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Govt, ABS move to calm census fears

AAP logoAAP 3/08/2016 By Belinda Merhab

The federal government has stepped in to defend the controversy-plagued census amid growing concerns about privacy and the move to an online form.

Australian Bureau of Statistics boss David Kalisch sought to quell fears on Wednesday, apologising after a 24-hour phone line for those requesting a paper form was jammed, having been inundated with more than 500,000 calls.

The ABS has now put hundreds more staff and phone lines in place to cope with the unexpected demand.

Mr Kalisch also rejected criticisms from advocates concerned about changes to privacy provisions, insisting they were a "regular feature" at every census.

"I can assure the Australian population that the ABS has the best security features that you could ever ask for," he told reporters in Canberra.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in, insisting the ABS always protected people's privacy.

"The security of their personal details is absolute and that is protected by law and by practice," he told reporters in Canberra.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the ABS had an "unblemished record" when it came to privacy.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon has called on the government to delay the census date, given the overwhelming number of complaints he's received from people concerned they haven't received their paperwork and experiencing significant delays and disconnections when they try calling the ABS for help.

National Seniors Australia says older Australians are suffering "undue anxiety", worried about copping fines of up to $180 a day for failing to complete the form if it doesn't arrive in time.

Mr Morrison insisted penalty notices were a last resort for the ABS and were only issued where there was a clear willingness not to participate.

Just 100 were issued at the last census.

"I'm more than confident that the penalty notices are not going to be issued in the sort of circumstances that people are worried about," he told reporters in Adelaide.

The ABS is reassuring households they will receive all the necessary forms before census night on August 9.

They won't be fined if they don't complete the form in time.

"We will be giving people ample opportunity to complete their census in the weeks following census night," head of the census program Duncan Young said.

Census officers would visit homes that hadn't completed their forms from mid-August to remind and assist them, he said.

About 65 per cent of people are expected to complete the census online, saving taxpayers $100 million.

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