FIVEAA MORNINGS WITH LEON BYNER
MONDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: 2016 Census
LEON BYNER: We've got a bloke who's got his finger on the pulse on all this. He's the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh. Andrew, what do you make of where we're at now with all this?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Leon. Good morning to your listeners. I think – a couple of weeks on from Census night – it's still a bit of a shemozzle. Of the 17 Censuses that have been carried out in Australia since Federation, this is clearly the worst. The Turnbull Government should be able to get the basic things right, and running a Census is just one of the basic aspects of government. We've been doing them for about 2,500 years and you'd think they could manage to organise things so they were of minimal hassle to Australians. That the website worked, that the response rate was good, that people were engaged in the process – and none of that has happened in this Census.
BYNER: So, what ought people do if they still haven't got a form, or they've been told that their information doesn't gel with the system? By that I mean I'm getting a lot of people telling us that they've done it and they've got a receipt – they show the receipt – "Oh", and then they're told, "We have no record of this." So where's the information?
LEIGH: I think push back on the ABS if you've already done the Census. If you've got a receipt then that information should be in their computer system and you shouldn't have to do it again. But if you need a paper form, just call up the ABS and they should be able to get one out to you. The fact is that many people are now doing the paper forms, despite the fact that this was to be the first online Census.
Leon, the proof that this doesn't have to go wrong is from Canada, which has just run a Census with its highest ever response rate. They encouraged people to log on to the website first but their government – the Trudeau Government – actually managed to get it right. The way the Turnbull Government didn't. It's not a just a bureaucratic issue, it's very much a question of ministerial accountability, of ministers having good oversight of the system and thinking carefully through the contingency plans, geo-blocking, all of those sorts of details beforehand.
BYNER: Now look, there are two very conflicting issues here, which no doubt the Senate Inquiry will find out or tease out, and that is that we were told by the ABS there was a denial-of-service or an "attack". But the cyber people – and I've spoken to many – say there's no record of this. We watch – you can actually see – if these things are occurring and what was claimed by the ABS has not been proven.
LEIGH: I've seen those claims. I think most tech-experts would accept that the mapping of denial-of-service attacks isn't a complete account of what denial-of-service attacks went on. I don't have much doubt that there were attempts by people to compromise the Australian Census. But that ought to have been anticipated. The first denial-of-service attack happened more than 15 years ago, so they're a cost of doing business on the internet, effectively. What I don't want to see this Government do is again palm the problem off on public servants. They're more than happy to take credit for the good work of public servants such as in preparing their briefs for the G20 meetings in China. But when anything goes wrong, it's always the first instinct of the Turnbull Government to turn around and look for someone else to blame. Let's face it; ministers have resigned for a whole lot less than the debacles we've seen from Census night onwards.
BYNER: So when are we having the Senate inquiry and what do we think we're going to uncover?
LEIGH: Well the Terms of Reference are still yet to be nailed down but as soon as that's been done I'm hoping it will kick off immediately. It should go to questions around the preparations before the Census. As you recall there was a change to the period for which names are to be retained in this Census and that wasn't well explained to the Australian people. Their excuse is that the government was in caretaker mode, but that seems to miss the fact that caretaker mode is when you're meant to be taking care of the government. You're meant to be doing the work of government through an election campaign. If you can't do that then don't claim a ministerial salary. This claim afterwards from Michael McCormack that it's not his fault…this was a man who waited a week after getting the job in order to get his first briefing on the Census and has done only two press conferences since the Census website went down on Census night to try and explain the Government's position. It's just not good enough; Australians have wasted millions of hours on this 2016 Census, the worst bungled Census in Australian history.
BYNER: Can we make sure that nobody is fined, who did everything they tried to do to do it but couldn't?
LEIGH: Anyone who gets the Census in by the 23rd of September won't be fined. That's still a couple of weeks away. I've certainly been encouraging people to do the Census; I'm as frustrated as anyone about the way the Turnbull Government has bungled this, but it doesn't help matters if people decide to boycott the Census. This is a really important way in which we work out how best to direct resources to schools, where to build childcare centres, where to put a new bus route or a train route. If you don't fill out the Census, you deny your community the resources to which they're entitled.
BYNER: Andrew Leigh thank you.