ABS Surveys


Story Details

One knock on your door and your private life is Government property.

"They can ask me anything they want, there is no limit", said Chris Le Roy.

But Chris says this time the Australian Bureau of Statistics has picked the wrong guy.  Chris says he'll go to jail rather than answer intrusive questions about his sex life and when, or if, his partner will be home alone. 

Chris was minding his own business at home on a Saturday when an ABS field officer landed on his doorstep telling him he'd been randomly selected for an eight month long survey.  "He said basically if I don't answer these questions now I would be summarily charged by the Australian Statistician, be brought before the Federal Court and if found guilty I would actually be going to jail", Chris said.

Worried he was being conned, he hit the internet only to learn he's not alone.  “We had one gentleman who said he had been through the same experience.  He had actually written, ‘we had a field officer repeatedly ask us for details of my wife's sex life and details of past relationships. We too were threatened with criminal charges and court action’", Chris said.

"People should not be compelled or coerced, let alone threatened or fined for not complying with what is supposed to be a random survey", said former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

She knows it happens - it happened to her mum.  "My mum's case was incredibly rare that she was successful and that they left her alone”, Natasha said.

More than 20 years ago Shirley Stott took the ABS on in court after she refused to answer questions about smoking as part of a seven month survey
-- she won, but only on a technicality.  "I don't rate the average person's chance of beating the ABS", Natasha said.

"To persecute people who may not be willing or able or interested, who don't want to share their private and personal information every month for eight months, to prosecute people on those issues seems extraordinarily undemocratic", she added.

And extraordinarily costly: Every day that goes by that you don't answer their questions, you can be fined $170.  Last financial year the ABS took action against nearly 1,500 Australians.   94 cases were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. 

"The frightening part about this is no-one is safe.   The ABS selects 350,000 homes and businesses each year and if you're targeted the only subject you can legally refuse to answer questions on is religion”, Natasha said.

When Natasha mother's case hit the headlines, politicians tried and failed to change the laws.  "I understand the value of statistics and also understand the importance of random selection for surveys, but where there are people who feel uncomfortable, philosophically or otherwise, please leave them alone”, she said.

"I'm an Australian citizen; I'm a shareholder in this country.  This isn't right and we've got to change this, we have got to protect our people", Chris said.

He now lives waiting for the next unwelcome knock on his door.