‘Heads will roll’: PM shifts Census blame to IBM and public servants

By Harley Dennett

Thursday August 11, 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In an early morning interview today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shifted the blame for the Census debacle to private sector contractors as political reality begins to take shape.

“I too am very angry about this. I am bitterly disappointed about this. This has clearly been a failure on the part of the [Australian Bureau of Statistics], absolutely a failure on the part of the ABS,” the PM said.

“I know there are lots of people out there trying to find out who’s to blame and you know, which heads should roll and so forth; my objective as the prime minister is to ensure that we … that we get this site back.

“Which heads we roll, where and when is something that will follow.”

Millions of Australians were unable to complete the Census and many were, initially, questioning the integrity of the data already housed by the ABS.

Describing the attacks as “predictable”, Turnbull asked why sufficient steps hadn’t been taken to repel the attacks: “They weren’t because of failures in the system that has been put in place for ABS by IBM.”

The ABS technology partner in the 2016 Census was IBM, a content partner of The Mandarin. So far the company has made no statement.

While many of the so-called experts and the minister who faced the media yesterday clearly didn’t understand the nature of a DDoS attack, Turnbull has been properly briefed:

“Measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial of service attacks interfering with access to the website were not put in place — that is a fact, that was a failure … that was a failure that was compounded by some failures in hardware — technical hardware failures — and inadequate redundancy.”

Turnbull said the IBM had been contracted to do this work before, “but there has clearly been a failure in the work that was done.”

Turnbull advised the Census website should be back online later on Thursday.

Misinformation contributed to takedown

The PM also revealed the final decision to take the site offline after the “confluence of events” including the DDoS attacks was a reaction to some “traffic … that appeared to be anomalous” but in the end, was normal and not malicious.

“Actually it was quite innocent, it turned out, but that caused the ABS to take the site down,” Turnbull said.

Kalisch tells staff to be transparent

After the Census is back on track, later today the PM hopes, the ABS will also have to manage the fallout on its own staff morale and direction.

According to our sister publication Crikey, Chief Statistician David Kalisch held an all-staff session today. He told staff the whole incident was “unfortunate” and reiterated public comments that the privacy controversies had made the ABS a target.

He told staff the ABS aimed to be as transparent as possible about the whole disaster. The site will only be restored once given the all-clear by Australian Signals Directorate, IBM and ABS management.

In an email to staff, deputy Australian statistician Trevor Sutton offered ABS staff counselling over the fallout, and said they should be prepared for it to impact on their personal lives:

“As you engage with our stakeholders, providers, users and community members in the coming days, no doubt these challenges will be mentioned and some people may be disappointed, annoyed, frustrated and even angry. Others, of course, will be more considerate.”

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