The #CensusFail Submission

1971 | 1976 | 1981 | 1986 | 1991 | 1996 | 2001 | 2006 | 2011

History of privacy and data surveillance in Australia


History of Census synthesising statistical use with surveillance.

The list of agencies applying to be considered law enforcement under the Telecommunications Interception Act 2015 is obtained via FOI and found to be excessive and in no way limited to the investigation of terrorism or child pornography.

After failing to get the legislation to abolish the OAIC through parliament, the OAIC is re-funded in the May 2016 budget.

Australia's first National Action Plan in Open Government drafted in April, put under embargo during election period and re-opened for consultation in August.

Standing Committee on Law & Justice delivered Report on Remedies for the Serious Invasion of Privacy in NSW.


November 24: Senate Inquiry report into issues surrounding the 2016 Census due.

September 30: MacGibbon Report into the technical problems experienced by the Census online form due.

September 21: Closing date for public submissions to the inquiry into the preparation, administration and management of the 2016 Census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Census is attempted on August 9, experiencing significant popular backlash and technological issues which make world headlines.

Backlash against retention of names & addresses in the 2016 Census begins after FOI by James Smith outlining how the decision was made and intended uses of the data are revealed. The FOI specifies that the ABS is retaining names & addresses for the purpose of creating a unique linkage key to link multiple administrative datasets (para 23), in effect, creating a digital Australia Card. In this scenario, Census data is no longer being used solely for statistical purposes but for administrative purposes including for purposes of surveillance and law enforcement.


Malcolm Turnbull signs on to the Open Government Partnership, launching Australia into a nationwide consultation to 'co-create' the first National Action Plan in Open Government for implementation from July 2016 which received almost no mainstream media.

Plan to abolish OAIC part of bigger secrecy picture, The Saturday Paper, 24 June, 2015

Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 introduces statutory obligation for Australian telecommunication service providers to retain communications metadata for two years to provide warrantless access to government agencies for purposes of law enforcement.

2015 Retention of names & addresses in 2016 Census is announced for a period of 4 years for the purpose of linking Census data to multiple administrative datasets.

Abbott government introduces legislation to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. the agency is almost completely de-funded, leaving the Information Commissioner working from home.

Information Privacy Act 2014 (ACT)

Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic)


Australia announces intention to join the Open Government Partnership then nothing is heard about this till late 2015.


Attorney General publishes report Equipping Australia against emerging and evolving threats


Census is held in August.


ALRC report Secrecy Laws & Open Government (modified on 7 October 2015) 'The ALRC identified 506 secrecy provisions in 176 pieces of legislation, including 358 distinct criminal offences'

Information Privacy Act 2009 (QLD)


Labor wins office and abandons the Access Card.


ALRC report Privacy Laws & Practice 'This 28-month inquiry looked at the extent to which the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and related laws continue to provide an effective framework for the protection of privacy in Australia. It resulted in the Final Report, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108).'

Not put off the idea of a national identity card by the Australia Card debacle of 1988, the Liberal government attempts to bring in the 'Access Card'.

Australia Card Debate Flares Again, ABC, 9 Mar, 2006


Census is held in August.

CENSUS INFORMATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2005 Senate Second Reading Census Information Legislation Amendment Act 2006 'The main purpose of the bill is to codify the circumstances in which name-identified information collected in the 2006 census and all subsequent censuses may be obtained by the ABS and stored by the National Archives of Australia. The bill sets out that name-identified information will only be retained for those households which provide explicit consent.' Strict liability is restored to the Census and Statistical Information Act to increase penalties for non-compliance with the Census.

The ABS keeps names and addresses of 5% of Census participants without their informed consent for the purposes of data linkage with the longitudinal data set.


Independent Privacy Impact Assessment commissioned by ABS into proposed retention of names and addresses finds that names and addresses collected via Census should not be retained due to privacy and security concerns.

Personal Information and Protection Act 2004 (Tas)


Information Act 2003 (NT)


Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW)


Australia Card could be revived, ABC PM Radio, 3 Oct, 2001

Health Records Act 2001 (Vic)


Census is held in August.This is the first Census in which participants can opt in to have their personal information stored by National Archives t to be released in 99 years.

QLD Premier pushes the Australia Card, ABC AM Radio, 15 Nov, 2000


Government response to 1998 Inquiry Report into the destruction of names and addresses in the Census of Housing and Population. Act changed to put Census data into the public domain after 99 years from the year of that Census data for those who opt into this for the 2001 Census.

Census Information Legislation Amendment Act 2000 THE SENATE CENSUS INFORMATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2000 Second Reading SPEECH


Privacy in Queensland Report published by the Legal, Constitutional and Administrative Review Committee (QLD)

Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW)

Saving our Census & Preserving our History Inquiry Report published

Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997 (ACT)


House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Inquiry into the destruction of names and addresses in the Census of Housing and Population

Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth) (the ALRC Act) takes over from Law Reform Commission Act 1973


Census held 30 June.


QLD OAIC established under the repealed Freedom of Information Act 1992(Qld), it continues under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act) and Information Privacy Act 2009(Qld) (IP Act)

Freedom of Information Act 1992 (WA)


Census held 30 June.


As an alternate to the Australia Card, the Hawke Government introduces new provisions for the Tax File Number scheme and the Privacy Act 1988 which introduces an Australian Privacy Commissioner. Both bills pass the Federal Parliament.


Australia Card Bill defeated and laid aside.

Tax Office computer 'waiting for ID card', Canberra Times, 12 Sept, 1987

Liberals set up task force to fight Australia Card, Canberra Times, 20 Aug, 1987

MP urges boycott of Australia Card, Canberra Times, 17 Aug, 1987

Legislation for Australia Card lost in Senate, Canberra Times, 3 April, 1987

Australia Card bomb ticks away, Canberra Times, 9 Mar, 1987


Australia Card legislation introduced to parliament

Report on Australia Card backs broad data access, Canberra Times, 26 Feb, 1986

ID Card bill attacked by civil liberties council, Canberra Times, 17 Nov, 1986


Census held 30 June.

National identity card concept proposed by Labor at Tax Summit. Intentions are to police immigrants and catch welfare and tax cheats through using a unique number to join together multiple administrative datasets to track individual behaviour.

Identity Card would be a huge threat to privacy, Canberra Times, 23 Oct, 1985


Census destruction 'wasteful', Canberra Times, 20 Sept, 1985

The Federal Government agrees to the OECD Guidelines, however no significant privacy protective actions are taken during this period.


The OECD expert group delivers its findings to Prime Minister Bob Hawke.


Census held 30 June.

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expert group is established; Sir Michael Kirby is elected chairman of the expert group. The group's purpose is to develop OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data.


Access to Census forms rejected, Canberra Times, 11 Sept, 1980


Law Reform Commission report, Privacy and the Census: purpose and procedures of Australian Census recommends against an anonymised Census.

Census details 'too private to keep', Canberra Times, 18 May, 1979

Census changes proposed, Canberra Times, Apr 12, 1979

Census Questions: privacy to be protected, Canberra Times, 4 Jan 1979

Privacy Plea on National Census, Canberra Times, 16 May, 1979


Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser gives the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) reference to research privacy concerns.

Privacy (1976-83)

'The ALRC received a wide-ranging reference on privacy from the federal Attorney-General in April 1976. At the same time, public controversy arose in relation to certain aspects of the census to be held on 30 June 1976, therefore, the Attorney-General requested that the implications of the census for individual privacy be taken into account in the Commission's general reference.

The ALRC released a discussion paper Privacy and the Census (ALRC DP 8) in 1978 and its first report, Privacy and the Census (ALRC Report 12), was tabled in federal Parliament in November 1979.

ALRC Report 12 reported that the aim of the census was to produce valid statistical information for use by governments, by industry and by voluntary organisations in planning and in making decisions that affect the welfare of all Australians. The report concluded that there were enormous benefits to be gained from the information in the census, however the report recognised that public concerns were valid as existing law only provided haphazard protection for personal information.'


Census held 30 June.

For and Against the Census, Letters, Canberra Times, 30 Jun, 1976

Answers to Questions, Canberra times, 26 June, 1976

Workers Party urges Census boycott, Canberra Times, 21 June 1976

Criticism of Census, Canberra Times, 31 May, 1976

National Census begins and ends but never stops, Canberra Times, 26 May, 1976

Judge sees Census as intrusion of Privacy, Canberra Times, 23 April 1976

The threat to privacy and what can be done about it, Canberra Times, 15 Mar, 1976

The Morrison report results in the Liberal Government led by Premier, Tom Lewis introducing NSW Privacy Committee Act 1975, creating a complaints/investigation/research organisation.

The Law Reform Commission is established under the Law Reform Commission Act 1973.


First Australian statutory privacy committee established, the NSW Privacy Committee.


Morrison recommends the establishment of a permanent committee and staff to undertake research and handle complaints called the NSW Privacy Committee.


NSW Attorney General, John Madison commissions a report into privacy law by Professor Bill Morrison


Invasion of Privacy Act 1971 (QLD)


Census held 30 June.

Census forms destroyed from the 1971 - 1996 Census inclusive.

Census Secrecy, Letters, Canberra Times, 17 June, 1971

Anonymity in Census is Considered, Canberra Times, 16 June, 1971

Census Data to be kept Secret, Canberra Times, 26 May, 1971

Campaign Against Census, Canberra Times, 24 May, 1971


Privacy Invaded: MP Attacks new Census Paper, Canberra Times, 18 July, 1969