The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has defended Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) staff who worked on the 2016 Census saying they displayed a high level of professionalism “under difficult circumstances and significant funding pressures.”
In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the Census fiasco, the CPSU said had the ABS been funded in a correct and appropriate manner, many of the problems that arose may have been avoided.
“The preparation, administration and management of the 2016 Census was significantly affected by uncertainty in the ABS about the funding, scope and the future of the Census,” the CPSU said in its submission.
“Media reports indicated that as early as February 2015, ABS officials were concerned they were not able to deliver the 2016 Census on the current scope, timetable and on budget as a consequence of both budget reductions and program delays.”
Financial pressures and the need to generate savings affected Census work, the union said. It noted that in early 2015, the ABS and the government considered discarding the 2016 Census program which, according to CPSU members, was to fund an urgent ICT transformation program at the ABS.
Union members also raised concerns that budgetary pressures to complete Census work within the financial year may affect the quality of work.
“An example provided by one member was that in one state, the registering of addresses was rushed to get it done before June 30. They had concerns that there would be mistakes by casual staff employed to complete it in time and it would need to be cleaned up afterwards,” the union said.
“The quality of work would have been better with fewer casual staff and more time, however, there was no funding to do work in the following financial year.”
Indecision also meant that critical planning time was lost while the government considered axing the Census. These delays meant that deadlines were missed and testing was not as extensive as it had been in the past, the union said.
“With limited time and resources as a result of government indecision and budget cuts, ABS employees did the best they could but were not as thorough as they would have liked.”
The union said ABS members also said that senior management did not properly consider the impact of the privacy consultation process after deciding to retain names and addresses for Census 2016.
“The process was far from adequate with less than a month provided for comment, just before Christmas. Unsurprisingly, privacy impact assessment was minimal, only consisting of three responses.
“Members have informed the CPSU that it has led to the perception of a consultation process that lacked transparency. The process meant that members of the public were already concerned about the Census before any problems occurred,” the union said in its submission.
The CPSU said that funding certainty and improved ICT capabilities would help better manage the Census in the future.
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