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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 970

Senator JESSOP —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer him to tabled paper 2005 of 30 November 1983, proposal No. 13 of 1983 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, dealing with household expenditure surveys of about 7,500 homes at an estimated cost of $3.3m. The paper states inter alia:

All household members aged 15 years and over will be asked--

I repeat 'asked'-

to record all payments made over a two week period, (four weeks in the rural areas) in a diary provided for the purpose.

Is it a fact that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has informed respondents selected for this survey that they are required-I repeat 'required'-to keep such a diary? Is it also a fact that the interviewers have been provided with training instructions on how to circumvent their lack of power of entry to private premises? Will the Government stop this big brother activity by directing the Australian Bureau of Statistics to inform its respondents of their full rights in detail in respect of this survey and to withdraw any letter which implies that the completion of this diary is mandatory?

Senator WALSH —I cannot remember all the questions that Senator Jessop has asked and I do not have paper 2005 to which he referred. If I may answer in more general terms, so far as I am aware-subject to being checked out by the Treasurer-the procedures being followed in the household expenditure survey are no different from procedures which have been followed in the past. Senator Jessop referred to the lack of power of Australian Bureau of Statistics officers in collecting material. I think it is correct, and all this is subject to confirmation, that officers do not have power of entry into a house, but I am advised that the ABS has the power to compel people to fill in the diaries once they have been selected as respondents to the survey. That is a power, however, which is rarely, indeed probably never, actually used. Over a long period the Statistician has adopted the view that it is better to persuade people than to coerce them with the long arm of the law. This is because information given under coercion is less likely to be accurate than that given voluntarily and the reliability of the survey would therefore be affected.

I do not think I need go through the reasons for this information being collected. I do not think there is any serious dispute about that from anyone. Such information is valuable, if not essential, to governments. Some concern has been expressed, and I remember this about the general census in 1971 when there was a virtual campaign of non-compliance being promoted by some people. That is always there, but it should be stressed that all the households or all the individuals in the households selected for this survey can be assured that all information is subject to stringent safeguards regarding confidentiality and the ABS has an unbroken record in this regard. If I have not covered the other specific questions that Senator Jessop raised I shall see whether the Treasurer has anything to add to my comments.