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Denials as ministers defend census

AAP logoAAP 10/08/2016 Jennifer Rajca

After a fiasco of a census night - and nearly 20 minutes late - Small Business Minister Michael McCormack and Australian Statistician David Kalisch walked into the unforgiving light of the parliamentary press conference room to face the music.

They were armed with timelines, reassurances and denials after millions of Australians were left frustrated by error messages on the Australian Bureau of Statistics census website after it was shut down to prevent a cyber attack.

But they couldn't agree on what to call it.

"There was no attack, there was no hack," McCormack insisted as he addressed reporters on Wednesday morning.

Kalisch - standing next to the minister - twice referred to "denial-of-service attacks".

The minister provided a detailed version of what happened, outlining four denial-of-service "events", including two that occurred before Kalisch addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon.

Why didn't he inform the public of the short systems outages that first appeared mid-morning?

"I didn't think it was appropriate for me to signal that was happening," Kalisch insisted. "We had managed it effectively, the system was operating."

McCormack, who detailed his late-night conversations with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison, reminded reporters he's only been responsible for the national survey for three weeks.

He insisted any data logged was secure and Australians still had until September 23 to complete the census online - once they get it back up and running - and until September 18 for paper forms.

It was deemed better to inconvenience Australians and shut down the website than to compromise the data already collected and compromise further data.

"The ABS has apologised for this inconvenience but better to be safe than to be sorry," he said.

The government's cyber security advisor Alastair MacGibbon - suffering from a heavy cold - agreed those behind the denial-of-services attacks had successfully caused "frustration".

He said ongoing conjecture about the census had increased the site's profile.

"The more we talk about it, the more people decide to see if they are better than we are. In this case what I'd say, it almost ended up a draw."

In another press conference room 260 kilometres north of the national capital, Turnbull and Morrison were singing from the same song sheet.

"The decision was taken out of an abundance of caution," the prime minister said in Sydney, citing the unblemished record of the ABS in keeping data secure.

"The issue the ABS has been criticised for is being over-cautious last night," Morrison argued

There will be a review of what went wrong, but for now all were keen to just get it done.

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