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Home Government Tech Policy Census 2016: recommendation on voluntary name submission rejected

Census 2016: recommendation on voluntary name submission rejected

The Turnbull government has finally responded to the recommendations of the Senate Economics Reference Committee which looked into the 2016 census debacle, saying that it would not accept making the submission of names voluntary through a legislative amendment.

The panel submitted its recommendations on 24 November 2016.

The recommendation about names came from Senators Nick Xenophon and Stirling Griff and urged an amendment to the Census and Statistics Act of 1975 to make it clear that provision of a person's name was voluntary.

The government refused to accept this recommendation, saying that mandatory provision of names was necessary for a high-quality census and was in keeping with the practice in other countries.

It said that if provision of names was made voluntary, then the ability of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to produce accurate estimates would be impeded. The range and quality of social statistics created from the census would be affected as well.

Another recommendation from the two senators, that parliamentary approval be sought before linking any census or other administrative datasets to the adoption and implementation of a Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset, was also rejected by the government.

In this case, the argument was that existing legislation provided extremely strong protection around the use of data from the census.

A recommendation from Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale, that a new privacy impact assessment, on census changes, be done within the next six months and its outcome be allowed to determine the acceptability of changes made to the management of census data after the 2016 census, was also knocked back.

Justifying its decision, the government said the ABS had already been subject to a large degree of external scrutiny about the management of personal information from the 2016 census. It had already modified its initial proposal, policies and practices to accommodate community concerns and suggestions from external reviews.

All other recommendations were either agreed to or noted by the government.

The census was supposed to be held on 9 August, with two-thirds of the returns to be done online. But the website was taken offline at 7.30pm, with a distributed denial of service blamed for the action.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.