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Angry Turnbull flags heads will roll over census disaster

Malcolm Turnbull’s tone on Thursday was tough, after a massive public backlash and with the census website still down. Mick Tsikas/AAP

A furious Malcolm Turnbull has made it clear he wants heads to roll over the census debacle, as he turns his wrath on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and service provider IBM.

He said on Thursday: “I know people have asked, will heads roll? Which heads roll, where and when will be determined once the review is complete.”

He predicted “there will be some very serious consequences for this”.

Turnbull said there had been “failures on the part of ABS and its systems provider” IBM. He criticised IBM for not having adequate measures in place to repel the “absolutely predictable” denial-of-service attacks the site suffered. “There are issues for both IBM and ABS about that,” he said.

The site was taken down on Tuesday night after what the government calls a “confluence of events”, including the last of several denial-of-service attacks, a hardware failure, and some “anomalous traffic” that raised questions but turned out to be innocent.

Turnbull’s tone on Thursday, after a massive public backlash and with the site still down, was much tougher than on Wednesday.

“This has been a failure of the ABS. We have inconvenienced or the ABS has inconvenienced millions of Australians. It shouldn’t have happened, I am not happy about it,” he said.

He said there were clearly “very big issues” for IBM and the ABS. IBM had been involved in the census before but “there has clearly been a failure in the work that was done”. A denial-of-service attack was as predictable for a site like this as “that the rain will fall one day or that the sun will come up another”.

The minister currently in charge of the census, Small Business Minister Michael McCormack, has only been in the job post-election. Pre-election Alex Hawke, then assistant minister to the treasurer, had oversight. The chief statistician, who runs the ABS, is on an annual salary of more than A$700,000.

Turnbull said the site should be restored on Thursday.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the media that the failings of Tuesday night “make us damn angry”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull was just shifting responsibility.

“He’s just lashing out. The one thing we have learned about Malcolm Turnbull in his year as prime minister is that when there is a problem he’ll be sure to blame someone else,” Shorten said.

“You can always be sure that when something goes wrong the only set of heads that will never roll in the Turnbull government are those sitting at the cabinet table.”

The Census 2016 website went back online as of 2:39pm Thursday.

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