It’s great to be here today to discuss the 2016 Census. It is an important event which has been held every 5 years since 1911.
The Census is a point in time snapshot of the Australian population. The data collected helps governments and private sector organisations make informed decisions about the future. For example, if there is a growing population in a suburb, the government could use Census data to help make informed decisions about building more lanes on freeways or roads in and around the area, or to build a train line or more bus stops in that particular suburb.
State governments can use Census data to consider if hospitals need more resources thanks to movements in population or if a school in a regional town needs to build more classrooms. And I want to make this point as the first Small Business Minister coming from a regional area I know how important the Census is. I was on the Fly-in, Fly-out workforce inquiry and I know how important it is for the information, the Census data to be used to increase hospital numbers, to increase services in regional areas.
Information collected helps governments make informed decisions about the services required by the Australian population, for example, roads, rail, infrastructure, healthcare, housing, education and public transport services. These of course are just some examples of how this data is used to make informed decisions.
I understand that a number of Independent Members of Parliament and Senators have held press conferences today. And, the Treasurer Scott Morrison and Australian Statistician David Kalisch have both also held press conferences today.
I’m here as the Minister responsible for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), albeit only 2 weeks into the role, to try to help allay the concerns being raised and to clear up a bit of miscommunication which is being reported.
The Census is the largest logistical exercise in the country. Over 10 million households and more than 24 million people will be surveyed and counted in the 2016 Census.
Traditionally, the Census has been done using paper forms and an army of volunteers and paid employees doorknocking all around the country. This year, the ABS decided to move into the 21st century by allowing people to complete the Census online while giving people the option to complete a paper form should they not have access to a computer or simply do not want to do it online.
This change allows the ABS to use the data more quickly, it cuts down on waste, it is more environmentally friendly and it also represents a saving to taxpayers of more than $100 million.
I understand some people have experienced some frustrations with the process and have some strong views on issues such as data security and privacy. Let me say, that the Australian Bureau of Statistics is an independent statutory body. It makes decisions independent or at arm’s length from government. It makes decisions independently. As the new Minister responsible for the ABS, I asked for a full briefing on the Census which I had last week.
During my meeting with the ABS, Mr Kalisch, the ABS Statistician, and his team gave me assurances that Australians’ privacy would be protected and that the data storage systems are secure. As the Treasurer noted in his press conference, the ABS has a history of conducting the Census over more than 100 years and an unblemished record on privacy. Names, Addresses and Data are all stored in separate systems and are protected in accordance with the Australian Government’s Protective Security Policy Framework and the Information Security Manual. It is important to also mention that ABS staff members cannot access both data sets at the same time.
As for the 4 year data retention, I appreciated it is increasing from 18 months to four years, this again is a decision taken by the ABS, to increase the longitudinal value in the data it collects. In other words, it will help them collect and assess data over a longer time meaning they can draw more accurate conclusions on population flows and life expectancy, in a population that is mobile, in a workforce that is changing and in which Australian society which is so dynamic – that is important.
The Government takes cyber security at paramount importance, very, very seriously. Now I said that the ABS has not had a breach of the Census data. That is why we, the Government, have also invested in our Cyber Security Strategy which will deliver improved cyber security for the nation through 33 new initiatives, supported by over $230 million in Australian Government funding directly resulting in more than 100 new jobs to boost the Government’s cyber security capacity and capabilities. This investment complements the $400 million over the next decade - and roughly 800 specialist jobs -the Government has committed to improve Defence’s cyber and intelligence capabilities through the 2016 Defence White Paper.
Now in the past few days, the ABS has been responding to the efficiency of Australia Post. Letters went out in some areas quicker than the ABS had anticipated and this created a backlog in the call centre. It has already taken well over 110,000 calls and I appreciate that some people have been trying to get onto the number and have been put on hold – I do appreciate that and it is frustrating. The Call Centre number is 1300 214 531.
Hundreds of more staff have been brought on board and that followed discussions between the ABS and Government and I spoke to the ABS Statistician about this and he assures me that hundreds more staff and hundreds more lines have been put in place to assist in the call centre and its operating hours have now been extended.
I should note that the paper form request line is a 24/7 automated line so people should consider calling outside of business hours if the line is busy. The paper form request line is 1300 820 275. People can also go online and visit the Census website.
If people have not yet received their Census letter by now, they should not contact the hotline. It will arrive in the coming days or in some areas, particularly in rural and remote areas, paper forms will be distributed automatically – approximately 1 million households will received these forms.
Penalties – this has also caused some conjecture. There have been a number of concerns raised about fines which may apply for not completing the Census on Tuesday 9 August – next Tuesday.
Australians should note that there is a significant grace period – until September 23 – and the Government is confident fines will only be issued to those who are unwilling to participate. In 2011, less than 100 fines were issued.
People who want to complete the Census online can do so today. More than 100,000 Australians have already completed the Census, bearing in mind it is snapshot of 9 August so it is completed with this date in mind – this is welcomed news. And, more than 245,000 people have requested a paper form. Reminder letters will be sent if households have not responded to the Census and volunteers will also be doorknocking to remind people to complete their Census.
If you are willing to participate, even if you miss the 9 August deadline, you won’t receive a fine.
Thank you ladies and gentleman.