Why I’m an embarrassed Australian in New York in the wake of the Census debacle

Here I am in New York City and, after watching and reading the many US reports about our Census debacle, I’m feeling a deep embarrassment about what Americans must think of us.

To the rest of the world, Australia is considered a tech-savvy nation of early adopters with a clear roadmap of our future.

At least we were.

Today we’re looking like a bunch of hillbillies with NBC, the New York Times, USA Today and even the Toronto Star (just to name a few) reporting about our Census fail and using words like “chaos” and “plagued”.

Many Americans still think Australia is just a bunch of cities built on dirt roads with kangaroos running wild and the report about the bungled Census hasn’t done much to alter that perception.

The NBC report

Ironically, while viewing the Olympic coverage on NBC, you’re not much chance of seeing any mention of Australians unless they’re competing in the same final as an American.

When the women’s rugby team won the gold medal, NBC was screening a swimming heat.

But when Australia stuffs up the Census, they US press is all over us.

The description of Australia’s “first attempt to conduct a census online” makes us look like Eddie the Eagle having his first crack at the 70-metre ski jump.

And to sink the boot in even further, NBC decided to add to their story that Australia ranks 48th in the world by average speed.

New York Times report on the Australian Census

The expressions on faces of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison in the picture used by New York Times and the Toronto Star as they look at each other would also be great to use for a caption competition.

What makes things worse is that Prime Minister Turnbull was all about innovation and looking to the future before the election.

This debacle doesn’t help the Government’s image as innovators.

Although Mr Turnbull did come out swinging on radio and promising that “heads will roll”.

Meanwhile more detail has been revealed about what actually happened during the denial of service hijacks.

The USA Today report

It didn’t take a genius to predict there would be some hackers trying to screw with the Census.

They knew the date it was going to take place months ago, they knew there would be a lot of people sharing information at high volumes.

It was revealed that IBM was awarded the $10m contract run the Census site and keep it secure.

Security podcaster Patrick Gray – host of the Risky Business podcast – says IBM decided against using extra defences for a DoS attack.

Instead, according to Gray, IBM instead asked their upstream provider NextGen to simply geo-block any traffic not coming from Australia. Brilliant move. Have they heard of VPNs?

But while we squabble about what caused the Census fail and who is to blame, Australia is still taking a beating on the international stage.

We’ve become a laughing stock.


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  • Sharmaine

    I highly doubt it was hackers or DDOS, but more the result of poor planning by a government agency, as usual.

    The ABS had built their system to be able to cope with 1m users/hour, but encouraged 23m Australians to use the website, on the same night. They simply assumed that users would steadily use the website every hour, and made no contingency plans for any spikes that would knowingly occur during the 6pm-9pm peak time. It was obviously going to crash spectacularly as a result, and it certainly did.

  • IT Enquirer

    Technologically, Australia was viewed (especially in Asia) as a bunch of backward morons stock long before census night.

    We became a laughing stock the moment Abbott and Turnbull sabotaged the FTTP NBN, and it has all been downhill from there.