It's not too much too ask the Minister to do his job - Press Conference

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

PRESS CONFERENCE

SYDNEY

MONDAY, 8 AUGUST 2016

SUBJECT/S: 2016 census.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks very much everyone for coming along today. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. We've today heard from Michael McCormack, the Minister responsible for the Census, who one day before the Australian Census has told Australians that their concerns are “much ado about nothing”. 

Frankly, the process we're facing has been a comedy of errors from the start. The Government decided some months ago that it would extend the period in which names and addresses were retained in the Census from 18 months to 4 years. A policy decision which, under the doctrine of ministerial accountability, should have been explained by the responsible ministers. 

But the responsible ministers have been nowhere to be seen. When it was Kelly O'Dwyer, Alex Hawke, and now Michael McCormack, we've barely heard a peep from the Government as to why they've made this policy change that sees names and addresses held for more than double the length of time than they had been in previous Censuses.  

As recently as just a couple of weeks ago, Labor was calling on the responsible minister to stand up. Finally, we had Michael McCormack come and face the cameras. But Michael McCormack has continued to dismiss genuine community concerns. He has created the problem by failing to explain why names and addresses need to be retained for longer and now when Australians raise reasonable concerns; he has said that those concerns are simply something to be dismissed. The fact is that if this Government can't run a Census you have to ask how they can run the country.

Labor urges all Australians to fill in the Census accurately and not to spoil the Census papers. To spoil the Census is to deny your local community resources to which they are entitled. 

But it is also important that Turnbull Government ministers do their job and explain policy changes to the Australian people. Because the Australian Bureau of Statistics is too busy running a Census to do the job of an incompetent or absent Turnbull Government Ministers. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Where does Labor stand on the information retention changes?

LEIGH: We don't have at our fingertips the information the Government has before them. There may well be good reasons why it's in the national interest to have names and addresses to be retained for longer. But the Government has made that policy change and it's up to them to explain the policy change. And it's just not good enough to have Michael McCormack standing up and saying the explanation has to come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Policy changes must be explained by ministers. And if ministers can't do their day job, then they should get somebody else to do it – someone who's able to do that job.

The fact is this Government has made a significant change in the retention of names and addresses. A change which they must have known months ago would generate community concern. But they've failed to allay those concerns and indeed their lacklustre performance has fanned the flames of community outrage towards these census changes.

JOURNALIST: In view of that, should the Census go ahead at all?

LEIGH: The Census should go ahead and Turnbull Government ministers should do their job. It's not too much to ask. Frankly, when I go back through the record, I can see no evidence that either Kelly O'Dwyer or Alex Hawke in the months for which they had responsibility for the census actually uttered a peep about these changes. When Michael McCormack took the job, it took him a full week to get a briefing on the census. This is the largest census ever to occur in Australian history, and yet Michael McCormack waited a week to get a briefing? And then after he was briefed, he tried to get the Statistician to do his own job? It's just not good enough.

JOURNALIST: Does Labor support Senator Xenophon's call for the government to release the advice that it received before making the policy change?

LEIGH: I'd certainly like to see the government being upfront with the Australian people, and making the case for their policy change. It's a policy change, not an administrative process change, and it’s a responsibility of Turnbull Government ministers to do what they're paid to do. To argue for why policy changes need to be made. 

Frankly, I think the way in which this government works is that they're happy to be there taking credit for the hard work of public servants. For example when the public service puts hard work into a trade deal, then a Turnbull Government minister will be there smiling at the signing ceremony. But when it comes to doing the hard work of a Minister - explaining a difficult or a complex policy change - they go screaming to the hills. It's not good enough. This Minister needs to maintain accountability to the Australian people.

Explain the policy change and don't get in the business of dismissing Australians' very real concerns.

No other questions? Thanks everyone.

 ENDS


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