Tony Abbott Wants To Cancel The 2016 Census

Australia's next census in 2016 was supposed to be the first to be conducted entirely electronically. Now there are rumblings that the Abbott Federal government wants to cancel it altogether. Who needs all that inconvenient data getting in the way of your decisions?

Picture: Getty Images/Stefan Postles

The SMH reports that the government is considering ditching the 2016 census, even though planning has been taking place since the last one in 2011 and millions have been spent preparing for an all-online approach. That would cost more to set up initially, but be cheaper in the long run because fewer survey collectors would be needed. Where have we seen this government cut something for short-term savings rather than looking at long-term costs? Oh yes, the NBN.

There's a telling anecdote in the SMH story which shows the usual unwillingness to directly answer questions:

Asked directly whether the 2016 census would go ahead as planned on August 9, a spokeswoman for the parliamentary secretary to the treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer read from a prepared statement. It said: "The government and the Bureau of Statistics are consulting with a wide range of stakeholders about the best methods to deliver high quality, accurate and timely information on the social and economic condition of Australian households." Asked whether that was an answer to the question: "Will the census go ahead next year?" the spokeswoman replied that it was.

Funding for the ABS was drastically slashed in last year's budget.

We live in a country with a government that doesn't want to pay for detailed national statistics but is happy to spend $400 million a year on a highly dubious and rushed-through metadata retention scheme with no evidential backing. Welcome to Australia in 2015. [SMH]

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    If they cancel will we know how many living Jedi are among us?

      A true Jedi will feel another Jedis presence, required not is census for Jedi.

        ... the force is strong with this one.

          ...and nobody sensed a disturbance in the force when Tony Abbott appeared...

            many a jedi did. but many others turned to the dark side

            Last edited 21/02/15 1:45 pm

    The Government already knows we are crashing why do you need to know the exact number of people it will be affecting? I'm sure they cancelled the last census before the fall of the Roman Empire...
    When the boat is sinking with no sign of rescue why do a head count?

    Last edited 19/02/15 8:14 am

      Because it's not sinking. Also, how can you govern a country if you don't even know what they're basic make up is?

        I think the whole point of this government is that they really don't care about who they are governing for. They govern for the rich and the large corporations that fund their election campaigns. Those people don't need social services. Darn poor people, why won't they just shut up and stop asking for things. No one governs anymore because the political system in most modern democracies is completely broken. No one governs for the long term because hard decisions are never popular with one part of the constituency or another. So they have 3 to 2 year plans with wow factor to make certain they are reelected. An election is won and the first thing on the agenda is how to win the next one.

        Long term means knowing when to run a deficit (when things are bad and the economy needs a kick in the behind to keep it moving along) and when to save the increased tax revenue that comes with a period of prosperity ( like the last 20 years or so of the mining boom). It means knowing that projects like the manufacturing of submarines in Australia is important because even if in dollar figures it looks like it costs more, the trickle down effect of Australians having steady work from such contracts means the government actually recoups part of its investment in tax revenue and social harmony that comes from people having meaningful work for a long period of their lives (less social welfare, less men and women falling into depression because they cant provide for their families, less children requiring social and medical services because their parents are fighting or drinking or abusing whatever drug is cheap).

        Long term means seeing past your own navel and self interest and looking towards the future of your entire constituency not just the ones that voted for you but for those that you failed to convince. Political parties are the reason we stagnate, we need people from all walks of life who actually have conversations in parliament that work out problems, not quip at each other all day long. When was the last time you saw two politicians from opposing parties actually work towards a common goal other than some meaningless photo opp for a feel good story that obviously only had one politically correct side to be on?

          Well said Rick, thanks. It's interesting that submarines are getting so much focus when the government is spending millions buying boats overseas to "stop the boats" while we have record unemployment.

          While I agree with what you've said, I don't see what that has to do with the census.

            It's an example of short-term cost-cutting, which will have a negative long-term impact; however, this government isn't going to be around long enough to deal with the negative consequences, so they don't give a damn.

          May want to check your facts there.

          This is absolutely nothing to do with the government and is, I can only assume, deliberate misreporting by Gizmodo and every one else.

          The request to cancel the 2016 Census was made by the ABS back in 2011, while Abbot was in opposition.

            The bureau had planned a 'big bang' for census night 2016. It was to be the first predominantly electronic census, removing the need for much of the doorknocking. But the plan needed money and time to retool. With just 18 months to go until Census 2016, the project is woefully over budget and behind time. ABS has asked not to have to do it. If the Parliament doesn't release it from the obligation it'll be in serious trouble.

            The bureau's problems are partly of its own making. And they're partly the fault of leaders from both sides of politics who haven't stopped squeezing.

        how can you govern a country if you don't even know what they're basic make up is?
        This is the new form of "consultation" under "good government"

        Last edited 19/02/15 1:30 pm

      you need to do accounting to know how to plug up the boat

    It's just after 8am and this news is the dumbest thing I've learned of today. Surely it can't be topped.

    How stupid is this govt?! It's like they deliberately go to great lengths to remind us just how idiotic they all are.

      Is there anything Abbott cant fu*k up?

      Everything he touches turns to turd.

      As you said, it is only 8 am. Abbott can still do something dumber in the afternoon.

      Except its not true. Just the usual Fairfax scuttlebutt that lapped up by Abbott haters and Gizmodo writers.

    Just so I understand this correctly. Are they cancelling the normal mail delivered senses too? Because that wasn't mentioned in this article.

      No, some large portions of Australia (in the regions) do not have appropriate access to the internet, these areas will still receive physical forms. However for about 60% of the country it will be opt in for physical forms. The 2021 Census should be 100% electronic with opt in physical forms...if it happens.
      They have already spent about $100mil on the 2016 Census, blowing that much money this late in the game will be more embarrassment for the failing Government.

        You assume the NBN is rolled out by 2021! ;)

    Because knowing were to build hospitals and schools can be done by who holds the seat, LNP yes needed, other no not needed. The census is use for so many things, like population and income. It tells the government were the population is going to raise or fall over the next generation.

    surprised the the answer wasn't a spiel about how much the census would cost under a Labor government and how many more jobs it will create under the Liberal plan.

    Yeah, this isn't information-gathering just for the sake of it; there are a lot of very important organizations making very important decisions based on the information the ABS collects every census.

    I'm wondering if they're assuming that we'll just continue as we were trending from looking at the 00s to 2011, and 'oops!' if that turns out not to be the case. Or where else are they planning to get their data? Phone-in polls on Sunrise?

    It's probably too cynical to suggest they're deferring paying for the census for a year that they're not in government so it becomes someone else's budget-hole to worry about.

      And organisations give lots of money to the government to buy information from the ABS. Money can be exchanged for goods and services

      Ha. Census is a waste of time anyway. All the 2006 growth projections were hugely inaccurate.

      Continual sampling will get us more accurate and up to date results, at a much cheaper cost.

      If you rely on the Census data for your decisions you will get the wrong result.

        Errr.... no.

        The margin of error is alot higher when you infer results from a sample rather than sampling the entire population. Sure, there are techniques you can use in inferential statistics to reduce the amount of error... but it's still there. The most accurate picture you can get is asking everybody - it's also the most expensive way, which is why we do it so rarely.

    Sooooo, planning has been going on since the 2011 Census (who was PM then ?) to make the 2016 Census electronic and the BOS and Governement have come to the realisation that an electronic Census won't get enough support to give an acceptable level of data. This means either hold it off or revert back to the paper based Census. Makes a lot of sense, but don't let that get in the way of some good old Government bashing.

      The talk isn't of reverting to a paper-based census; it's of dumping the Census altogether. What's your source for claiming the BOS has realised it can't do it?

        And that would be dumping a source of revenue, as the ABS charge for access to data.

        You might need to update your article. It turns out that the ABS asked the govt to legislate the removal of a 5 year census and instead make it every 10 years, like in the UK and US.

          You mean the new director, hand picked by our government has asked for it to be changed?

    With all the meta-data gathering they no longer need a census!

    Hmm, I need more information before I have an opinion. Scrapping the census wholesale, or reforming the census? If it's the latter then I'd tentatively support it, as data from the last few census (censii??) have data holes that you could drive a bus through, making it useless for certain types of research. Shrinking the sample size is pretty dumb though (as per the linked story) - comprehensive consistent census is about as good as one can get with a prospective cohort study, and interrupting it even once will screw it up for future analysis.

    Last edited 19/02/15 11:27 am

    I work as a transport modeller. Important decisions are made on the outputs of my models, but the models are only as good as the data on which they are based. If we don't have an accurate idea of the population of an area, it severely impedes the models ability to predict future conditions. Scrapping the census will hold back these models from being properly calibrated, leading to poor results, leading to misinformed decisions, which could easily end up costing the economy billions of dollars.

    Not to mention the constitutional impacts of not running the census, with the number of representatives in the house of reps based on the 'latest statistics'. The 'latest statistics' refers to the census. With the highest population growths being seen in the traditionally left-leaning states of Vic and NSW, any redistribution of the House of Reps will likely be favourable to Labor.

    I think it is a wise idea to have a census

    Well, it turns out that it was the ABS who asked the govt to legislate the removal of a 5 year census and instead make it every 10 years, like in the UK and US.

    Apparently the Hawke and Keating govts had looked into a similar proposal or looked at dumping the census altogether, according to an oldtimer who told me. Take it however way you want to.

    Anyway, if the ABS wants a census held every 10 years rather than 5 it (hopefully) must be for a legitimate statistical reason along the lines of teh UK and US rather than simply for cutting costs.

      Unfortunately, from a statistics perspective, there is absolutely no reason to cut down the amount of data you are collecting.

      The only factor involved (that I can think of) is cutting costs, or reducing the workload of ABS staff.

        I had thought that a 10 year interval would pick up a greater difference in the data collected rather than in 5 year intervals where the difference would be smaller.

        I don't know. I'm just throwing out suggestions. lol

        UK and US as well as a number of other countries already do 10 yearly census and don't have problems.

          Yes but the quality of the statistics goes down as the amount of data you collect falls.

          Is reducing the frequency to 10 years going to have a meaningful impact on the quality of the data, and is it worth it to halve the frequency from a cost perspective? Maybe, maybe not. But the quality is definitely going to go down to some degree.

          No, but it's not ideal. Given technology is increasingly playing a role in peoples every day life and how they live, and the rate that things like that are changing I'd have thought five years would be a more appropriate period to measure.

          If we were measuring these things in 10 year spans, then 10 years ago many people would have been on dialup and 10 years before that most people wouldn't have had internet connections (most people wouldn't even have an email address). The flow on effect to entertainment, media consumption, education, work, employment type etc of that technology alone has been massive and arguably is resulting in changes to peoples lifestyles and in turn their requirements at a more rapid rate. The internets also had impacts on services like Australia Post etc.

          Ironically many of the technology advances that'd suit having more rapid statistic gathering would also be the same tools that could assist in cutting down the cost of running the census.

    Perhaps the planned electronic census would prove the technology is reliable and secure enough for online voting and trigger a push for moving to a full online voting system - which in turn would mean that voting could be much more than just voting at elections once every 4 years or so. Voters could vote regularly on all sorts of issues. This is enough to scare most governments because it could force them into greater accountability and force them to consult the electorate more often. The ramifications of allowing voters to use electronic means to register votes and preferences on any number of issues is terrifying to a politician, particularly one like Abbott who fears losing his seat at the next election for being such a disastrous PM.

    Can't have an electronic census in case some of the voters begin to realise that "Cheaper & Faster Minimum 25Mb/s for all by 2016" promise was just another expensive, blatant lie.

    @anguskidman will probably update the article when it's working hours again, but before then:

    It's apparently a push from the ABS, not Abbott? Probably more to come on this.

      Don't let the facts get in the way of a good anti Abbott smear.

    Sorry for a short comment, but this is all I can think about Tony, using polite words.

      You realize that this is an ABS request, not Abbott right? That ABS initially proposed this in 2011 when Labor was still in power? That Gizmodo even has another report from today stating this and calling this article a crock of shit?

        I'm sure this comes as a result of their budget getting slashed. Censuses are bloody expensive!

        Tony, of course, has compounded the problem by further slashing budgets.


    Not that I don't mind a bit of pollie bashing, but this article is a total fiction. ABS has requested the change, Not any politicians.

    Hell there's even an article on Gizmodo as others have pointed out, stating that the ABS want to change it.

    Can't even get the message straight.

    Either that or this is just an Abbott bash for the sake of it.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now