In 1967, Harold Holt was Prime Minister and Indigenous Australians were only just given the right to be counted in the national census. We’ve come a long way in fifty years, but just how much have we changed?
DOUBT has been thrown on the validity of the Census results as the Australian Bureau of Statistics gets ready to release the findings of the disaster plagued national survey.
The ABS will release a preview of Census results on April 11, two months before an independent panel hands down its report set to identify any problems with the data linked to the backlash over privacy concerns.
Australian Statistician David Kalisch recently announced the first release of Census data would come two-and-a-half months earlier than previous Census collections.
The ABS says that more than 96 per cent of Australian households lodged their Census forms, which ensures the result is statistically valid but that number fails to address the concern of misleading data.
While the ABS will run a routine post-enumeration survey to identify people who were counted twice, or not counted at all, the bigger challenge facing the Independent Assurance Panel is how to identify people who deliberately supplied false responses in a protest against the privacy concerns that surrounded the 2016 census collection.
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The ABS said in a statement to News Corp Australia that the independent panel would hand down its report on 27 June, before detailed Census data was released, and it would have “adequate” time to review the Census results.
The independent panel, chaired by Professor Sandra Harding of James Cook University, has met four times and is due to meet three more times in examining issues including quality assurances of the census data.
Former Australian Bureau of Statistics chief Bill McLennan said he was “certain there is an impact” by the backlash on the census data.
“It could be minor, it could be very large in places,” he said.
“One thing I am also sure of is that it is not going to be the same right across Australia, it is not going to be the same across socio-economic groups.
“You can’t have people complaining all the time about privacy and being forced by the compulsory nature (of the Census) and it not have some impact on what they say.
“It’s a psychological thing, it’s not a statistical thing. You tell people you’re going to prosecute the buggers and they’ll tell you something.
“What we don’t is how much is that has happened. What I can categorically say from my experiences, is that there is going to be a certain proportion that does not answer properly or deliberately give you a wrong answer.
Australian Privacy Foundation vice-chair Kat Lane also predicted a problem with the data’s reliability.
“The census runs on trust,” Ms Lane said.
“When the ABS had the shemozzle with privacy, and IBM and census night, that trust has been eroded.
“That will mean that some people did not fill it out and a lot of people did not fill it out honestly.
“I don’t think that we will ever know the extent of the damage caused by the ABS on the compulsory name change and the poor privacy impact assessment.
“Trust is such a difficult to measure that we just don’t know how much of that trust is eroded and the reliability of the data is in question.”
Michael Shallcross, the chief engineer at IBM said that hard test and reset of one of the two routers dedicated for Census night would have avoided the issues that caused the site to shut down
Demographer Dr Liz Allen, a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, said bias was “something that is difficult to correct”.
“While I’m confident, and most statisticians would say the same, that the post-enumeration survey will assist with that with identifying who is missed or has been over surveyed, there are some elements in terms of bias that we can’t purely ever wholly correct,” Dr Allen said.
“That will be a problem.”
“The ABS was on the back foot from the beginning. The ABS has suffered from financial cutbacks that have left it in a weakened position.”
Dr Allen said misinformation about privacy concerns with the Census had caused even “reasonable people” to be sceptical of the process.
“We all benefit from Census data,” she said.
“The alternative to not doing the Census is far worse than doing it, in terms of privacy and social licence.”