7. Audit nightmare
The government’s role in the new system of obtaining a driver’s licence was the auditing of driving instructors that were now examiners and in handing out licences. Most of them went along, despite the protests by a few, for fear of being left behind in business.
Instructors had to provide the details of a last session with a client to be fed into a government database, name of client, permit number, date of test, time of test, starting point of test. If any data input did not match the figures fed after the test, it would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare. Overnight instructors had become quasi government employees, caught up in a dreadful administrative process that had little to do with producing safer drivers.
Most instructors had problems with the strict auditing system: An officer would ride in the back of the car and observe as the instructor conducts the last training session. It was to safeguard the system. Yet, since an instructor could apply any standard he likes when he is not being monitored, which in reality was happening, it is little wonder road safety suffered considerably.
Less than ten percent of final sessions were audited; not fair on that small group, who would be extra nervous with two people in the car during a test. Like most instructors I felt very nervous when being audited, so did the students, who in turn didn’t usually drive to the standard they did the week before. I felt humiliated that my professional ability was questioned every few months or more. What’s more I was being rated on someone else’s performance.
On 31/7/97 I failed another audit, one in a series. I was summonsed to the Driver Development Centre, the government body in charge of auditing. This was standard procedure and a very humiliating experience. At first I refused to attend. I was close to giving up log-book teaching altogether. The MCA called me in for a meeting on Aug 19th, 97. What I thought to be a counselling session to help me cope, was used to force me to attend the government interview, otherwise I would face serious consequences. Reluctantly I agreed to attend.
A lady officer met me in our Western Branch office. She spent an hour with me during which she introduced me to a score sheet. Since examining instructor and auditor were both giving a learner scores, the success of an audit depended on getting the score, expressed in percentages, as close as possible.
The female government officer’s score sheet was to make it easier for me to come up with a percentage. She explained that two methods could be applied to a learners performance to arrive at a percentage. Either one would be acceptable: Let me try and explain:
It was suggested to score like this: Work on a percentage for each section. (9 out of 10 = 90 %, 4 out of 4 = 100 %, 30 out of 40 = 75 %. Now add 90+100+75=265 and divide this figure by three. It works out as 88.3 % pass rate..
The other method was to work out a percentage of total right/wrong performance tasks. In above example it would calculate as: 9+4+30=43 correct out of 54, results in only 78 % pass rate (failed test).
Most instructors I have asked say that both methods of scoring can be used. “A percentage is a percentage, just add the three percentages and divide by three”, they argued. My supervisor when I queried it with him also got the figures incorrect. Method A is the correct one, but takes a fair bit of mathematical skill.
Method B, the easy way to score, is only possible, if all three sections had an equal number of performance checks. What’s more, on scoring method A the student would fail, while using method B he/she would pass and the instructor would issue a license based on these figures. If an auditor scores method A and the instructor uses method B the outcomes would be so different. The instructor would fail the audit, because the results of auditor and examining instructor had to match plus/minus 5 percent.
When I pointed the mistake out to the Driver Development Centre (DDC) on Oct. 20th, 1997 and on the 22nd Oct., it took two phone calls and about 45 minutes of convincing, that I was correct in my figures. The officer involved stated to me plainly afterwards: “You are the only driving instructor who picked that up in 12 months” (since the form was introduced).
I knew that I was onto something here. A real government stuff-up. In the back of my mind a plan started for formulate. Perhaps I could use the admission by the officer responsible as a bargaining chip in my struggle against the system? Or even better, I could ask for assistance in another matter and promise not to whistle-blow about the stuff up. Over a period of many months I had written the road safety book “Safe driving – a no-crash course”
The book was a big sacrifice in terms of time spent on the computer. Every spare hour I wrote chapter by chapter. The visual aid I had invented served well as illustrating tool for car crash scenarios. I simply set up the cars and had a professional photographer take photos to be included in my book. My boss at the MCA seemed genuinely surprised at the effort. They kept wondering how I could afford the cost to have 50 copies professionally printed. (The money, about A $ 4000 was donated by an old family friend). I distributed the 50 copies to all the motoring bodies around Australia, insurance companies, even a large Oil Company. I was hoping that the book could be sold in Petrol Stations.
For whatever reason, all doors seemed to stay shut. Perhaps my presentations were not professional enough? My supervisor advised me that I was not allowed to print a picture of the MCA driving school vehicle in my book. It could mean that the association endorses the book and this was not possible. I had to promise to remove the photo. In my opinion it would have been free advertising for the MCA. Such opposition to my efforts fuelled my suspicion that perhaps there was already a conspiracy under way.
I also wrote to 15 Book Publishers around Australia. But there was very little response; fourteen rejections and one company which advised they may publish it in three years from that time.
As the theory of a conspiracy against me formulated deeper in my mind, I was determined not to give up. There was no book on the market that was like mine. Like all creative minds I believed in my product and became passionate about saving lives that way.
In my desperation one day I thought I’d make a deal with the government. I had phoned a female officer working for the Minister of Transport. She said to drop a copy of the book into the office sometime. Without appointment, a fair few weeks later, I took the lift to her office and walked into the Minister’s office’s reception area. A female staff member (late 50’s) sat down with me and listened politely to my passionate plea for a road safety book for learner drivers. Looking back, I believe this was the time when I started to go high, which lead to my mental breakdown that was to follow over the next few months.
Had I just left it at presenting my story, events would not have taken the dramatic turn they did. In my ignorance I told this staff member about the mathematical error I discovered on the CBT score sheet. I was hoping to score some praise by this action. E.g. ‘thanks for pointing out this error. I am sure the Minister will advice staff to address the issue immediately'.
The opposite happened. My action of pointing out the error and trying to make a deal must have been viewed as “asking for a bribe to keep quiet”, in plain language – blackmail. I labelled it white mail. Had I made a threat of some kind, it would have been blackmail. All I did was offering my book to the government to improve road safety. I did not ask for anything, perhaps a little recognition for all the work I had done.
At this crucial point in the conversation the tone of the interview changed dramatically. The lady staff member took the book and walked away without ending the conversation properly. I knew I had trodden on someone’s toe. I had hoped to leave the MCA out of the picture, trying to hide my uniform by wearing a shirt on top of the work shirt. But I knew the officer recognized me as a staff member from the MCA. Bewildered I caught the lift down to attend to my next driving lesson.
From that time onwards my mind kept saying that I was under surveillance. The enemy's aim was that the mistake the government made must not come to light at any cost. I’d had heard on a 15 second snippet on the 6 pm news how the government justified keeping a register of people who are possible enemies of the state. In my increasingly troubled mind, I was sure from then on I was placed into this register of potential enemies of the state. The likely reason – attempted blackmail of a government Minister. My mind entered a phase of rationale versus imagination. The torment would last for about 5 years.