Finding Information in Australia
One of the best ways to source information for life, business and even academic study, is to make sure that it is collected from a variety of reputable sources. Here is our exploration of some of the issues related to finding information in Australia. Once you have these skills, you can apply them to any situation in life.
1. Who are you talking to?
Whilst it may seem like a good idea to talk to other people in a similar situation, these people may not have the knowledge or expertise to provide you with quality factual information. Would you base an important decision on an opinion gathered in a brief discussion? Is it appropriate to discuss personal matters in a work situation during working hours? Has the person told you the full story? (people have a habit of leaving out an important aspect or reason as to why they made a decision).
Is the information given to you because this person can earn a fee from you or someone else by making the recommendation? Do they have a particular bias? (business, religion, culture, status, personal issue) Have they lived in the location for five or more years? Where have they obtained their information from? Can they prove what they say or is it based on their own personal experience? Have they mentioned reliable statistics or anecdotal evidence? Have they made a generalisation that may not apply in your case?
Many international locations have newcomer or expatriate groups or a newcomer publication (which needs regular updating) that you can instantly go to for information and advice.
Whilst some of the major cities in Australia have newcomer and expatriate groups, I have found that newcomers in Australia often want to ‘abandon’ ties to people from their previous location or they believe that these groups are the only ones that can give them access to good information.
Neither is the case. Australian society is a mix of many cultures. It is unusual to only mix with other people from the same background. You will find that you are expected to mix with other people in your community and our belief is that you need to have a combination – some of the old and some of the new. So do not discount your ‘past’ connections and don’t just rely on your ‘new’ connections.
Connecting via your passions and interests is the most effective way to making the most of your new life in Australia. But cultural, newcomer and expatriate groups can help you make the transition to that point.
Some Australian locations have newcomer publications, but they will always be limited to a certain extent. In most cases, they will provide a general overview and this can be very helpful. However, I would also encourage you to learn the skills you need to find information so that if what you are looking for is not included in your newcomers guide, you can source it yourself.
2. Consider the source of the information
In Australia, we have three levels of government, Australian, State and Local and in most cases, Australians would say that they provide reliable information. Personal information provided to government is required to be kept private and details provided on websites are usually checked before publication (although information in printed form can sometimes be out of date so this needs to be checked for important matters).
I personally find government information on websites to be very useful because it allows me to read it in my own time and at my own pace. You can use the website search tools and visit the frequently asked questions pages as these are usually easy to read. After I have done this, I usually list some questions if I cannot find the information I need and either send an email or make a telephone call during office hours. That way I can just find the specific detail I need rather than start right at the beginning with no prior knowledge.
Most of the information on these websites is available free of charge and sometimes in a variety of languages. You will often find quite useful do-it-yourself kits that can be downloaded and links that take you to further relevant information. There can be an overuse of acronyms (letters that replace words – knowing the basic ones can be helpful before you contact someone directly).
There are also government and non government people that can provide information when you ask for it. At the local level, you can ask for information from your local ward councillor, your local State Member of Parliament or your local Federal Member of Parliament (if you live or work in the area – you don’t need to own property to make use of this service).
You can also ask for information at council offices (collect a New Resident’s Kit or a Community Information Booklet while you are there), libraries, tourist information centres, community information centres, citizens advice bureaus, neighbourhood houses and police stations. Most Australians will happily answer questions and provide advice. For this reason, you may also like to ask the person who lives next door to you or who you see regularly when you are out and about shopping, visiting the park or enjoying a hobby.
Your work colleagues and management staff may be able to provide information, but I would recommend that you only request general information related to your work rather than personal information. It is also a good idea to have a good understanding of industry policies and standards that apply so that you can be sure that you are receiving your entitlements. This information can be sourced through membership of professional associations or industry groups, on government regulatory websites, through unions and non government organisations.
A great deal of consumer information is also available through the offices of an industry ombudsman, various media publications, consumer complaint websites and so on. The quickest way to find this information is to list the key words of the topic and type in the name of your state and Australia. The Australian Consumers’ Association is also a reputable source.
Online forums vary in quality. Before you ask a question, it is a good idea to read through previous posts in archived messages and look at who is providing the answers and determine their qualifications and experience. This may prevent you from asking a question that has already been answered, but it may also mean that you have an instant answer rather than needing to wait for someone to reply. Some forums attract or are set up by individuals who have a product or service to sell, so again, check before relying on the information you receive.
3. How much did you pay for the information?
In Australia, we are extremely fortunate to have access to so much information without needing to pay for it. This can be good and bad. It is particularly good if all that you require is some basic factual data about a product or service, but it can also be extremely confusing if there is a lot of information to digest before you can make a decision. If you have the time, resources and ability to source all of the information you need, then I would encourage you to utilise as much free information as possible.
However, if you have a more challenging decision to make or you need additional help to make an informed choice, it can be worth paying for assistance. I know that many newcomers, particularly those that have moved many times, have exceptional skills for finding information and making choices. But local knowledge, experience and contacts collected by people over many years can take you instantly to information, people or results that you need. It is only fair, in these situations, to expect to pay a fee for this service.
Many people will label this as just ‘networking’ but the person who provides you with the direct access you have received should, in my opinion, be rewarded for helping you. Professional advisors can help you avoid common mistakes and whilst in the first instance you will spend ‘cents/pennies’ you will save ‘dollars/pounds.’ Too often I see people saving ‘cents’ and wasting ‘dollars.’ Not to mention ‘reinventing the wheel,’ not having a plan or strategy, relying on unqualified advice (because it was free) etc.
4. Can you trust the information?
If you have decided to pay for professional assistance, how do you know if it is going to be good or not? Before you even arrive for a discussion, do an internet search on their name and see where else they have had their work promoted or published. Find out if they are a member of a professional association or industry group and confirm that they are. If they need to be registered with a government regulator, make sure that their registration is current.
Ask if you can speak to one or two of their past clients (hopefully these people will not be family members!). Look up the Yellow Pages of the telephone book (or online or True Local) and see if you can find them in it (their name or business name). Check that they have an Australian Business Number or an Australian Company Number on the Australian Business Register
Visit their website and review the content carefully – do you feel comfortable with the style and format of their presentation? Ask up front, in writing, how much it will cost to utilise their service and find out the payment terms. Contact some other businesses in a similar geographic location and find out if their services and terms are similar (if you feel comfortable, anonymously ask them what they have heard about the services of the individual or organisation – this often tells you more about the organisation you are contacting than the organisation you are seeking information from). Ask if there is some form of guarantee (like your money back) or if they have professional indemnity insurance (particularly if large sums of money are involved).
Find out if they have some form of business or international standard accreditation. Ask to see an original copy of their qualifications. With so many enterprises failing within the first five years, some people prefer to seek professional advice from well established enterprises. Of course this is no guarantee either. If there are important arrangements and details being exchanged, make sure you have and provide them in writing. When looking for a referral, I often look at my circle of friends and pick the people I trust the most and ask them for a recommendation either related to their experience or general knowledge.
Consider the background of the person providing the information. Particularly with financial matters, commissions for selling particular products or listing properties for sale can be higher than maintaining service or obtaining a good sale price on your behalf. Knowing ‘how’ the person is paid to provide you with help can affect the reliability of the information and service. If you have already paid fees and then request more assistance, will you be charged again (sometimes it is better to delay full payment until all goods or services have been provided although it is reasonable to expect to pay a deposit).
Is the service general or specific? Paying to be a member and then searching via the members only area of a website may be of little benefit if the website does not have a lot of content. See if you can obtain a ‘trial’ option or the ‘first half hour free’. If you are paying for time, do some research before you arrive so that you can just pay to have your written questions answered rather than for a time consuming briefing. You may like to provide summarised details of your initial findings and ask if they are a ‘fair analysis’ of the information available. You can also request details of other information sources if you would like to ‘partner’ with the professional to obtain your information.
Written publications, like newcomer guides, immigration publications, travel books and restricted access websites can vary in quality. Look for second or later editions. Check again for their listings and details via internet search (where they are listed elsewhere). Relevant publications can be ‘purchased for the long plane trip’ as this is a great time to re-read and acquaint yourself with your new location.
Collecting tourist information can be very helpful as it will often give you a sense of direction once you know where particular geographical or physical icons are located. It is also handy to have when people come to visit and some locations offer ‘Ambassador Passports’ so that as a local resident, you may be able to attend free if you are bringing someone with you who is not currently living in the local area (you may have already visited the tourist spot).
5. What do I do now?
I hope that this article has changed the way you think about collecting information for decision making. It is true, there are many sources of information in Australia and a significant variation in the quality of information that you can collect, both free of charge and for a fee. It can be affected by the provider’s perspective, experience, qualifications and payment.
Do not hesitate to ask for assistance to find information and always start at the local level. To ensure that your information is reliable, make sure that it comes from a variety of reputable sources. See if you can find information from government, non government and business/professional sources.
Be patient. It can sometimes be very time consuming to find what you need to know. Obviously you do not need to use all of these suggestions for every piece of information you need or decision you make, but hopefully this article has provided you with some common sense ideas. We use them on a daily basis.
6. Our top three tips…
1. For important information, collect factual details from three reliable sources, but be patient as this may take some time.
2. To find information by internet search, use key words and then the name of the State you live in and Australia.
3. Do initial research yourself, but consider paying for professional advice (that you have confirmed will be good quality) to save yourself from making common mistakes, reinventing the wheel or wasting time.
7. Helpful links
Business Entry Point – includes details on jargon in Australia and lots of information, you can also check Australian Business Number records
Links on this Finding Information page
Australian Business Register
Australian Consumers Association
Australian Government Information and Services
Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner