ABS staff point finger at government for Census crash: Union

The union has said ABS staffers blame the Turnbull government for the Census crash after 'dilly-dallying' in appointing a chief statistician, changing ministers thrice, and cutting staff members.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Staff members at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shifted the blame from the agency to the Turnbull government itself over the failure of the Census 2016 website, according to a report by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

"Our members working in the ABS have slugged their guts out for months to make this Census work despite multiple government decisions that have caused major problems," CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said on Friday.

"They know how critical the information collected in the Census is to the nation, and they're absolutely gutted at the damage done to the ABS' reputation and the Census itself."

Flood claimed that ABS workers "saw these problems coming a mile off", but that they had been overworked due to the ABS having 700 fewer staff members than during the previous Census.

"Critical planning time was lost as the government foolishly considered axing the Census, chopped and changed ministers three times, and dilly-dallied for nearly a year in appointing a new chief statistician," Flood continued.

"It's shameful that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said 'heads will roll' at the ABS over the Census while taking no responsibility for the real cause of this debacle: The decisions made by his government."

The ABS had previously blamed the Census website crash this week on four denial of service (DoS) attacks, while the Australian government later said a DoS attack led to a hardware router failure that resulted in the Census site being pulled down.

"It was an attempt to frustrate the collection of Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data," Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack explained.

"Had these events occurred in isolation, the online system would have been maintained," the minister said. "There was a large scale denial of service attempt to the Census website and online form ... following, and because of this, there was a hardware failure.

"A router became overloaded. After this, what is known as a false positive occurred. This is essentially a false alarm in some of the system monitoring information. As a result the ABS employed a cautious strategy which was to shut down the online Census form to ensure the integrity of the data already submitted was protected."

Earlier on Friday, Treasurer Scott Morrison called out IBM, saying that if it is found responsible, the Australian government will pursue it for compensation.

"You can expect the government to look so thoroughly into this to understand where the ultimate system failure occurred, and where that responsibility lay, and if there are issues that relate to the service provider in this case, you can expect us to pursue that to the nth degree," Morrison told ABC radio.

Morrison said the success of the Census is up to IBM and the ABS, referring to the AU$10 million contract won by IBM in 2014 following the ABS' decision in 2011 to move the Census online.

"The resources were there. The capability assessments and reviews were undertaken, the assurances were provided, and the events of 48 hours ago or thereabouts occurred."

The Census website reappeared on Thursday evening, with Morrison saying that over 400,000 households have completed the survey since then.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said on Thursday that no personal information was exfiltrated from the Census systems during the DoS attack.


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