The Buck Stops With the Minister - Radio Interview





SUBJECT/S: 2016 Census

LEON BYNER: Let’s talk the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh. Andrew, what’s your take on all this?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Leon. My sense is that the frustration of Australians needs to be rightly directed at the Turnbull Government. They're engaging in a bit of point the finger exercise at the moment, trying to say "well it's the contractor" or "it's the Department". The fact is, Leon, as you well know there's a doctrine of ministerial accountability in Australia which says that the buck stops with the minister. And the attempts by Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and the rest to find someone else to blame miss the fact that a good government has proper oversight even of a complicated process like running a Census. 

BYNER: So, you're very pro-Census and I think most people are. But this does nothing to instil public faith, because if we're getting different versions about what's going on – where only one is correct, and we don't know which one it is – if they don't trust us, how can we trust them?

LEIGH: You're absolutely right, Leon. Censuses have been run since 500BC and they're an important way of making sure that Governments have information at their fingertips. When state governments are deciding, for example, where to put a new train line or a bus line, they'll often look at Census data. When our schools are deciding how to allocate resources across schools, we're often using Census data for that. Past Censuses have had a response rate in the order of 96 per cent and right now my understanding is that only about a tenth of Australians have filled in this Census. A low response rate then flows through to bad public policy in all kinds of areas because we just don't have the data.

BYNER: What's the remedy to this?

LEIGH: Well for all of your listeners, I think you're absolutely right to say when the site comes back online, go in there and fill out the Census. But at a systemic level, we need an independent, transparent, arms-length enquiry that goes through the bungles that took place. They go back to the fact that there have been three ministers for the Census over the last year. There have been resources taken out of the Bureau of Statistics. The position of Chief Statistician was left unfilled for nearly a year. And the Government waved away concerns about the Census as "much ado about nothing". They were dismissing these very real concerns that Australians had before the Census, and they kept on claiming that nothing was going wrong. Even on Census night, Leon, they were telling people to go to the website and fill out their Census after they'd taken the website offline. That's how inept this Government is. 

BYNER: So where to from here?

LEIGH: Well Labor is going to be asking the questions about what went wrong, making sure that we get the Minister owning up. What we don't want is some attempt to find a scapegoat. Malcolm Turnbull is always happy to take credit for the hard work of public servants, preparing his innovation statements, going out and working on his trade deal, working on his budget. So when anything goes wrong he can't go blaming that on others. He needs to man up and take responsibility for what happened in the Census. 

BYNER: Andrew, thanks for joining us.


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