E-gov grows down under

Australian Government Information Management Office

No longer representing a minority population, 39 percent of Australians contacted their government via the Internet over the past 12 months, a new Australian government study has found.

Previously, only 21 percent of Australians accessed online government services. But the survey, which was commissioned by the Australian Government Information Management Office, still found that -- in terms of individual behavior -- the most common channel used was face-to-face service with 52 percent, followed by phone with 26 percent and the Internet with 15 percent. The least popular channel was through the mail.

According to the survey, commissioned in 2004, but released yesterday, more people use the Internet to contact the Australian government than state, territory or local governments. Services most often accessed include income or personal tax with16 percent; land rates or tax with 10 percent; and car, boat, vehicle registrations and licenses with 8 percent.

The most common reasons for using government services through the Internet and phone are because the services can be accessed outside business hours, take less time and processing is quicker and easier. Residents living in metropolitan areas, rural and remote areas were more likely to use online government services than those living in regional centers, the survey indicates.

"Traditional methods of contact are still important, but there is a growing demand for services to be delivered online," Sen. Eric Abetz, special minister of state, said in a press release.

"Not only are more people using the Internet to contact government, they're increasingly happy with the results in comparison with using the telephone," he added. "A solid 90 percent of study respondents said they'd achieved what they set out to do using the Internet."

However, the survey finds that while users are satisfied with online services, their expectations of the Internet appear to be lower than the other channels. Other barriers to greater e-government usage include lack of awareness that an online service or function exists and perception that the Internet is not seen as an anonymous or accountable channel.

"The perceived lack of accountability offered by the Internet (particularly its ability to handle nonstandard questions, complaints or comments) provides clear guidance for what services should, and should not be, migrated to the Internet," the survey states. "It also indicates a need to address the perception that the Internet lacks accountability, which may not necessarily be true."

The survey also found that while privacy is important and has been approached by the government with sensitivity and caution, privacy concerns were a "minor barrier" to e-government use.

The survey states improving citizen usage of e-government services hinges on providing more sophisticated transactions, among other things.

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