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IBM pays for census failings

AAP logoAAP 24/11/2016 Max Blenkin

IT company IBM has paid out millions in a confidential settlement over the bungled census and so they should have, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

The census was marred by a series of "common or garden, utterly predictable, utterly foreseeable denial of service attacks" which IBM was being paid big money to prevent, Mr Turnbull saays.

"It would not be an exaggeration to say we had a collective sense of humour failure about IBM's performance here and they have 'fessed up, they've paid up and we're going to learn the lessons of this incident," he told Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio 3AW on Friday.

The census, mostly conducted online on the night of August 9, was marred by cyber attacks which prompted the Australian Bureau of Statistics to shut it down for almost two days.

Two inquiries have examined what went wrong.

The Labor-dominated Senate economics reference committee said many parties had not lived up to their responsibilities in delivering the 2016 census but primary responsibility was with the government.

It said ABS funding had been eroded while demands and expectations had increased. Issues of financial and human resourcing must be reassessed, it said.

A report by Mr Turnbull's own special adviser on cyber security Alastair MacGibbon, was if anything even more scathing.

Although no data was lost, the main casualty appeared to be public trust in the census, he concluded.

This was a wake-up call for a government conducting more and more of its dealings with Australians online, a trend which would only accelerate.

Mr MacGibbon said agencies needed to transform their thinking to support a truly digital engagement with Australians.

"And cyber security and privacy was shown to be critical to the confidence of Australians in the online services delivered by government and therefore in government itself," he said.

Mr MacGibbon said the eCensus added to "a rollcall of suboptimal online outcomes", including myGov. Auskey, National Disability Health Insurance and e-health records, which suggested government capacity to deliver digital services was failing.

He made a range of recommendations, among them that the Attorney-General's Department develop a "cyber bootcamp" for senior government officials to educate them on cyber security fundamentals.

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