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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8418

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (19:10): I rise this evening to discuss a constituent's recent experience with a federal government agency, the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Perhaps it has long outlived its usefulness in a modern age, and I will describe what has happened to one of my constituents.

Recently, an elderly constituent living in one of the Maranoa electorate's smaller rural communities contacted my office regarding the Australian Health Survey 2011-13 which is currently being conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. She had been randomly selected to participate in the survey, which forces her to answer personal questions about her health and her lifestyle to government bureaucrats.

According to the government, this survey is expected to be the most comprehensive research on health that Australians have ever had undertaken. Participants will be weighed and measured and also asked detailed questions on what they eat and drink and their physical activity. Answering these questions is compulsory and, whilst providing a blood and urine sample is voluntary, 50,000 adults and children from around Australia will be randomly sampled to give a snapshot of the nation's health. Those 50,000 people will be compelled to take part in the survey. If they refuse to divulge information on their health and lifestyle to the ABS, they will face a hefty fine.

The resident who was randomly selected in one of the communities in the electorate of Maranoa is an 89-year-old woman. After finding an unknown vehicle parked outside her house, she was handed a leaflet about the survey and was informed she was 'one of the lucky ones to be selected'. She told the person that she was not interested in the survey as she was too old and suggested they find someone else. She thought that the ABS person would then go away.

Not so. A few days later the lady, my constituent, on returning to her home found that a letter from the ABS had been placed under her door. The letter advised her that the ABS had the power to direct unwilling participants to provide personal information. Operating under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the ABS can impose a fine of up to $110 a day if the participant refuses to comply after being directed to do so in writing. Can you believe it? Is this a soviet state we live in these days? I hope not.

The tone used in the letter—which I have—was both arrogant and confronting. An elderly lady is justifiably concerned about letting strangers into her house and divulging confidential information about her health. These standover tactics are completely unacceptable, particularly from a federal government agency, when it involves an 89-year-old woman.

The federal government has just conducted the 2011 Census and will now be spending some $48 million on this survey. Surely that $48 million that is going to be used obviously to make work for the ABS and health department could have been wisely invested in rural communities crying out for better health services, for instance. Queensland is home to one-third of the nation's regional population and my electorate is 42 per cent of the landmass of Queensland, and yet Queensland received only $164 million of the federal government's $1.8 billion for regional health and hospital funding announced in the federal budget. Now, $48 million would go a long way in the electorate of Maranoa or many regional areas, for that matter, across Australia towards better health services rather than conducting ABS statistical surveys which I think are of doubtful value in this day and age.

I know my constituents in the town of Mitchell are looking for some funds for an aged-care facility. Half a million dollars out of that $48 million would go an awfully long way there. I know in Kingaroy they are looking for better palliative care services. These are much needed and yet my electorate received some $4 million from that $1.8 billion health fund that was announced in the budget.

I am extremely disappointed with the conduct of the ABS in regard to this sensitive and private information. I will be writing to the minister and I will also be writing to the ABS. They can do better. This is a statistical service that is no longer required in this day and age, given modern technology. (Time expired)