Doctors Call For Census Powers Overhaul Privacy Commissioner Must Have Veto – 2 August 1996

The Australian Doctors’ Fund has called on the Federal Government to curtail the powers of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) following a long running dispute.

Spokesman for the Fund, Stephen Milgate, said that “most Australians would not be aware that the ABS can demand at any time (not just at census time) answers to any aspect of their lifestyle or business other than their religion and sexual behaviour”.

If you don’t fill in their form or if you don’t fill it in to the satisfaction of the ABS you can be sent a notice giving you 14 days to do so (A DIRECTION UNDER SUBSECTION 10(4)).

If you do not comply or if the ABS don’t like the answers you give you will be fined up to $100 per day for every day you don’t comply. There is no appeal under the Act.

Mr Milgate said Doctors were in dispute with the ABS because:

  1. They have been asked to supply information about their non medical income which the Commonwealth Department of Health wanted to use in future negotiations
  2. Only certain doctors had been targeted
  3. The Commonwealth Department of Health already had information about doctors medical billings but wanted their personal information as well
  4. The Privacy Commissioner’s concerns on this matter have been ignored.

“The ABS has shown a flagrant disregard for the Privacy Commissioner. It has used powers of the Census to bully decent Australians into spending hours of their time and money filling in forms about many issues which many Australians believe are no business of Government”.

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics is a law unto itself. Powers designed to get a valid census result have been dramatically extended”.

“Appeals to Senator Gibson who is the Parliamentary Spokesman on ABS matters have met with a Yes Minister response, the Privacy Commissioner’s concerns were not even mentioned by Senator Gibson”.

“The stand we are taking is not just for doctors. Many Australians who are being bullied by the ABS would find it difficult as individuals to oppose the unfetted powers of the ABS bureaucracy.

“The Privacy Commissioner must be given overriding power of veto over ABS activity”.