The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2017 Results

Bureaucracy Rules

Copyright © Ray Scott 2017

We had been living in Australia for several years when we came to the conclusion that it was plain commonsense and the right thing to do to become citizens of the country in which we lived. We had no intention of returning to England except on vacation as Australia was now our home. But after going through the process we began to wonder if we’d made the right decision.

We intended to go together, but with me being a sales representative on the road and my wife a nursing sister working in a hospital at the time it was not easy to arrange a mutually convenient appointment. Consequently, I called alone into the Citizenship office in a suburb to the south of Melbourne and completed my details on behalf of myself and our two boys then aged 12 and 13. I struck one problem with the official handling my application, I had to sit before him and answer questions that he dictated to me, but his diction was not too clear and he was not the easiest to understand.

After saying ‘Pardon?’ for the umpteenth time, the process seemed cumbersome so I asked him to hand me the form and I’d fill it in.

“I can’t do that,” he said. “It’s against the rules.”

“Who’s to know?”

“We have to do it this way because the declaration at the foot of the form says I confirm that I have asked these questions and have noted your answers. There is no other way it can be done.”

“It seems a bit cumbersome to me, why don’t you change the system?”

“We can’t change it, because of the declaration at the foot of the form.”

“Then why isn’t the declaration changed?”

“You can’t do that…!” he began and then paused. “…oh… I suppose it could. I hadn’t thought of that!”

After the long-winded process had been completed, I signed where I had to sign, produced the forms and certificates necessary to complete the process and finally the job was done.

A week later my wife Mary presented herself at the same offices, her shifts being what they were she decided to get to the Citizenship Office at 8.00 am so she could be first cab off the rank when they opened at 8.30. This would enable her to complete the process and be away by 9.00. She walked up to a ticket machine, took a ticket and sat down to wait. At about 8.15 staff appeared behind the counters, sat around chatting until 8.30, finally opened up for business and called out the first number, which happened to be 23. My wife was somewhat astonished as her number was 22, but decided there must be either two different procedures being dealt with or else there was a computer glitch and that her number would be called next.

After three more numbers had been called, being 24, 25 and 26 it began to percolate through that something was not quite right. When 27 was called, she decided to do something about it and approached a counter that had just completed the process with another applicant.

“What is going on here?” she asked. “I was here before anyone else, I have been here since 8.00 and I have ticket No: 22. When is that number going to be called?”

The woman behind the counter looked at the ticket and shook her head.

“We started at 23,” she said.

“I’m not disputing that,” Mary said angrily. “Why did you start at 23 if 22 was the first one?”

“Just a minute,” the girl said and turned aside to consult with a colleague. Then she returned.

“The best thing you can do is take another ticket.”

“I can do what?”

“Take another ticket and you’ll have to take your turn.”

“Take another…!” Mary looked behind her at the now rapidly filling waiting area, the next ticket could be in the forties. “Are you serious?”

“I don’t know what we can do, we started at 23 and we have to follow the sequence…!”

“Don’t be so bloody ridiculous,” Mary stormed. “I’ve been here since 8.00, I was first here and took the first ticket. I want to be seen now.”

“But 28 is the next number,” protested the girl. “I can’t let you jump the queue…!”

“Jump the queue!” Mary was nearly speechless. “How can I jump the queue if I was the first one here?”

“But 28 is the next number…!”

“I want to see a supervisor…NOW!”

The girl evaporated from her position and fetched a supervisor. Mary could see the counter clerk in animated conversation with a man of about forty. She was showing him the ticket and shaking her head, he turned and looked in Mary’s direction and then came over.

“You got this out of the machine this morning, did you?”

“Where else would I have got it?” she snapped and added sarcastically, always her best suit, “The ladies’ toilet?”

He gave a rueful smile and inclined his head on one side.

“I don’t understand this,” he said and moved across to a lift up hatch in the counter. “You’d better come in through here.”

She moved in as he raised the counter flap and indicated a desk in a small office pen.

“I’ll deal with this,” he said to the girl, and added with a trace of irritation. “You’d best deal with No: 28.”

After twenty minutes, her citizenship application was complete. He shook her hand, escorted her out through the hatchway and to the main exit door.

“Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“I’m just relieved everything is complete, but what sort of twisted logic was that girl using. She told me to take another ticket and go to the back of the queue?”

He smiled and shrugged.

“Not our brightest,” he said.


There was a sequel to this, our citizenship papers took an age to come through, nearly three years. When they finally did arrive only our younger son was included on our application and citizenship confirmation. I queried that with the Citizenship office and they told me that because our elder son was over 16 he had to make his own application.

“But he was 13 when we applied,” I protested.

“Sorry but those are the rules.”

Somebody, I forget who, once said: ‘Rules are made for Man, not Man for the Rules.’ That statement, when it applies to bureaucracy, is totally inaccurate.