news The Australian Greens have called for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to “rule out” fines for people that do not wish to provide their name and address when completing their census forms.
In a statement on their website, the party said that Federal Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack should direct the ABS to abandon the fines in order to maintain “trust” in the census.
Currently, individuals failing to provide name and address details on their census return can be fined $180 for every day of non-compliance.
“The ABS response to privacy concerns has been wholly inadequate, and if they refuse to push census day back, they need to guarantee they will not fine people who choose to protect their own privacy,” said Australian Greens Co-Deputy Leader and Communications Spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam.
“The ABS has stated that there’s been no significant change, that they’re merely extending the [data] retention period from 18 months to 4 years. What they’ve failed to realise is that public trust in government to keep personal information private is at an all-time low,” he said.
Since the last census, Australia has seen a “dramatic increase” in citizen surveillance, the senator said, adding: “We’ve seen states and territories ramp up attacks on speech, assembly and protest. We’ve just concluded a double dissolution federal election campaign that was called in response to a government attack on workplace rights.”
He said that similar proposals to change the census in 2006 and 2011 had been subject to “real independent scrutiny” and had been abandoned.
“Last year the ABS completed a farcical secretive internal process and gave themselves the all-clear,” Ludlam said. “It’s a process that wouldn’t pass a university ethics test for a survey.”
Retention of name and address information should never proceed without the “informed consent of the survey subjects”, he added.
“This atrocious contempt for due diligence, and the recent actions of the government more broadly, have led to unprecedented levels of distrust in the census. The ABS is risking a huge outbreak of non-compliance, compromising the value of census data,” said Ludlam.
He concluded by saying that the ABS must rule out fines for those keeping their name and address off their census form. This would give Australians “confidence” to complete the census this year, pending a “more substantial review of their processes and proposals”.
The Greens’ statement comes as Independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon announces a protest over the census’s privacy “risks”, which will see him refuse to enter his name on his census return and risk prosecution.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting