Senate push against Census fines defeated

Coalition and Labor oppose push to stop ABS from fining people for not participating in Census

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam

The Coalition and Labor have used their numbers in the Senate to defeat a motion seeking to prevent people from being fined for not participating in this year’s Census.

The motion, moved by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and supported by Senator Jacqui Lambie and Senator Nick Xenophon, called on the government to direct the Australian Bureau of Statistics “to issue a statement declaring that no Australians will be fined for failing to complete the Census”.

The motion cited the inability of people to access the ABS’s Census website for extended periods adding that “subsequent attempts to address the technical failures further added to confusion and impacted public confidence in the Census process”.

Assistant minister to the prime minister, Senator James McGrath, told the Senate that the Australian Statistician, David Kalisch, and other ABS employees “have repeatedly stated that no Australians will be fined if they are willing to participate in the Census, which the government encourages all Australians to do”.

On Census night the ABS pulled the website offline after what it claimed was a series of minor denial of service attacks followed by a hardware failure that led to a misidentification of a largescale denial of service attempt.

The ABS and contractor IBM have faced extensive criticism in the wake of the debacle. The government has commissioned a review of the 2016 Census. The Senate has also established its own inquiry into the Census.

In addition to the technical failures of the Census, today’s motion cited privacy concerns as a reason why people may not have participated. In the lead-up to Census night, the ABS’s decision to retain names and addresses for four years and potentially cross-match them against other data sets was attacked by privacy advocates.

“The Greens and most of the crossbench agreed that the government’s incompetence and inability to properly conduct the census is not an acceptable reason to expose ordinary Australians to fines of $180 per day,” Ludlam said in a statement issued after the motion was defeated.

“Thousands of people attempted to complete the census on census night and during the days that followed, and were unable to. Many people, already concerned about the changes to the census that were snuck through by the government and the ABS, lost any confidence they had left in the process.”

Ludlam said that almost a fifth of households have not completed the Census.

“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,” the Greens senator said.

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