Screenshot of Australian census website failing to connect

More embarrassing IT glitches have plagued the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ census systems as tens of thousands of Australians are forced to participate in post-census surveys by the troubled agency.

The ABS’s “Census Post Enumeration Survey” will involve 43,000 randomly selected Australians who will be compelled, at risk of prosecution, to provide further information about their involvement in the trouble-plagued ABS census. Targeted households have been told by the ABS that they are required to “pre-register” online or by phone to arrange for a 10-minute phone interview with ABS staff, who will ask them about the census and the information they provided. No opt-out is possible, and those who refuse can be fined under the ABS’ extensive powers.

However, Crikey readers selected by the ABS have reported that efforts to follow instructions have fallen afoul of bureau IT problems. One told us that the ABS website wouldn’t work with the login details sent to her elderly mother. “We phoned the hotline 1800 number, it’s a booking service, they said they are having ‘problems with the survey logins’, they told us the survey people weren’t ready yet either. Not knowing when the ABS is going to interview her is stressful for her.” The interviews are scheduled to commence on September 25 and finish on October 29.

An ABS spokesperson acknowledged “there were log-in issues for a small number of households, which were immediately addressed and resolved. Those who were unable to register have been contacted directly by the ABS.” The Post Enumeration survey, the spokesperson says, is a 10-minute long interview that “is an important part of our census count and we’ve followed up every census since 1966 with this kind of survey. The PES is crucial in ensuring the ABS has as good a count as possible.”

“Participation is compulsory under the Census and Statistics Act 1905.”

The new IT difficulties come after the census night debacle when the entire ABS website was taken offline by the bureau in circumstances that are still being investigated. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that “heads will roll” over the failure. The rate of online census completions is well below the level expected by the ABS, and it has rushed staff to non-compliance hotspots across the country in response what was termed a “crisis” in non-response rates following widespread privacy concerns. ABS staff continue to tell Crikey the level of returns remains below 90%, but the bureau officially insists all is well with the level of returns.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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