There Are More Important Things to Worry about Than the Census

Australian private (household and company) debt as a percentage of GDP is over 200%.

The ASX slowly, but surely, continues to inch its way towards the 6000 point mark, despite unremarkable company earnings.

And house prices remain unaffordable for many Australians, in spite of record low wages growth.

Few seem to appreciate how perilous the present situation really is. But no one really cares. Not really. They’re too preoccupied, frittering their time talking about a bleeding website blunder instead.

Of course, when there are grave economic matters facing us, there’s nothing like the hubbub of a good diversion to distract and regale. You can always rely on the media and public to vent their outrage at largely insignificant matters.

Distract, deceive, and divide. Rinse and repeat.

The mainstream media has perfected this art down to a tee. But, often, we, as a nation, manage to do that all on our own, without their guidance.

The Census Failure

When, on Tuesday night, the ABS Census website went down under a barrage of cyber-attacks, you had a feeling it was going to be one of ‘those’ weeks. And so it has proven.

We became a nation of irate whingers perched over keyboards hitting F5 over and over. We familiarised ourselves with denial of service (DoS) attacks, hacks and hackers, and cyber security threats. What’s more, we reacquainted ourselves with good old government incompetence.

But what should have been a harmless bungle has turned into a full blown meltdown. And boy are people mad. This morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went so far as to warn of ‘very serious consequences’ for responsible parties once an inquiry into the matter is carried out.

Here’s what he had to say:

I, too, am very angry about this, I am bitterly disappointed about this. This has clearly been a failure on the part of the ABS. Absolutely a failure on the part of the ABS.

The denial of service attacks were completely predictable [and] should have been repelled readily. They weren’t because of failures in the system that had been put in place for ABS by IBM.

There is no doubt there were failures in the system’s preparation for an entirely predictable denial of service attack. Measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial of service attacks were not put in place.

The review, and which heads will roll where and when, will follow. My prediction is that there will be some very serious consequences for this.

Should we expect sackings at the Australian Bureau of Statistics? Or will the Australian government go after IBM instead? You suspect the only person who should be worrying about their job is the janitor that was on shift at 45 Benjamin Way, Belconnen, ACT, the night of the incident.

The only thing an inquest will achieve is to waste even more taxpayers’ money. Maybe the inquiry will ask the question of why we even have a census in the first place. On second thought, we know better than to hope for that.

As the quibbling continues, though, we can’t help but ask ourselves whether any of this warrants the kind of attention it has received?

Well, let’s take a look.

Did it sully the public’s view of government bureaucracies? No. Public opinion of the government, and its many bureaucracies, is at a nadir, anyway. We have a minority government because no one trusts either Labor or the ALP to lead with a majority. We have come to expect stupidity, incompetence, and corruption from our leaders. This latest screw up is hardly beyond the pale.

Next, did this cyber security breach lead to the transfer and theft of highly personal data? No, because a DoS attack doesn’t do that. It overloads servers to crash websites. So the grounds for identity theft simply aren’t there.

But, assuming these attacks were more serious, and the theft of personal data did take place, would it matter in the context of the Census? Maybe, it all depends on where you stand on privacy. Ultimately, though, no one really cares how many hours of housework you did last week.

Perhaps the biggest crime committed is that the government didn’t make it clearer that people had six weeks to complete the census. Instead of ‘Census night’, they would’ve been better off calling it the Census week. That way, eight million households wouldn’t have tried to log on at once.

Either way, when this all blows over, as it inevitably will, we’ll back to avoiding the things that truly matter.

More Important to the Aussie Economy

Things like the rising cost of living. Like unaffordable property prices. Like never-before-seen levels of private debt. Like record low interest rates that continue to erode the value of the Aussie dollar — and your purchasing power. Like the global bond market bubble that’s getting closer to popping.

All these things are far more important than a 404 error. If you’re going to be up in arms about anything, save it for the things that could truly affect your life.

Mat Spasic,

Contributor, Markets and Money

Markets and Money offers an independent and critical perspective on the Australian and global investment markets. Slightly offbeat and far from institutional, Markets and Money delivers you straight-forward, humorous, and useful investment insights from a world wide network of analysts, contrarians, and successful investors.

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