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Census Disaster incurs Senate Inquiry

Monday, 05 Sep 2016

Why the Government needs to learn from mistakes. 

A Senate committee will perform its own post-mortem of the 2016 Census failure, promising an in-depth examination of decisions made prior to, during and after the August 9 meltdown.

Senators Nick Xenophon and Sam Dastyari – with the backing of other Senators including Scott Ludlam and Jackie Lambie – successfully referred the Census 2016 investigation to the Economics References Committee.

Its report is due by November 24.

The Government had opposed the fresh inquiry, believing that its own review led by the Prime Minister’s cybersecurity adviser Alastair MacGibbon – which is due to report months earlier in September – should suffice.

That review also includes input from the Australian Signals Directorate, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Treasury, the Digital Transformation Office and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

However, Senators backing the motion for an inquiry of their own said they would examine a deeper set of issues than that of the MacGibbon-led review.

“I think it will be extremely valuable to the Senate inquiry to have the report that Mr MacGibbon and his colleagues will be putting together into the technical aspects of what happened on Census night,” Ludlam said.

“The inquiry that has been referred to the economics committee goes significantly further into the lead-up to the Census and into the steps that were put in place that created such scepticism in the run-up that it may, in fact, contaminate the dataset.

“Personally, I am interested to know whether the Census is going to be re-run—it is that far-reaching.

“It is not simply a question of what happened on Census night to blow the process up, but of what happened in the lead-up to take such confidence away from what should have been a completely uncontroversial continuation of the Census process.”

This year’s online Census suffered major problems which the Government initially blamed on distributed denial-of-service attacks. However, IT experts have openly questioned whether the system was simply overwhelmed by people trying to file their forms at once. 

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