If You Haven't Completed the Census, You're About to Get Fined

Two million Australian households face fines of up to $180 for every additional day it's late.

by Katherine Gillespie
19 September 2016, 12:00am

This is what the Census website looks like, if you're one of the two million Australians who haven't yet looked at it. Via ABS

The deadline for Australians to complete the online Census is this Friday, September 23, and the government is hoping for a last minute scramble as an estimated two million households are yet to submit their forms.

In an effort to persuade procrastinators, Small Business Minister Michael McCormack has confirmed the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will be enforcing fines for those who fail to enter their data.

"People have this weekend to get in their paper forms, and they have until next Friday to get in their online forms," Small Business Minister Michael McCormack told Channel 7. "Anyone who willingly participates in the Census will not be fined."

Those fines are potentially rather steep—the Census and Statistics Act 1905 allows penalties of up to $180 a day for failure to complete and return a Census form.

Census Program Manager Duncan Young also spoke to Channel 7, saying the ABS would be visiting households who were yet to complete the Census, to remind them of the impending deadline. "We will be knocking on doors to make sure they have all the material they need to make sure they understand that the Census is compulsory," Young said.

By law, you're only exempt from completing the Census if you're not living in Australia, or are working as a foreign diplomat.

Of course some people may have just forgotten, it's likely at least some of those two million households were influenced by the security concerns and confusion that plagued this year's Census. From the switch to an online form, warnings from privacy experts, Denial of Service attacks.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten referred to this year's Census as the "worst run" in Australia's history, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also criticised the ABS, saying they had "inconvenienced millions of Australians."

However, despite trending hashtags criticising the handling of this year's Census (remember #CensusFail?), both the ALP and Coalition voted down a Senate bill to prevent citizens being fined for refusing to complete the Census that was put forward by Greens Senator Scott Ludlum. So it's still compulsory to complete, even if you're afraid that your data will be hacked.

On that note, the ABS has repeatedly assured users that its website is now working well and is no longer vulnerable to DDoS attacks. In August, two Queensland uni students built a more secure Census website over one weekend, using only $500, to prove how inadequate and costly the ABS model was.

There is no precedent for the ABS fining two million people for not completing the Census, so it's yet to be seen how forceful they'll be. In stark contrast to this year, the 2011 Census boasted a 96 percent completion rate—and it is thought that only a few hundred people were actually fined for neglecting to complete it.

An independent review of what went wrong with this year's Census is expected to be complete by the end of September.

Follow Kat on Twitter

Vice Blog
Malcolm Turnbull
Bill Shorten
Australian Bureau of Statistics