Centrelink issues warnings, but other government departments can be surprising

BURIED in the middle of a Federal Government report this week was one of the best little paragraphs I’ve read in such a report in a while.

Sometimes government reports can be like that.

You’ll be at page 167 of a 421-page document with your eyes glazing over, and then out of the blue a fabulous paragraph or two will appear.

Some government department reports – federal, state or local – are more likely to produce gems than others. As I finished typing that line I remembered a fantastic short report in a Gosford City Council business paper years ago, about a dead rat that brought a part of Gosford to a standstill.

In a council business paper that was filled with development applications for five-storey unit blocks, updates on road funding applications, progress reports on sewer lines and council rate rise justifications, the “Dead Rat that Stopped Gosford” report was a gift.

In a council business paper that was filled with development applications for five-storey unit blocks, updates on road funding applications, progress reports on sewer lines and council rate rise justifications, the 'Dead Rat that Stopped Gosford' report was a gift.

It was written because of the need for council staff, or council’s cleaning contractor’s staff, to be trained to remove squashed rats from public roads.

The catalyst for the report was the best part. A dead rat spent a solitary few hours on the pedestrian crossing of a busy Gosford intersection while council representatives, cleaning contractor representatives and the local chamber of commerce worked out who had the Occupational Health and Safety training to remove it. My cat, Puddy, was having a pedicure at the time.

A chamber of commerce member spotted the Deadus Rattus first and reported it to the cleaning contractor. Cleaning company representatives inspected the scene and decided they couldn’t remove the corpse because they hadn’t been trained to “occupy the road carriageway” in a safe manner, the report said.

The cleaning contractor was responsible for the footpath, the council was responsible for the road, but finding council staff with the “proper training to go and get the rat” took a little time, hence the report and a recommendation to make Dead Rat Road Removal Training more widely available to anyone up for it, leading to conversations like this:

Council official: “Barry, do you want to do Dead Rat Road Removal Training?”

Barry: “No.”

Council official: “Arthur, what about you?”

Arthur: “No.”

Council official: “Beryl, what about you?”

Beryl: “Yuk, no.”

And so on, and so on.

Some government departments make it clear you’ll never find the equivalent of a Dead Rat report in their jurisdiction. Centrelink might have smiling photographs on its website, but it pays to read the text underneath.

It repeatedly emphasises the need for people to “tell us when your circumstances change” because Bad Things Can Happen If You Don’t, presumably because it Knows Where You Live. Sometimes it underlines the bad things, or puts the text in bold, to remind you that repaying money, paying penalties, having your benefits cut off for weeks or being stuck at the end of a phone queue for hours at a time Are All Possibilities.

But Centrelink has its softer side. If “something major happens”, which it defines as a “crisis like the death of an immediate family member”, it may give you an exemption from “mutual obligation requirements” to, say, attend the funeral.

But back to the paragraphs that started this little trip.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is our national transport safety investigator reporting to Infrastructure and Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce. In May last year, before he was punted to make way for Joyce, the former minister Darren Chester signed a statement of expectations in which he tasked the bureau with maintaining “high standards of professionalism, service, probity, reporting, accountability and transparency”.

Mission accomplished, I say. Just go to the bureau’s Aviation Occurrence Statistics, 2007-2016 report on its website which tells you lots of stuff you don’t really want to know before you take to the skies. But it also tells you what happened when a helicopter pilot was mustering cattle on a Cape York Peninsula property in Queensland on September 18, 2016.

The pilot had successfully mustered one mob of cattle into a yard and had started moving a second mob towards the north, the bureau investigation report said.

Then the cattle started moving west instead of north “so the pilot descended closer to the cattle to encourage them to turn”.

The pilot had been mustering cattle for about 20 minutes by this stage. As the bureau report noted, with commendable understatement, the helicopter was “about 10 feet above the ground, at an airspeed of 40 to 50 knots, when a cow with long horns charged and reared up at the helicopter”.

The report does not say what the helicopter pilot said at this point, or when the cow’s horn “went over the right skid of the helicopter, trapping the skid”.

I imagine it was probably a little stronger than “damn and blast”.

The report says the pilot attempted to free the helicopter – and use your imagination here to picture a helicopter only a couple of metres off the ground trying to uncouple itself from an angry cow – but the chopper rolled to the right, the main rotor struck the ground, the chopper was downed and a few seconds later caught fire.

The pilot “exited the aircraft before it was destroyed” but suffered only minor injuries.

And the cranky cow?

“No injuries to the cow were reported,” the bureau said.

And the pilot had a story to tell.

This story Buried in the reports first appeared on Newcastle Herald.