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Tuesday, 09 August 2016 12:27

ABS head must take blame if census compromised

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If the data that is collected in the Australian census in any way lacks integrity, then one man will have to bear the blame: the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, David Kalisch.

Remember, just a 5% non-response will screw up the whole works.

For the uninitiated, or those who have been living under a rock for the last two months, there has been an uncharacteristic amount of jaw about the census this time.

And all because an unelected bureaucrat suddenly decided to act like a mini-dictator and make changes in what was once a source of excellent detail about the population at large.

First, the ABS announced, in the quiet news period in December, that the names and addresses of Australians would be retained indefinitely in this year's census.

And while the ABS had claimed all along that it was not retaining names and addresses and tying them to personal data, Kalisch revealed that this had been a big lie and since 2006, these personal details had indeed been retained for 18 months.

That's the way to build public confidence. Take a bow, Kalisch.

As some kind of sop to the public, Kalisch then said that this time the names and addresses would be retained for just four years. Cheers again.

When former ABS head Bill McLennan, the man responsible for rewriting most of the Census and Statistics Act in the 1980s, pointed out that names could not be compulsorily collected by the ABS as it had no authority to do so, Kalisch denied this but did not provide his reasoning or the alleged legal advice he said he had received.

The ABS was not forthcoming on this aspect either, preferring to stay silent. When it was asked about what would happen to those who boycotted the census or provided bogus data, the organisation was quick to act in a manner more fitting the police force of some African dictatorship, and threaten penalties aplenty.

If anyone could screw up what is essentially a public relations exercise in a worse manner — all these years Australians have made no fuss about submitting to this five-yearly exercise then Kalisch needs to be told, because I'm sure he would like to emulate that individual.

The ABS' bungling also reflects on the government because this whole project is being pushed by the Liberals in pursuit of a project on data management that began back in April 2015.

But if this is the way that the government wants to get people on-side, then it might as well put Attorney-General George Brandis in charge. Or better still, Tony Abbott could be brought back and put in change of the whole data management project.

Even though Kalisch has shown the ability to get everything wrong, Abbott and Brandis are ahead of him when it comes to mismanagement.

When, as seems likely, Kalisch is asked to pack his bags, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull might like to replace him with Abbott and kill many birds with a single stone.

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Sam Varghese

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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