristic smart watch on which he could make and receive calls).

Do we really need to make life even more complicated with moves for a cashless society, digital currency and now a national digital ID which was rushed through the Senate just before Easter?

To all those who’ll say I should modern up and get with the 21st Century, I’ll close with a repetitive quote from a contemporary Destiny’s Child hit:

You’ll be sayin’, “No, no, no, no, no”

When it’s really, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes”

Let’s hope “No” prevails!PC

John Mikkelsen

John Mikkelsen is a former editor of three Queensland regional newspapers, columnist, freelance writer and author of the Amazon Books memoir, Don’t Call Me Nev
MAIN PHOTOGRAPH: Mark Butler. (courtesy Wikidata)

4 thoughts on “Artificial Public Servants not so intelligent

  1. I feel your pain. It’s just taken a week of correspondence to get a bank statement from an entity that uses Artificial Stupidity. Endless exercises in trying to translate impenetrably woke terminology, aided from time to time by a ‘human’. For those old enough to remember the movie 2001, A Space Odesssey, it is clear that HAL is in control.

  2. I received a survey recently on how the health department should be dealing with climate change. All the survey questions were targeted towards how they should reduce emissions, none were asking whether the health department should be running another bureaucracy for dealing with a non existent “problem” of CO2, otherwise known as plant food. I pointed out in the freeform section that the health department should be focused on improving health outcomes, not dealing with climate change.

  3. And note that public service employees including elected MPs do not pay real taxes.

    They are all paid from taxation revenue collected from the private sector, they pay taxes but not new revenue for government, just returning part of what taxpayers paid earlier.

    Once upon a time known as public servants.

    If there was no private sector of taxpayers the public sector would have no money.

  4. Typical of government bureaucracies and big business these days John! I’m sure many of us can share your frustrations having encountered similar circumstances. “Service” seems to be a forgotten word when it comes to dealing with problems in our “connected” world.


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