The real benefit of census data

Stephen Luntz writes: Re. “False census of security: governments already know too much about us” (yesterday). Bernard Keane misses one of the reasons why dumping the census would be a disaster. The information the census collects is available not only to the government, but to everyone else, albeit through an often clunky website. Alternative methods likely would not. An example that is very much on my mind is the population growth in the inner cities. Projections by both the Bureau of Statistics and the Victorian Department of Planning and Local Infrastructure have consistently underestimated population growth in inner Melbourne, and I am guessing the same is true for other cities. I’ve come across examples where small areas were projected to see falls in population, despite the fact that at the time the projections were released 600 apartments were already under construction, more than doubling the population once they were filled.

This appears to be flowing through to planning decisions. New schools are considered unnecessary because the population is not thought to be growing. The census doesn’t fix the problem of wonky forward planning, but at least it allows citizens to point out to politicians and bureaucrats what has already happened. Remove this, and there will be no way for anyone to prove the number of people in their area has boomed, let alone how many of the new arrivals are school aged children. Sure the government could conduct limited surveys, but even if those prove more useful than the debacle witnessed in Canada, there is no guarantee they will be accessible in the same way to the general public. Abolishing the census will mean more centralised power, not less.

Emeritus Professor  Robert Gregson writes: The breakdown and analyses of the relations between different census parameters are valuable because we can track the changes at least since about 1970. The increase of respondents responding “no religion” and the relations between age, education, faith and some voting behaviour have recently been tabulated. The practice of Tony Abbott in pushing religion in schools through the funding of exclusively religious chaplaincy, ans opposed to appointing staff only with qualifications in counselling and clinical psychology is increasingly obscure and reactionary, and not surprising coming from Howard and Abbott. Dropping the census could be another way of sneaking religion into secular education.

On vigils for the Bali 9

Pattie Tancred writes: Re. “Hope and justice: Australia holds vigils for Chan and Sukumaran” (yesterday). Why are people holding vigils in support of two convicted drug smugglers when there are hundreds of people — including children — who have not been charged with anything, let alone convicted, mouldering in terrible conditions in immigration detention at Australia’s pleasure? Sure, Chan and Sukumaran don’t deserve to die for their crime, but I feel that the sympathy and support being shown them is a tad misdirected. Easier to protest about Indonesian government policy than about our own? Oh, that’s right, we didn’t elect the Indonesian government so can in no way be held responsible for or complicit in their polices. Our government, on the other hand — all our own work.

Guardian and jailer

Peter Kemp writes: Re. “Would you want the Immigration Minister as your legal guardian?” (yesterday). I’m appalled at our apparent treatment of “illegal Immigrants” but the problem is not at all straightforward as many simplistic liberals think. Some would have us welcome them with open arms and indeed most would make  very good citizens ( their lower expectations may even allow Tony to get away with more of his industrial pipe dreams). If the numbers were not to increase significantly I would be all for it, after all the skilled migrant intake is bigger and here I feel that we Australians are just scavenging on other countries education systems while allowing the bottom of our own population to become “poor white trash”. Well — I suppose the skilled migrants are educated white people just like us though in some cases I note a difference between education and training.

Here is the rub: if Australia were perceived to have an open door then numbers would increase and increase exponentially. Just look at the problems of African refugees trying to get to Europe — end of life ships packed to the gills, pointed at Italy and abandoned under power. There is no shortage of people willing to risk everything to get here and most of these are genuine refugees but a 1000+ week arrival rate would not be desirable for most of the population.

So what to do? I don’t know! At a minimum we should put significant resources into assessment against some fair standard that might allow some to stay and quickly do something with the rest,  but what?

  • Send them back? (If they say where they came from and if that country will accept them)
  • Settle them in a third country if this can be managed? Most don’t seem to like this if the third country is not to their liking (PNG!). Perhaps this means they are not as desperate as they make out or they still hope to come here or even that they would be no better off than they were at home
  • Send them to some other country’s refugee camp but this is just washing our hands and passing the buck.

I just don’t know, the politicians don’t know and except for the one-eyed, the general population doesn’t know but for lack of guidance most drift to one extreme or the other.