Monday, 05 September 2016 06:19

Census 2016: ABS avoiding any talk of fines Featured

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics appears to be reluctant to talk about levying fines on people who do not submit their census forms or else provide incorrect data.

The organisation was asked at the weekend by iTWire whether it had any comment on the moves in parliament to make the ABS pledge that it would not fine anybody. To this, a spokesman responded: "The ABS is not commenting on political processes."

But when the organisation was asked straight up: "Does the ABS plan to fine people?" the question was ignored.

The organisation took an entirely different line before the census, with the response at that time being: "If a person fails to return a census form, the first step taken by the ABS would be to notify that person of their legal obligation to do so. If that person still does not return a census form, they may face a fine of $180 per day until the form is returned. Under Section 15 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, it is an offence to provide false or misleading information on a census form. The penalty is a fine of $1800."

The census was scheduled to be a mostly online affair on 9 August, but the website was taken offline at 7.30pm following what was claimed to be a distributed denial of service attack. No proof has been offered to back up this claim.

In a media release, which was sent to iTWire only after inquiries were made about the progress of the census, it was claimed by census head Duncan Young that the number of respondents had reached seven million, and that this was 80% of the number of households in the country.

By this reckoning, there are a total of 8.75 million households in the country.

But this figure appears to differ from source to source: the Australian reported on Friday, quoting census officials, that there are 10 million households in the country and almost seven million of them had returned their forms. This would make for a return of 70%.

Asked about the cases of some households who had completed the census being visited by census officials and told they had not done so, an ABS spokesman told iTWire: "Some households that have already completed their Census will receive reminder materials or be visited by a Census Field Officer.

"The most common reason these visits occur is the delay between posting a completed paper form and that form being received at our Secure Data Capture Centre. This can take up to 10 working days, but is usually much quicker. There can be other reasons which will be investigated if you let the Census Inquiry Service or your Census Field Officer know.

He added: "Some people may have filled in a form at a different household (e.g. staying at a friend's or relative's), or forget to press submit at the end of their online form. We encourage these people to access their form again, and press submit.

"If you are contacted by a Census Field Officer please let them know that you have already completed your form. If you are left a calling card or receive other reminder material, you can contact the Census Inquiry Service or speak to your Census Field Officer on their next visit and it will be recorded in the ABS system. In other cases, a mistake may have been made by the Census Field Officer."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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