ABS collateral damage in postal plebiscite chaos

The CPSU has raised serious concerns about the Turnbull Government’s decision to make the Australian Bureau of Statistics run a postal plebiscite on marriage equality.

Chief Statistician David Kalisch has confirmed the unprecedented step to ABS staff, telling them that the agency will conduct the postal plebiscite under the Census and Statistics Act.

An internal ABS taskforce has been formed to consider the task, made even more difficult by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s early November deadline.

CPSU Deputy Secretary Melissa Donnelly said: “We have serious concerns about the capacity of the ABS to run a postal plebiscite. This is an agency already under massive pressure and struggling with its core functions after two rounds of job cuts, as has been shown in recent times by Census fail and also some issues with employment and other economic data.”

“The CPSU has been contacted by a number of ABS staff who are deeply worried about this decision. They’re not just concerned about the ABS’s ability to conduct a plebiscite, given how different it is to their regular work and the capacity constraints they face, but that such a highly political process will undermine the independence of the agency.”

“More than 160 highly qualified ABS staff have been sacked in the past nine months alone. The Government has slashed and burned in the ABS and yet now is demanding a postal plebiscite be run in just a few short months.”

“The Government’s argument that this situation is nothing new because of the national anthem poll run by the ABS in 1974 is ridiculous. In that case 60,000 people were surveyed over the telephone as part of the ABS’s regular statistical work. A postal plebiscite is a completely different process.”

“It’s entirely appropriate and indeed will be essential for the ABS to be provided additional funding and resourcing if it is to run this postal plebiscite, but the fact remains that the bureau is clearly not the most appropriate agency or organisation to be carrying out this task. It appears once again that political expediency rather than logic is driving the decision making process.”

“The Australian Electoral Commission’s involvement means it will also need additional resources to deal with this unplanned and rushed extra work. The Turnbull Government has also cut staff at the AEC, adding to the risks posed by this plebiscite.”