The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will have a “high-quality census”, despite the website’s collapse on census night, according to the national survey’s program manager Duncan Young.
Mr Young said about 95 per cent of households had completed the census ahead of tomorrow’s deadline.
“It is right around the mark at the moment, in terms of response rate but we’ll know the final response once we’ve got all of the data in and have a chance to process it,” Mr Young said.
While the official census period closes on Friday, Mr Young said the website would not be shut down until midnight on Sunday.
“We’ve made the decision to keep the online system open until Sunday night because we can, and it just gives people another couple of days to finish off their forms,” Mr Young said.
The Census and Statistics Act 1905 allows penalties of up to $180 a day for failure to complete and return a form but Mr Young said a fine will be “an absolute last resort”.
“It is something that we’ve always used sparingly,” Mr Young said.
“Last census, right across the country, we fined less than 100 people ultimately and certainly that’s our approach to this Census.”
Census boycott ‘harming everyone’s future’
Demographer at the ANU’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Dr Liz Allen urged Australians to complete out the census and said it was a key policy tool.
“Without the census data we jeopardise our ability to be a smart country moving forward,” Dr Allen said.
“By boycotting the census, it’s not just about you … you’re harming and potentially jeopardising everyone’s future.”
The ABS sold the new approach as more inclusive, but the focus on online has been plagued with problems.
For those who prefer paper to keyboards, a form could be requested via a hotline, but the phone number was clogged in the days leading up to census night.
Privacy groups launched a campaign to boycott the census because they did not want their names and addresses attached to their answers for four years instead of 18 months.
Then on the crucial night, August 9, the website collapsed because of a denial of service attack.
It took almost two days to relaunch the website and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it an “absolute failure” and warned “heads will roll”.
Most of the concerns centre on the online form of the questionnaire, but Mr Young said internet users gave better answers.
“What we see when people complete the census online is they actually do fill out more information, and they do fill out higher quality information than on paper,” he said.
Partial privacy boycott
To protest privacy concerns, a group of senators refused to provide their name and addresses on the census form.
Senator Nick Xenophon was the first to announce he planned to partially fill in the form.
Some Greens senators then joined his partial boycott, including Scott Ludlam, Sarah Hanson-Young, Larissa Waters, Lee Rihannon and Janet Rice.
Senator Xenophon wrote “refuse to answer” in the name box, but the ABS has not responded to the misleading form.
“I answered all other answers truthfully, I am still concerned about how this data will be used and tracked for many years to come,” Senator Xenophon said.
“It goes way beyond what previous censuses have done in terms of its scope, depth of information and tracking of information.”
Greens communications spokesman Senator Ludlam was adamant he was not trying to set an example for others to follow.
“Other people are free to do whatever they like, I’ve been really careful not to advocate one course of action or another,” Senator Ludlam said.
“We think the census is an incredibly valuable resource, we use it both at a party level and in a Senate office level nearly every day.”
Some Greens senators provided their addresses, but not names, including Senator Rice.
Senator Rice’s partner requested a paper form to fill out “other” in the gender description because the online version only had male and female options.