If the Government can't run a Census, how can they govern a country? - ABC NewsRadio





SUBJECT/S: 2016 Census.

MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh joins me now.


BENSON: Your own response, are you surprised at this revelation?

LEIGH: Yes I am, but it is an inevitable result of the way in which the Government has so mismanaged the Census. The position of chief statistician, left vacant for more than a year, budget cuts and job losses at the Bureau of Statistics and a culture from the very top of this Government that suggests that public servants should embrace "fear of failure" as Malcolm Turnbull once put it. It works for a start-up, doesn't really work for a Government.

BENSON: Can I ask you this, is it just more the nature of the beast rather than any question of management that there is in this virtual world no guarantees that somebody can get in?

LEIGH: The denial of service attack is in some sense a cost of doing business at any large scale, Marius. As soon as you connect your computer up to the internet it's a matter of minutes before people are knocking on the front door trying to load malware on. So when the Government made the decision to be online by default, they should have thought these issues through.

Ultimately we have in Australia, a doctrine of ministerial accountability which says you don't blame the bureaucrats when things go wrong, the Minister stands up and soberly and carefully explain to the Australian people why they were unable to run a Census which is just a fundamental part of running a Government.

BENSON: We're waiting to hear from the Minister, we're promised he will be speaking a little later this morning. What about the general point about privacy that David Kalisch was making there, he says the data is secure, are you reassured by that declaration?

LEIGH: Well I've got confidence in the Australian Bureau of Statistics and their management of data privacy. But I don't think that the Government has explained their changes very well. One of the reasons why you had people calling on the Census to be boycotted or spoiled was that the Government had failed to do the work of explaining why they had decided to retain names and addresses for more than twice as long in their Census.

They're leaving it again to the public servants. It's that attitude that Ministers can claim responsibility when things go right but blame it on the bureaucrats when things go wrong. That's got to stop. The Ministers have to take responsibility for this. It's Michael McCormack as the responsible Minister and he reports to Scott Morrison. We haven't heard a peep from either of them this morning.

BENSON: This must the messiest of I think 17 Censuses conducted in Australia. In your view, should the process go ahead or is it time to abandon it and start again?

LEIGH: We'll have to have a thorough investigation into that, Marius. It's clear that the quality of the data that comes out of this Census won't be as good as it would have been if everyone had been able to fill out the form on Census night. In the normal Census, yes there are people that fill it out after Census night but the majority of Australians do it on the night. That hasn't happened and you've got to ask yourself, if the Government can't run a Census how can they govern the country?

BENSON: But on the Census itself, you don't have a definite view on whether this one should be abandoned or continue? 

LEIGH: I don't. I think we need a sober and careful investigation into what went wrong and into the quality of the data that's already been provided and the extent to which Australians have had their time wasted as a result of failures of this Government. I would encourage all Australians that as soon as that website is up to get on there and fill out the Census form because the Census is too important to be spoiled by the actions of the Turnbull Government. We do need high quality Census data for things like how we allocate resources across schools in Australia.

BENSON: What is your understanding of what might be behind these international attacks and whether it's an individual, whether it's a state, whether it's simply trying to much things up, whether they're just trying to get information, from what you know do you think you have an understanding?

LEIGH: I've only heard what I've heard on NewsRadio - which is authoritative as always - but I haven't had detailed briefings beyond that. I'll obviously be seeking those and seeking to find out whether this is something unexpected or whether this is the kind of thing that could always have been anticipated given that everyone in the world knew the Australian Census was occurring online-first on the 9th of August. 

BENSON: Andrew Leigh, many thanks.

LEIGH: Thank you, Marius.



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