Always two there are …

Tonight is census night and no doubt many Jedi, or even Sith, will proudly state their religion. While there can be many Jedi, there can only be two Sith – master and an apprentice – so Lexx fans could consider being assassins of the divine order. Strictly speaking, of course, it is an offence to provide false information in the census – yet at the same time the government has no lawful basis to seek that information.

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

I’m just wondering which part of that provision is ambiguous?

Of course, the far more troubling question on the census is the previous question (no. 18)

What is the person’s ancestry?

The government can always tell some cock and bull story about needing information on religion, but why would it ever need information on ethnicity? What does the ‘Australian’ option mean? Are those individuals whose ancestors are English not Australian? Will the Prime Minister write she is Welsh and not Australian, or the Leader of the Opposition state he is English and not Australian?

The option that is missing is ‘Same as last time’ – with the exception of income all my information will be the same as last time. Same house, same spouse, same children, same job …

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Always two there are …

  1. Felix the Cassowary

    Sinclair, I don’t understand how the quote from the constitution in any way prevents the government from asking questions about religion.

    The census does not establish a religion, nor does it impose any religious observance, nor does it prohibit its free exercise—note that if your religion prevents you from answering the question, it is optional—and nor does it establish a test for public office.

    All it is doing is gathering statistics. It is anonymous. You may have some reason to think it is not politically a good idea, but I don’t know how you can think it is unconstitutional.

    As for a person’s ancestory, I think Australian means little more than the person considers themselves Australian. Perhaps they have ancestory from numerous countries and consider none of them that important. I think the question is silly, but I certainly see nothing wrong with someone, who, in their own mind, is of Australian ancestory, writing “Australian”.

  2. Sinclair Davidson

    Felix – what are they going to do with the information? Acting on the information requires legislation and the constitution forbids it.

  3. val majkus

    Felix how is it anonymous when in question 2 the name of each person at the address (including visitors not counted elsewhere) has to be put

  4. And given the maximum income category is $2,000 a week or above, you will have to give the same answer to that question too.

    It is annoying that they do not adjust their categories in line with increases in earnings.

  5. boy on a bike

    What is the person’s ancestry?

    I had a mother and a father. Will that do?

  6. Nick Ferrett

    I don’t mean to be difficult but I don’t see how the clause of the Constitution quoted makes it unlawful to seek information about religious beliefs. Perhaps you mean that there is not much that the Commonwealth could lawfully do with the information?

  7. Gabrielle

    It is anonymous

    I don’t believe so. How can it be when surname and address is cross-referenced with the Census Form Number.

  8. Nick Ferrett

    Sorry. For some reason the previous comments didn’t download. Didn’t realise my point had already been made.

  9. Hopefully non-religious people will answer honestly “no religion” instead of having a laugh with answers like Jedi or Pastafarian. These answers are not tallied, which means a great deal of the atheists in the country are not being counted in the census.

  10. Richard Stacpoole

    Sinclair, your last sentence is a bit troubling for me. I would rather enter the information again than have the government store it all under my name and print it all out again. I know they have it but at least it is in theory one way flow after aggregation.

  11. Troy

    I’m not bothered to fill it out. Can anyone here explain to me why I should?

  12. Gabrielle

    I’m not bothered to fill it out.

    That’s okay, just realise the consequences:

    Is completing a Census form compulsory?

    Yes, the Census is compulsory. The Census is authorised by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

    If you do not complete the Census form, the Australian Statistician has the power to direct you in writing to provide the information. The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides for penalties of up to $110 a day for failure to complete and return a form.

  13. Barry

    Well, when the penalty for disclosure of information is only $13k, it would be quite feasible for the ATO and ASIO, and ASIS, and centrelink to obtain all the census data.

    The disclosure is not prevented in any way, there is just a penalty attached to doing so.

    The rewards for disclosure so far outweigh the penalties, I can’t imagine that the Census data is not disclosed to all of the above.

  14. bytheway

    The question on ethnicity if fatally confused by the reference to “ancestry” as a quasi synonym. Parents? Grand-parents? As far back as it takes to avoid the bottom-ranked “Australian”?

  15. Troy

    I’m not on the lease here and I’m moving out at the end of the month. So I think I could get away with it. Do they really fine people or is that just an empty threat? I just don’t feel like helping the government find more efficient ways to fuck us over

  16. daddy dave

    Can anyone here explain to me why I should?

    It improves decision making in both the public and private sector if there’s accurate demographic information.
    Also, lot of market and social research is calibrated against census data so the information loss extends way beyond the census itself.

  17. Rococo Liberal

    Is it compulsory to answer the question on religion?

  18. Gabrielle

    question on religion

    “No Carbon [sic] Tax” is my religion.

  19. daddy dave

    I just don’t feel like helping the government find more efficient ways to fuck us over

    The government can do that just fine without a census. This isn’t an Australia card, it’s a one off paper survey to map demography.
    Get a grip.

  20. Rococo Liberal

    dd

    That’s not a very Libertarian answer.

    Surely it would be better to ensure Governments didn’t have too much information. This would ensure that their legitimacy was reduced; we could always argue that any preciptous action, like the co2 tax would be taken without enough information. This would be a perfect scenario for those who believe in the nightwatchman state.

  21. conrad

    “It improves decision making in both the public and private sector…”

    The alternative is that, like every other organization in Australia, they shouldn’t have the right to force people to do it — and they should be aware that forcing people to do things they don’t want always leads to different forms of non-compliance anyway. I don’t see why the can’t just get essentially the same information via sampling.

  22. I’m not bothered to fill it out. Can anyone here explain to me why I should?

    I once refused to cooperate with a census, but I now use a lot of the data and appreciate its value. If we accept the government is going to do things (how many things is a different issue), then it should at least have sound basic information to start with.

    AFAIK, names are removed from the data as soon as it’s received. The name is only used to confirm you’ve submitted it.

  23. daddy dave

    I don’t see why the can’t just get essentially the same information via sampling.

    sampling’s much more effective if you know the parameters of the population you’re sampling from. e.g., in a population survey, what proportion of your sample should come from Melbourne versus rural Victoria?

  24. And members of the sample would have to compulsorily respond to ensure it was representative anyway. No improvement there.

  25. daddy dave

    How could you find out the total population from sampling anyway? I don’t see how that could even be done.

  26. Fleeced

    And given the maximum income category is $2,000 a week or above, you will have to give the same answer to that question too.

    I noticed this, and figured the stats were going to be pretty useless.

  27. Felix the Cassowary

    Sinclair, only the Commonwealth is bound by that clause of the constitution, but the states can still make such legislation. On top of that, funding schools (etc), which happen to be religious, does not amount to the establishment of a religion, or in any way breach that clause. I have never understood the logic that it does, and neither, for that matter, does the High Court. (But even if it agreed with the view it is an establishment, knowing the Australian political system, the states would still be free to—and would.)

    Apologies for the mistake on the anonymous aspect. I’m not in Australia today, and my recollection of the census last time was that the section on name and address was meant to be separated from the rest. If I am wrong on that, then I retract that much of my statement.

  28. Sinclair Davidson

    Sinclair, only the Commonwealth is bound by that clause of the constitution, but the states can still make such legislation.

    Agreed – the ABS is a federal agency.

    I don’t mean to be difficult but I don’t see how the clause of the Constitution quoted makes it unlawful to seek information about religious beliefs. Perhaps you mean that there is not much that the Commonwealth could lawfully do with the information?

    They have no lawful use of the information. But I’ll try this excuse the next I’m interviewing a female applicant for a job. Questions like, ‘are you pregnant now?’, do you intend to become pregnant anytime soon?’ and see how it goes, not well I would expect.

    I would rather enter the information again than have the government store it all under my name and print it all out again.

    The government already stores it under your name. They just don’t release it under your name – not for 99 years and only if you tick the box.

  29. conrad

    “in a population survey, what proportion of your sample should come from Melbourne versus rural Victoria?”

    I don’t see why that’s a problem. You should be able to fairly accurately apriori determine the population of a certain region based on information the government already has (e.g., housing data and so on). After that, I really can’t see why you can’t figure everything else out without the need to force everyone to comply.

  30. daddy dave

    Figuring out the population of Melbourne using indirect sources like housing data would be highly error prone. Finding out the population of rural Victoria even more so.

    I agree that it’s an impost on individuals but the impost is both minimal and benign.

  31. conrad

    “Figuring out the population of Melbourne using indirect sources like housing data would be highly error prone.”

    I can’t see why that would true — the government has access to the entire set of housing data and voluntary responses from individuals (which would presumably be quite high) which could then be used to make sure estimating the population is very accurate. I also don’t see why you need perfect information for most of the social planning things — I imagine for most things you only need gross information (e.g., if there about 100,000 people in this area, think about putting a bus through, or if there are around 4000, put a school in).

    “I agree that it’s an impost on individuals but the impost is both minimal and benign.”

    I’m with Sinclair on this. I really don’t see the need for the government to know some of the information asked. In addition, I see it as a private decision as to whether I should have to divulge certain information. For example, why not ask people if they have certain diseases etc.? That would be useful in planning also. But we don’t do it because we don’t think people should have to divulge this type of stuff.

  32. conrad

    Actually, if you’re really fussed and think that populations can’t be estimated well, an alternative would be to make the “How many people were in this residence” question compulsary, and all the rest voluntary.

  33. ar

    I used to answer “Anglican” but their wishi-washiness has got me ticking “no religion” this time. Take that!

    The income question is clearly inadequate. $2000 p/w doesn’t even get you into the top tax bracket.

  34. daddy dave

    the government has access to the entire set of housing data and voluntary responses from individuals (which would presumably be quite high) which could then be used to make sure estimating the population is very accurate

    I’m not sure what magical and complete ‘housing data’ you’re thinking of that would allow accurate estimation of the population.
    Voluntary response rates for run-of-the-mill social surveys is pretty low.

    an alternative would be to make the “How many people were in this residence” question compulsary, and all the rest voluntary.

    …and age and sex. Those three would provide you with the fundamental building blocks of the demographic distribution.

  35. papachango

    The government already stores it under your name. They just don’t release it under your name – not for 99 years and only if you tick the box.

    This is true, or at least it was. I’ve been chasing up a bit of family history and census records from 1901 and earlier are online.

  36. steve

    Re the religion question Sinclair, did you miss the bit on the form that says answering that question is optional?

  37. Jack P

    In what is either a massive coincidence or Jimmy Wales being uber-relevant, Wikipedia’s featured article today is on s116 of the Constitution.

  38. Sinclair Davidson

    Steve – why ask it at all? Ditto the ethnicity question.

  39. Nick Ferrett

    They have no lawful use of the information. But I’ll try this excuse the next I’m interviewing a female applicant for a job. Questions like, ‘are you pregnant now?’, do you intend to become pregnant anytime soon?’ and see how it goes, not well I would expect.

    That is what is called pulling your argument up by the bootstraps. Your proposition was that it’s unlawful to collect the information. It isn’t. The question is what you do with the information. Your pregnancy question highlights the fact that you may infer why they want the information from the fact that they want it at all, but it doesn’t make what you said correct. Smugness doesn’t get you any further along the road either.

  40. Driftforge

    The government already stores it under your name. They just don’t release it under your name – not for 99 years and only if you tick the box.

    Not entirely true/false. It is stored with a reference number, and the name corresponding to the reference number is stored separately.

  41. steve

    Sinclair – I think Religion is quite relevant. There’s an argument going on in NSW at present about the role of “scripture” classes in NSW public schools. When the laws were written, the Christian population was probably close to 100%. As that ratio continues to drop, the place of “scripture” classes in government schools can become debatable. Without accurate information it’s harder to have a sensible debate.

    As an atheist, I wish atheists would say “atheist” rather than Jedi or Pastafarian or similar. An accurate measure of religious belief would be useful. It can answer questions like “Is Fred Nile mainstream, or is he fringe”?

    Ancestry (which is what the Census calls it, rather than ethnicity, which is an interesting nuance in itself) is an interesting one. Language is an obviously useful measure, but that is asked separately. What would be very useful would be some ideas of the sorts of studies that use the information. I can’t remember if they asked ancestry last time.

  42. steve

    Nick – thanks for the link, I’m still laughing!!

  43. Infidel Tiger

    Nick – thanks for the link, I’m still laughing!!

    That’s because you are a moron with a room temperature IQ.

  44. Sinclair Davidson

    Your proposition was that it’s unlawful to collect the information. It isn’t. The question is what you do with the information.

    Nick – you’re far too tolerant of criminals and potential lawbreakers. I prefer the building a wall around the Torah notion. If using the information is unlawful, collecting the information is unlawful.

  45. Nick Ferrett

    I’m not tolerant of criminals. Everyone is a potential lawbreaker. I believe in prosecuting people for actual rather than forecast crimes.

    Using the information is not unlawful. There is no law banning its use. The Constitution prevents a law authorising the establishment of a state religion. It does not ban the collection of demographic information. It would not prevent, for example, a law authorising the sale of demographic information collected through the census.

    Also, the limitation is on legislative power. The government cannot breach the provision. At best, it can act without legislative authority, but I can’t really see how the collection of information is ultra vires.

  46. Sinclair Davidson

    Using the information is not unlawful. There is no law banning its use.

    There is – it’s called the constitution. Now I understand that lawyers have a specific view of the constitution – I studied that view at law school. I far prefer the contractual view of constitutions where it sets out an agreement between the state and citizens. For example I would argue that the state can never act without legislative or constitutional authority.

    I believe in prosecuting people for actual rather than forecast crimes.

    Generally I’d agree. Yet I would also be persuaded that an individual with currency plates is a counterfeiter and a person with house breaking equipment is a house breaker and so on.

  47. TerjeP

    Steve – why ask it at all? Ditto the ethnicity question.

    How else we know the quantity of brown Muslims in Australia?

  48. Sinclair Davidson

    You’re a bad man 🙂

  49. Nick Ferrett

    Assuming it is a contract between the state and the citizens (notwithstanding the lack of a consensus) the provision on which you lie prevents parliament from making a particular kind of law. That is all.

    The constitution doesn’t ban the use of the information. You’re just wrong about that.

  50. Nick Ferrett

    That said, the naive, Daryl-from-the-Castle quality to your argument is kind of entertaining. Try and work “it’s the vibe” into your next response.

  51. steve

    IT – Thanks for the advice on what should be considered funny. Though I do find it surprising to find a totalitarian view of humour on a “libertarian” blog.

  52. Sinclair Davidson

    LoL. yeah, yeah.

    I’m trying to remember the Latin, if there is no remedy there is no law. It should have been there is no law without a remedy.

  53. wreckage

    So we know how scared we need to be of the Yellow Peril?

  54. Sinclair Davidson

    I should say I did well in Constitutional law – this man took the subject in those days.

  55. Sinclair Davidson

    Latin could be if there is no remedy there is no law.

  56. Sinclair Davidson

    Found it: ubi jus ibi remedium.

  57. Regarding the government’s promise that your data is confidential, and they’ll never ever use it against you, do keep in mind what the Democrats did in the 1940s…

    Confirmed: The U.S. Census Bureau Gave Up Names of Japanese-Americans in WW II

    Despite decades of denials, government records confirm that the U.S. Census Bureau provided the U.S. Secret Service with names and addresses of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

    What one government promises today can be wiped away by tomorrow’s government in the name of political expediency.

  58. RH

    Asking about ancestry seems particularly difficult to justify on the basis of information requirements for governing. Though I admit to curiosity about the result, and to liking knowing where Australians come from, I can’t see how government can use the information for legitimate purposes.

    I am almost at the same position for religion – while it may be interesting to me and maybe to researchers to know Australia’s religious composition in total and across locations, are there many government decisions that should be taking religious composition into account? Maybe the selection of public holidays?! I don’t know.

Comments are closed.