ABS responds to article by Bernard Keane about the 2016 Census published on Crikey, 31st March 2016

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would like to express its strongest concern about the article published on 31 March 2016, Why you should boycott the Census, by Bernard Keane.

As the Editor of what is purported to be a credible and balanced publication, it should also be of concern to you that the writer is encouraging readers to act illegally by not participating in the 2016 Census of Population and Housing. It is in no way legitimate to not participate in the Census, which is compulsory for everyone in Australia on Census night, 9 August 2016.

Furthermore, while the writer reflects some of the benefits of Census data in the article, he displays a clear misunderstanding of the broader value of the Census, including the public’s expectation that Census data be used to its full potential to inform better planning and decisions for all Australians, and what the ABS does to protect people’s privacy.

He also incorrectly conflates two separate issues. Data retention and other federal Government national security policies cited in the article have nothing to do with the ABS, just as the decision to retain names and addresses from the 2016 Census was a decision of the ABS, not of Government.

Privacy of data collected is a fundamental pillar of an official statistical system. In Australia these protections have existed for more than 100 years. This will not change. The ABS never has, and never will, release identifiable Census data.

In addition, the ABS has a range of tested, strong security and legislative protections in place to ensure that Census information is kept safe and secure. Names and addresses will be stored securely and separately from other Census data, and each other, and will never be recombined with other Census data. They will be retained only while there is public benefit in doing so, and then destroyed. I encourage you to become familiar with the information on how the ABS keeps Census information safe and secure on the Census Privacy, confidentiality and security page.

Having complete public trust in our ability to collect and protect people’s information is critical to the success of the Census. Efforts to undermine this trust are irresponsible and could result in compromised participation or falsified information in this year’s Census, which will in turn compromise data quality and affect funding, decision-making and service delivery across all communities in Australia.

The ABS is committed to upholding the confidentiality and security of the personal information it collects. We are also committed to producing the highest quality statistics for the benefit of Australia. The Census collects vital information about Australia’s population and its housing. It is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is our moment to make a difference – one we must not miss.

Chris Libreri
General Manager, Census and Statistical Network Services Division
Australian Bureau of Statistics