Local worker shortages and COVID restrictions preventing fly-in census staff have been blamed for forms not reaching many people in Western Australia’s north.
- Staff shortages mean few census forms were delivered in the remote Kimberley region
- Many residents are unable to access online census form
- A local leader says the region could be penalised for years if data is not collected
Without forms being delivered and with little advertising, East Kimberley shire president David Menzel said many people in the region were unaware the census even took place.
“I knew it was August and I knew it was the census, but I wasn’t aware which night it was, and almost by accident I found out in time and did the form online,” he said
Executive director for the Census, Andrew Henderson, acknowledged there was a problem getting paper forms out to people across the Kimberley region.
“We’re short staffed up in the Kimberley, despite all our recruitment efforts we didn’t get as many people as we wanted,” he said.
“What we often do in the Kimberley and Pilbara is fly people in from the south east of Australia, but with lockdowns in the south-east that’s delayed things a little bit.”
It is an unconvincing explanation for Mr Menzel who also runs a farm in the Ord Irrigation Area.
“We knew that labour was going to be tight, but you could just say that they’ve got one job to do, and if they couldn’t get it organised, they’ve had years to plan it,” he said.
“I would have thought that if they were determined to find workers, they would have to be looking within the state.
“We don’t rely too much on the south east of Australia in these times, so it sounds a pretty high-risk strategey from the outset.”
No form, no fine
With few paper forms, those Kimberley residents who were aware the census was taking place had to submit their information onine.
But Mr Menzel said this was particularly problematic in a region like the Kimberley.
“We’ve always had concerns about the thoroughness of census data collection in the Kimberley, given our extremely remote and mobile community,” he said.
“So many of our population will be travelling between communities at any given time.
Mr Henderson said census staff would continue to work to reach Kimberley people in coming weeks, and penalties for late census submissions would not be applied.
“Getting out to the remote communities, the remote places, it’s not a small task,” he said.
The state member of parliament for the Kimberley Divina D’Anna declined to comment, saying it was a federal issue.
A spokesperson for the federal member of parliament representing the Kimberley, Melissa Price, said the census was the remit of the Australian Bureau of Statistics which was working to resolve any problems.
Shire president David Menzel said that if the census does not collect good data, the region could suffer for years to come.
“So much of what goes on in the Kimberley is determined by the results of the census,” he said.
“Our major concern is that we will be penalised for a poor turnout at the census, and that penalty will carry forward for the next four, five, six, seven years.”