The full gory detail of everything that went wrong with census 2016 will no doubt surface over the next few months as part of the investigation into how the Australian Bureau of Statistics bungled the whole thing, but Crikey has heard that about 12 months out from every census, the ABS holds a “dress rehearsal”, which is a large test of both the paper and online census to figure out what needs to be fine-tuned a year ahead of the actual date.

One was done in 2009 and 2010 before the 2011 census, and while one was done in 2013 and 2014, a decision in the census leadership group was made to cancel the dress rehearsal in 2015 in order to cut costs, according to a tipster.

Instead a small-scale “self-enumerated test” involving sending out paper forms to a small number of households to test the reaction to the questions was done instead, which is strange considering the ABS was, at the time, boasting about saving $100 million by pushing more people to fill out their forms online. Some staff apparently raised concerns about cancelling the full test, but these concerns fell on deaf ears.

It’s not clear whether a full test would have flagged issues with load issues with the website, in any case. We asked the ABS about this on Friday, but received no response.

Peter Fray

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