news While acknowledging that the Census “does a lot more good than harm”, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said that the government has “bungled” 2016’s official survey of the Australian population.
The Labor leader’s interview comments come as some politicians, such as independent senators Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie, said they would refuse to enter their name or address on the Census form in protest at privacy issues.
The senators and anyone else not entering these details – data which the Australian Bureau of Statistics will keep for four years – risk fines of $180 per day of non-compliance.
Shorten said he would be putting his name on the Census, and that it is “a very important bit of research”, allowing Australia to “understand what’s happening and to be able to perform more efficiently and effectively”.
However, he added:
“I am frustrated that this Government has bungled the Census so much that we now see these debates in the days before the Census about how long they should be keeping the data for. I respect people’s privacy concerns, but people should remember that in 2011 some of this data was kept for a period of up to 18 months.”
Raising the “tens of millions of dollars” already been spent on rolling out the Census, the politician called on Australians to “not to make that effort a waste”, and to fill in their Census forms.
“[I]t’s the best way of Australia being able to map the most effective use of our resources and it’s a snapshot, it’s a mirror of the nation in 2016,” he said. “Let’s try and make it work even if the Government has done a terrible job in explaining it.”
Once the Census is completed, though, Shorten said the government should “sit down” with the Parliament and discuss the issues, such as how long Census data should be kept for, and for what is the purpose is it being kept?
“I think we need to have a good, long look at the whole process to make sure we’re not asking for information we don’t need and to again reassure ourselves that what information that is stored is stored securely,” he added.
Looking at the government’s handling of the national survey, he said the three different Liberal ministers that have been responsible for the Census – Alex Hawke, Kelly O’Dwyer and Michael McCormack – had not “done a good job” explaining the Census.
“We had none of these problems in 2011,” Shorten said. “I think the Liberal Government’s been asleep at the wheel. At the last minute people are raising problems. I wouldn’t just dismiss these concerns about privacy out of hand but I think on balance, the Census does a lot more good than harm.”
Addressing those politicians who had decided late in the process to return incomplete Census forms, Shorten suggested that perhaps a little “grandstanding” was going on, since some of the information about the Census had been in the public domain for “weeks and months”.
“At the end of the day though there are legitimate debates about making sure this information is securely stored,” he said.
According to the ABC, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said says his agency is “generally satisfied about the ability of the Bureau of Statistics to securely collect, retain and protect Census data”.
However, he recognised the “legitimate” privacy concerns held by some Australians, and said any government or private organisation collecting personal information “must explain the case clearly for why the data is needed and how it will be used”.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting