Snapshot of a national census - the Senate's Report on the 2016 Census

The Senate Economics Reference Committee has released its report on the 2016 Census, available for download here. The Science Party made a submission to this inquiry in September last year (see it and the rest of our Census 2016 blog posts here).

In the Senate report, the Science Party was noted as having "expressed concern that the unavailability of both the eCensus and CIS [Census Inquiry Services; i.e. phone and email support] may adversely affect the response rate to the census." (p74)

It shouldn't need to be said that when the recommended mode of completing the Census is broken and the helpline is also broken, some people are going to have difficulty completing the Census, but here we are.

The Science Party and Digital Rights Watch were both noted as calling for the ABS to not pursue fines for failure to complete the 2016 Census (p84). While this suggestion was not taken on, Recommendation 13 from the report is that "the maximum value of fines and any other penalties relating to the census be explicitly stated."

Other recommendations from the Senate Committee include more transparent and robust prosecesses surrounding privacy, transparency and reliability of the census, as well as committing funding to the 2021 census in the 2017-2018 budget.

The report recognises the Australian census as a trusted and useful institution that should be supported. This succinct statement by Dr Roger Clarke of the Australian Privacy Foundation, from the committee's public hearing, is cited in the report:

"[The] quality of data that is collected depends on trust so if the trust plummets, the quality plummets. Whether it plummets from a not very good level downwards or from a really good level downwards obviously depends on history but it plummets." (p79)

Hopefully this will be the wake-up call that prompts the ABS to fix up their processes and restore public trust in the snapshot of the nation.


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