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Census 2016: Time is running out as risk of fines approaches

Forgetful Australians and privacy narks! The ABS wants your stats, stat...

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Australians are running out of time to complete the 2016 Census online or send back their paper forms.

ABS

If you filled out your Census form on time on August 9, well done.

I'm talking to the other guys.

Those of you who left your forms under a stack of mail. Or the privacy narks who keep picking up the paper form (Online? Not on your life after #CensusFail!) and throwing it across the room yelling, "If you want my date of birth, get a warrant!"

Well, forgetful Australians and narks, you have less than 10 days to get your act together or risk facing a fine.

The ABS is warning people across the country that the online form officially closes on September 23, and there's even less time to ensure the paper form gets back in time.

"If you're among the less than one in 10 households in Australia that hasn't completed your Census, now is the time to get it done," said the head of the 2016 Census, Duncan Young. "If you have your 12-digit online login number or paper form at home, complete it today before it's too late."

The ABS has good reason to be calling on the public to get on the front foot. Privacy advocates were raising red flags over the storage of data before this year's Census forms were even in letter boxes. Then, on Census night, slow response times online were followed by the whole site being taken offline amid fears of a cyber attack, leaving many Australians gun shy about going back online (and no doubt causing others to put it off altogether).

If you're one of the forgetful ones, you still have time. And if you've still got privacy concerns, it's worth weighing up your choice against the ABS's next course of action.

Here's how it escalates:

  • The ABS sends field officers to visit houses multiple times
  • Officers offer to help people with concerns or issues filling out the form
  • Final reminder letters issued to houses that have been visited multiple times
  • The Australian Statistician can direct Australians, in writing, to complete the form. Individuals are legally obliged to comply with this direction
  • If you don't, you can be referred to the Director of Public Prosecution
  • If prosecuted, you face a fine of AU$180 for each day you fail to provide information (after the deadline provided in writing)

Duncan young says the ABS has received more than 90 percent of responses back, and 2 million more online forms than the last Census in 2011.

But for a Census that was supposed to see the majority of Australians completing details online, is this a good strike rate? A 90 percent response rate more than a month after Census is certainly way off the ABS's previously-stated goal of 96 to 98 percent.

There's also something to be said for just how much extra work (and potentially, extra funding) is going into this year's Census. A lower response rate means more work from field officers having to chase down unreturned forms, and from the ABS, who have to follow up Australians with warning letters, legal action and fines.

But the real downside is the potentially inaccurate data that could come from the 2016 Census -- the year of privacy concerns, #CensusFail and a less than stellar digital performance.