Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon has declared he will refuse to provide his name on the 2016 census form this week amid privacy concerns and criticisms of recent changes made to the nationwide survey.
As well as volunteering himself as a legal test case, the South Australian senator – now with two party colleagues in the upper house and one in the House of Representatives – foreshadowed amendments to the relevant legislation.
“It seems the ABS, with the support of the Australian government, is about to trash that human right. And the way they’ve done so has been completely undignified and disrespectful to all Australians,” he said.
“I think the government and the Bureau of Statistics can simply say we won’t require names be mandatory. It will be voluntary, it won’t be a matter for coercion.”
The ABS has defended this year’s census, insisting names are critical to ensuring accuracy and that there are “extremely robust safeguards in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the information collected”.
Senator Xenophon contended there is a risk that information could be misused and that the mandatory requirements could “undermine the very trust that millions of Australians have hadin the census until now”, causing them to lie on the form.
While not explicitly encouraging others to follow his lead – as “that in itself would be a criminal offence” – he pushed the envelope.
“I warn people of the consequences of not completing the census in that they face a potential fine that could be financially crippling. Better to have a test case.
“But I postulate, and this is in no way encouraging people to not comply with the directions of the census, but I postulate that, if enough people didn’t provide their names, then it becomes a logistical nightmare for the ABS to prosecute all those people.”
The experienced political negotiator also said he would be seeking support from the major parties and crossbenchers for retrospective legislation to the Census and Statistics Act, removing the name requirement.
As well as former ABS chief Bill McLennan, the NSW Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Coombs and the Australian Privacy Foundation have expressed concerns.