The Greens have put a call out for Minister Michael McCormack to direct the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to rule out fines for people that don't want to include their name and address details when completing their census forms, stating the ABS' response to privacy concerns has been "wholly inadequate".
If the ABS refuse to push census day back, they need to guarantee they will not fine people who choose to protect their own privacy, Australian Greens Co-Deputy Leader and Communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said.
"The ABS has stated that there’s been no significant change, that they're merely extending the retention period from 18 months to 4 years. What they've failed to realise is that public trust in government to keep personal information private is at an all-time low," Ludlam says.
"In the years since the last census we've seen both a dramatic increase in citizen surveillance, and the existence of long-suspected citizen surveillance programs confirmed. We've seen states and territories ramp up attacks on speech, assembly and protest. We've just concluded a double dissolution federal election campaign that was called in response to a government attack on workplace rights."
Two similar proposals to change the census — in 2006 and 2011 — were subject to independent scrutiny and subsequently abandoned, Ludlam pointed out. "Last year the ABS completed a farcical secretive internal process and gave themselves the all-clear. It's a process that wouldn’t pass a university ethics test for a survey. Retention of name and address information should never proceed without the informed consent of the survey subjects."
Ludlam goes on to call the process an "atrocious contempt for due diligence", stating that and the recent actions of the government more broadly have led to unprecedented levels of distrust in the census. The ABS is risking a huge outbreak of non-compliance, Ludlam says, compromising the value of census data.
"The ABS needs to act now, they must rule out fining anyone who keeps their name and address off their census form, to at least give people enough confidence to complete the rest of the census this time around, before a more substantial review of their processes and proposals."