Every day across Australia, tens of thousands of people apply for a job, a licence, a loan or a personal background check to determine whether or not they’re appropriate for a trusted role in the community.
Once a laborious, time consuming, inconvenient and often expensive process, the business of proving who you are to those who need to know has moved swiftly from handing over sensitive personal information to be repeatedly photocopied, checked and stored to simple, fast and secure checks that can be done electronically or online while maintaining appropriate levels of privacy.
As little as five years ago, applications for everything from a ‘working with kids’ check for a soccer coach or childcare provider to simple vetting of healthcare staff or government contractors could take weeks, sometimes months to process.
Worse still, where a police check was required for an application, the administrative burden normally fell upon the front counter of thinly stretched law enforcement, resources which the public understandably expected to be on the beat rather than pushing paper.
Yet with requirements for identity verification and criminal checks increasing across all jurisdictions, something clearly had to give in terms of efficiency and cost.The body requires rigorous background checks that would be otherwise difficult to deliver without a trusted partner.
And in the strong Australian tradition of making a challenge into an opportunity, the breakthrough came in the form of collaborative innovation that reused existing public resources for a greater social and economic good.
These days you can literally just walk into an Australia Post branch to physically verify your identity for everything from getting the electricity connected to applying for a police background check and even applying for and collecting a new or renewed passport.
You can also complete many of those checks securely online through Australia Post’s expanding suite of web services, the utility of which naturally extends into the government and enterprise sector where the need to reduce ‘identity friction’ and the cost of verification is more pressing than ever.
Proving who you are to those who actually need to know has never been a controversial proposition for Australians — except when they get sent away and told to come back with different documents to meet criteria like the well established 100-points identity check that is increasingly being coupled with other mandated ‘know-your-customer’ requirements.
These checks once needed to be done at each individual agency, service or application point, but thankfully highly trusted institutions like Australia Post have now created a suite of retail and online verification services that offer much greater public convenience bolstered by very real savings for participating organisations.
Put simply, Australia Post’s trusted status within consumer, government and commercial sectors has left it uniquely uniquely placed to deliver consumer services that deal with sensitive information, securely and conveniently.
You could call it ‘identity as a service’.
It’s a win-win proposition in terms of convenience, efficiency, scale and savings for consumers, industry and government alike that arguably provides a far greater set of benefits to the community than dollars alone can illustrate.
And examples abound.
Keeping kids safe in the West
When the Western Australian government made the important decision to start improving how the backgrounds of people working with children are checked, two things became immediately clear.
The first was that primary assessment of the integrity of applicants – essentially a criminal background check – needed to be both accurate and practicable at an administrative level.
Few would argue that more comprehensive screening of applicants is both effective and desirable, but the big challenge for essential services like police is ensuring such measures don’t create an avoidable overhead for critical frontline capacity better applied to core policing duties.
The solution in the West was for police there to partner with Australia Post to provide both the retail front end and associated online services needed to facilitate mandated background checks that result in an Electronic National Police Certificate being issued, a document that traverses records across both state and federal jurisdictions across Australia.
Conducted on behalf of the Working with Children Screening Unit, a specialist WA government service tasked with oversight of people engaged in ‘child related work’, the body requires rigorous background checks that would be otherwise difficult to deliver without a trusted partner.
The process for the Working with Children Check includes printing and distributing application forms, conducting a 100-point identity check in person and validating the accuracy of an applicant’s paperwork all the way through to taking their photo and then processing the application fee.
Although a necessarily thorough process that both the public and government accept as justified, the benefits from the front-end of the verification process being conducted by Australia Post isn’t just about efficiency.
National Police Certificates
It also means everyday people doing the right thing are spared a visit to the police station, a factor which importantly lessens perceptions of potential regulatory overreach.
That same civilian delivery has been applied to criminal background checks that are increasingly being required by employers – private as well as public – for prospective staff during their application process or before a formal offer is made.
Known as the ‘National Police Certificate’ the background check accesses not only WA record criminal record holdings but also those of federal and state jurisdictions.
Although undoubtedly effective, it’s another load of paperwork the WA Police have happily let go of to pursue more pressing duties.
“The National Police Certificate was originally produced out of police stations. In 2007, we first went to Australia Post and we took the administrative side out of police stations. The process required an individual to attend a post office, fill out a hard copy form, present ID. You know, it was quite manually intensive,” says Ben Ackland, WA Police’s Executive Manager Office of Information Management.
“With the electronic NPC, we effectively cut out that administrative process. It’s all done online.”
Importantly, for both the Working with Children Check and National Police Certificate, Australia Post also handles the payments aspect of processing both the applications, relieving law enforcement of a non-core retail function and providing an end to end solution.
Efficiency that travels, with a personal touch
If there’s one document Australians hold near and dear to their identity it’s their passport, especially as a nation that loves to travel.
When you have a passport, it’s easy enough to take for granted – a point illustrated by the fact that more than half of Australians have a little blue book.
Yet the rigour that routinely goes into checking passport applications, and the size of the task, is easy to underappreciate.
Each year, 1.75 million Australians renew or apply for a new passport and the Passport Office requires every one of these applicants to be interviewed, face-to-face.
That kind of caseload, combined with recent biometric capture requirements, is a long way from coin-inserted photo-booth pictures of the analogue age.
We may now take it for granted, but Australia Post has been providing passport services to the community since the early 1980s making it one of the earliest exemplars of how accessibility to key government services and transactions can be extended across the community.
That reach comes through a retail network of more than 4400 Post Offices that employ fully trained and accredited staff across Australia.
Importantly, more than 2500 Post Offices are located in rural and remote areas and continue to provide both physical and digital services and a physical access point that often helps define the communities we live in.
As the digital economy continues to evolve, Australia Post’s continuing evolution has never been more important to maintain accessibility to services the community, irrespective of whether these are online, in person or both.