Senate votes against asking Govt to abandon Census fines


news The Senate has voted against a motion asking the Federal Government to abandon fines for Australians who failed to complete their Census forms following a failure of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website on 9 August and concerns over the security of retained personal data.

The motion, moved by Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, called on the government to direct the ABS to declare that “no Australians will be fined for failing to complete the Census”.

According to the Australian Greens, the Labor party, which voted with the Coalition on the issue, “let the government off the hook for the spectacular failure of the National Census”.

“The Greens and most of the crossbench agreed that the governments incompetence and inability to properly conduct the census is not an acceptable reason to expose ordinary Australians to fines of $180 per day,” Senator Ludlam said.

The ABS said that the site was shut down on Census night as a “precaution” following a combination of heavy site traffic, a hardware failure, and a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

The failure meant that millions of citizens were unable to complete their forms that day, although they did until 23 September to so so.

A further issue in the run up to the Census was that of the security of Australians’ personal data, which is now being kept for up to four years by the ABS.

Highlighting the issue before Census night, Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia, said he would fight for the right to privacy by refusing to provide his name in the 2016 census, despite the risk of prosecution the move will bring.

Regarding the Senate vote, Senator Ludlam  said: “Thousands of people attempted to complete the census on census night and during the days that followed, and were unable to.”

He added that many people, who already had concerns about the changes to the census that were “snuck through by the government and the ABS”, had “lost confidence” in the process.

“We’ve received numerous reports of aggressive census collectors, and collectors giving residents incorrect information,” the Senator said. “Even worse, many people that have already completed the census have been harassed by census collectors.”

According to Senator Ludlam, almost 1 in 5 households have not yet completed the census.

“[N]othing the government has done has given those people any confidence that their information will be managed appropriately,” he said.

“That the Labor party are siding with this incompetent government, and not with the people facing fines due to that incompetence, is disappointing, though unfortunately not surprising,” Senator Ludlam concluded.

Image credit: Parliamentary broadcasting