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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1242


Senator JESSOP(5.13) —In referring to the 1983-84 annual report of the Australian Bureau of Statistics I reiterate my concern about the household survey that is presently being carried out in Australia, which I understand extends until December of this year. I have raised the matter before in the Senate by way of questions. On one of those occasions I asked the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) whether he could give me information with respect to the survey. I referred to tabled paper No. 2005, which was tabled in November 1983, dealing with the household expenditure survey of about 7,500 homes at an estimated cost of $3.3m. In this survey householders are required to complete a large number of questions put to them by specially trained people who, I understand, were trained in how to enter houses in spite of the fact that people may not particularly wish them to enter. I asked the Minister at that time whether certain rules applied in relation to the matter, and he answered that he thought that was correct and stated:

. . . subject to confirmation, that officers do not have power of entry into a house . . . the ABS has the power to compel people to fill in the diaries once they have been selected as respondents to the survey.

This survey requires people to enter into a diary, over a period of two weeks, and in country areas over a period of a month, as I understand it, every item of expenditure, even to the extent of ice creams, bottles of Coke and the like. It seemed to me to be quite an incredible survey. I understand that it is necessary to get statistics in relation to consumer demand on large items because I think it is essential that Australia does have that sort of information, but it seemed to me to be nit picking in the extreme to go into that sort of detail. I would be very surprised if that survey is accurate. I cannot imagine anybody in this chamber accurately recording every cent they spend on ice creams, glasses of beer or whatever. They are required to indicate what form of payment they make for those items, whether it be by cash, Bankcard, cheque or whatever. I believe it is an unnecessarily bureaucratic bungle. A number of people have referred this matter to the Ombudsman. I have a letter dealing with the subject which was written to the Australian Statistican, I quote the letter in part:

I note the enclosed forms HE2 and HE3 are stamped front and back ''SAMPLE COPY' ' and therefore have no legal standing.

The person who wrote the letter stated:

I also note from your letter the imperious ''Six diaries-one to be completed-

he makes the point that this is his emphasis-

by each person . . .''

This imperious command appears to be inconsistent with the enabling document tabled in both Houses of Parliament which stated inter-alia respondents ''would be asked'' to keep diaries; the wording of page 2 of the diary which states inter alia; ''we now seek your assistance'', page 9 of your Annual Report tabled 3 October which states inter alia: ''all household members aged 15 . . .

Page 3 of the document refers to the number of hours worked each week but it has no provision to record anything more than 30 or 35 hours. One would think that members of parliament work 70 or 80 hours a week, and I would have thought that might be important as well. I reiterate my concern about the matter. I understand that the Ombudsman has had several complaints and I hope that in future a more realistic approach will be applied to the question of such surveys , if they are required. I believe that the accuracy of that survey would be about one per cent.