The Australian Federal Police are being asked to investigate cases of people trying to sell their same sex-marriage survey forms.
Forms have appeared for sale on auction websites such as eBay, with one person offering theirs up for $1,500.
Australian Bureau of Statistics deputy statistician Jonathan Palmer said he has asked for some of the cases to be referred to the AFP, however he admitted the ABS does not have a policy on how to handle such matters.
“Not yet we don’t, and I’d like to have some discussions with the AFP about that,” he said.
Mr Palmer told a Senate Committee examining the postal survey that before the forms were sent out, discussions were held about what could be done to protect the integrity of the system.
But there were no discussions about how to handle people trying to sell their survey forms.
“In our original risk register there were some risks that required us to work well with the AFP and we’ve done some of that in risks relating to cyber security,” Mr Palmer said
“But this particular line of fraudulent activity is not one that we, in our mitigation strategies, identified a need to liaise with the AFP earlier, so we are doing it now.”
The submission of a survey form that has been bought or sold would likely be an offence against the Census and Statistics Act 1905, or the Commonwealth Criminal Code.
Mr Palmer said his team was working closely with online sites like eBay and Gumtree, where people had tried to sell their forms.
“We’ve had excellent cooperation from them having ads either blocked or removed promptly,” he said.
“We are constantly monitoring those market places and informing them, asking them to take stuff down and they are responding extremely well.”
Mr Palmer said there had been fewer than 20 cases in which the ABS asked websites to remove postings.
Extra staff hired for survey
The postal survey has required the ABS to divert staff from other projects.
“Many have come from the census 2021 program … so we will have to do some catch-up around the work that they have not been doing on that 2021 census,” Mr Palmer said.
Additional people have also been hired and staff have been seconded from a number of other government departments including immigration, treasury and finance.
“The impost if you like on our other programs is manageable, and of course we have been funded for this work and we’re drawing on that appropriation to fund the efforts,” Mr Palmer said.
More than $63 million of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ $122 million budget has already been spent.
The biggest spend so far has been postage costs at $31.5 million, but that could reduce if a number of people do not send back their surveys.
The second largest cost is the media and communications campaign at $22.3 million, followed by the printing of letters, surveys and envelopes at $5.8 million.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is yet to hand across its bill, but Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said it would be costly.
“I think to date we’ve spent about $2 million thereabouts, but we will have a final reckoning after we’ve finished everything,” he said.