An older woman calls up to apply for the Government concession that's available on electricity bills.
From other jobs I've had, I think of this as a pretty simple bit of business. All that should be needed is to note the woman's pension card number on her account, and the concession gets automatically subtracted from her bill each quarter.
And this is the case here too.
But what I'm not expecting is this 'script' that I have to read out to her, as part of the process. A little prompt box flashes up on my screen telling me I can't save her concession details until I've read this thing out.
'Script?' she says. She sounds about 108 years old, her voice throaty and harsh. 'What cha mean?'
'I mean... Well.... it's kind of like a statement, I suppose. Almost like, terms and conditions?'
The 108 year old says 'I see' in a way that conveys very precisely her view that the world long ago went completely mad.
'So you just listen to this statement and then tell me that you agree at the end.'
Now I've never read this particular script out before, so I look it up in the computer and I get a pop up with what I'm supposed to read. A note, in heavy bold type, at the top tells me that it needs to be read out VERBATIM.
Which, from a quick scan of the document, is going to be problematic. I mean, it's three lengthy paragraphs for a start. And even from skim reading I can tell it's couched in inpenetrable gibberish speak, so the old duck I have on the phone is not going to have the faintest about what I'm saying anyway. But still, I don't make the rules.
Please be advised that the following statement is a convenor of, and forms part of, a binding oral agreement, to the effect of which you are indicating your wish to apply for a concessional rate of electricity supply, this and all subsequent concessions to be applied to your account from the State Government of Victoria, but applicated via standing business agreements with individual electricity suppliers under Section 13 of the Human Service Act of the Commonwealth of Victoria 1981.
I pause for breath.
The old duck goes, 'Hmph' again.
Further, by indicating that you wish to enter into the aforementioned agreement for concessional electricity supply, you also accept that your electricity retailer or the State Government or the Federal Government or any other affiliated agency may use your concession card information, or any other information that may be relevant to matters at this time or any other future times, access to this information overseen by the relevant department secretaries or the corporate governance officers of your electricity retailer or any other third parties who may have access to the aformentioned information, third party access as outlined by the Federal Privacy Act 1992.
'Well I don't really unders-'
'No, no! I'm not finished yet. But we're nearly there.'
Further, by making this application for concessional electricity supply you agree that you are also making a declaration that neither you, nor any other persons at your residence, whether related to you or not, nor any other people related to you, whether sharing your residence or not, nor any other person known to you in any capacity, whether related to you, or not related to you, or residing with you, or not, or living here or elsewhere or living at all, or dead, or existent, or not existent, or wearing a hat, or bare headed, or owning a cat, or any sort of pet, or not, or time travelling to the past, or using portals to access other realms, or not, or following the football because they love it, or just taking an interest to pass the time, or eating cake at breakfast, or walking down the street, or reading magazines, or not, or doing none of any of these things, or all of them, or any combination therein, that none of these people, to the best of your knowledge, will try and access your concessional electricity supply on your behalf or without your knowledge or in any way do anything that may be constituted as the doing of things, under penalties as stipulated in the Commonwealth Doing Act, 1989.
We pause here.
'So.... do you accept?'
'What?' And it comes out like a harsh squawk.
'The, er, terms I just read to you. Do you accept?'
'Do I accept... what? That... thing you just read out?'
'If I don't accept it then I don't get my concession, is that it?'
'Well then I accept. But I don't understand any of it.'
'Well look, I don't want to be one of those people that says, 'It doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes,' but... it doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes. I mean, I didn't understand it. I have no idea what I just read to you!'
'I see.' And this said with the same connotation as previously.
'But I do know that if you accept then you'll have fifty dollars off your next bill.'
'All right then. I accept.'
Some of my new colleagues have told me that they have this concession script memorised, so they don't have to look it up anymore. I hope I never get to that point.