THE Government today admitted organisers of next week’s online census were unprepared for a flood of public inquiries about the August 9 national headcount.
Letters containing a code needed for the new digital system were delivered to households before the Australian Bureau of Statistics was ready to explain it.
MPs today recorded significant confusion over the new digital system and appealed for mercy for those risking a hefty fine for not filling out a form.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said that after the last census five years ago 100 penalty notices, potentially carrying fines of up to $1800, were issued. But this was only done as a last resort to those showing “a clear willingness” not to take party.
“I don’t anticipate that being the cause of any difficulty in this area,” said Mr Morrison, following talks with crossbench senator Nick Xenophon.
“One of the issues [the Bureau of Statistics] had to address in the last week or so was actually the efficiency of Australia Post. And that was that the letters that came out from the ABS actually arrived in a few cases a little earlier than anticipated.
“And as a result they’ve had to gear up a little more the resources in their call centre.
One of the other challenges that they faced with the call centres was that people were calling when they had yet not received their letter.”
Mr Morrison said households would have until September 23 to fill out census forms.
Earlier, independent MP Andrew Wilkie today warned of confusion and concern, and called for assurances no one will be fined for not completing the Census form.
“I have been shocked by the number of people who have approached me and my office with all sorts of concerns about the national Census scheduled for next week,” Mr Wilkie said today.
“A big problem is the difficulty and cost being experienced by many people attempting to contact the Australian Bureau of Statistics by phone.
“Typically they are experiencing very lengthy delays, if they can get through at all, and even having to pay for the calls.”
Mr Wilkie said examples of the “confusion in the community” came from visits to his Hobart office today by seven constituents.
“One had received a paper Census form even though he didn’t request or want it, one had been visited by a census official at home, two had received a letter at home with a code to use online, one had received three letters at her home, and two hadn’t been contacted at all,” he said.
“The one who got a paper Census form is baffled by the two different serial numbers it contained, received no detailed instructions and found no mention of the specifics of fines.
“Despite the collection of names in previous censuses the logic for this has not been communicated to the public, if indeed there is any logic at all. Nor has any explanation been given for why the ABS holding this information for much longer than normal is warranted.”
A dedicated telephone service has been established to assist with inquiries on 1300 214 531. There’s also information on how to request a paper form if required by calling a dedicated 24-hour paper form request line on 1300 820 275. The ABS has made additional call centre resources available to deal with an increasing number of inquiries ahead of census night.
The online form is available now for early returns. To complete the Census online click here.