Friday, 09 September 2016 10:16

Census 2016: ABS denies report count is in 'crisis' Featured

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The Australian Bureau of Statistics has denied a report that there is a crisis in the rate of return of census forms, saying that ABS executives have not referred to the form return response rate as such.

The online newsletter Crikey carried a report in its 8 September edition, claiming that senior ABS officials had "warned staff of a 'crisis' over the rate of return of censuses and demanded collectors increase the level of harassment of Australians, including those who can furnish evidence they have already lodged it".

The newsletter said sources within the ABS had said that census field officers had been told on Wednesday that they were now required to make return visits to houses where they had been told that forms had been submitted.

On Monday, the same field officers had been told in writing that they did not need to make a return visit to any house where they were advised that the census form had been submitted.

The census was held on 9 August and was intended to be a largely online affair; however, once the website was taken down at 7.30pm due to what was claimed to be a distributed denial of service attack, the process descended into farce. No proof has been provided that a DDoS actually happened.

An ABS spokesperson told iTWire that the bureau often made procedural changes to its census field operations. "Adaptive procedures are common practice in the census, and an important part of delivering Australia’s largest logistical exercise and getting a full and accurate count of the population," the spokesperson said.

Census field Officers were visiting households that had not yet completed the census, and would continue to do so to remind people to complete the form. "Reminder visits have been a part of every Census – this is no different in 2016," the spokesperson added.

"During an operation the size of the census, there will inevitably be a small number of households that have already completed their census who receive reminder materials or are 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 the ABS investigates."

The spokesperson said that the ABS had now received more than 7.5 million household forms which comprised more than 80% of Australia's households. This would mean that there are a little more than 8.75 million households in the country.

But this figure seems to vary, with the Australian reporting on 2 September that there are 10 million households in the country.

Parliament has announced an inquiry into the census bungle and is expected to report back by 24 November.

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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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