Kyle Chalmers, hacking speculation, and that Census again

Absolutely riveted by that 100 metre freestyle final in Rio! What a performance!


 Kyle Chalmers

Particularly in the scenes of Chalmers’s school in Adelaide I was reminded of that excellent ABC miniseries Barracuda. As I said on 25 July:

Barracuda has proven a real winner. I have been close enough to the career of an Olympic swimmer (my cousin’s daughter Beverley, Gold Medallist at Munich in 1972) to recognise much that is authentic in the show. See also my 2014 post The swimmer.

Barracuda: unmissable.

Meanwhile the rumour mill has thrown up this story: Rio 2016: DoS attack made on Swimming Australia website after Mack Horton’s drug remarks. Which brings me to that Census.

First, talking to others at Diggers on Wednesday I found more people of my acquaintance who NEVER received the magic log-on/apply for a form letter. In common they all live in public housing here in Wollongong. Makes one wonder if there is another stuff-up we haven’t heard much about yet! Australia Post this time?

Second, the China thing again: Census attack ‘could be Chinese hackers unhappy about Mack Horton v Sun Yang drugs. saga’

Melbourne University cyber security expert Suelette Dreyfus says the attacks on yesterday’s census could be the work of Chinese citizens unhappy about Australian swimmer Mack Horton calling his Chinese rival Sun Yang a drug cheat.

“It’s not way out of left field [as a motivation],” she said.

She believes the “noisy” attack looks more likely to have been the work of civilians rather than a foreign government.

Despite the Australian Government saying the attack was from overseas, Dr Dreyfus still believes it could have come from within Australia.

“It could have just been literally bedroom hackers in Australia routing their traffic … through overseas in order to make it appear as though they were coming from there,” she said.

But Dr Dreyfus believes it is unlikely China’s Government would have committed such an attack if it was trying to hack into the census data…

Well, maybe.

Third, Greg Jericho, among others, is probably right about the mess, and mess it has been:

The complete balls-up of the census on Tuesday night should be absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the way the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been run and how it has been treated by the government. It is the story of what happens when governments believe cutting funding has no consequence and that paying fewer people to do the same work is an “efficiency” regardless of quality.

I am probably among the top 0.1% users of the ABS website. I spend whole days looking at data, and as one who will mine the census data when it is finally released I had no issue with completing my census form. I wasn’t very much persuaded by those arguing I should boycott the census due to privacy fears, mostly because I found the arguments pretty weak and covered in layers of smugness towards anyone who dared to suggest the concerns were overstated…

The funding cuts continued under the Abbott government. In June 2014, the ABS announced it would cut a number of surveys in order to reduce its spending by $50m over three years…

The ABS does work that for the most part could not be done with the same level of trust by the private sector. Yes the funding cuts and “efficiency dividends” have helped save some money over the past few years, but the cost to the reputation of the ABS from this bungle is enormous.

And the ABS, above all, relies on its reputation.

There will no doubt be the desire to call for someone to be sacked due to this failure – and rightly so. But unless there is a change in how governments treat and regard the public sector, such failures will only continue.

Compare Fairfax’s Peter Martin:

…Woefully unprepared to explain why [the ABS] now wanted to retain names, it emphasised instead the digital nature of the census. It would save millions by posting login codes to most of the population rather than delivering forms. Had it delivered, or even posted, forms it would have had a backup.

Instead it gave most of Australia only one way to submit census forms, emphasised the importance of the survey it had previously tried to ditch, threatened fines of $180 per day for people who didn’t comply, and underestimated either the strain on the system or the security of the system.

At almost every step of the way the government has been hands off. The latest minister (Michael McCormack has been in charge of the ABS for less than two weeks) gives the impression the decision to retain names didn’t even go to cabinet.

There’s already been an inquiry into the ABS. It found it was not properly ready “to maximise the value of all government-held information”. Which might be part of the problem. Until now one of Australia’s most trusted organisations, it has tried to catch up too fast. The government has looked the other way.