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Time is money: SA man loses bid to bill govt for filling out Census

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A busy Adelaide small businessman has lost an unlikely battle in the Supreme Court after he refused to fill in the Census unless the Australian Bureau of Statistics paid him $50 to cover his time.

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When an ABS collector came to his front door in September 2016, Tyson Brown explained that he could not be asked to fill out the Census without compensation for his time – and presented the collector with an invoice for $50.

He argued that he could not be forced to do work for free.

“I said ‘I’m happy to do it, but I need to be compensated’,” the self-employed Eden Hills man told InDaily this morning.

“It’s my inalienable right not to be forced – to be compelled – to do anything for anyone for free.

“I don’t understand … how they have the power to make me do that work for free. I told her I could write her an invoice.”

He says he told the ABS collector : “I don’t trust you guys to pay your bills on time, so I’m going to need payment in advance,” claiming that she took the $50 invoice.

At that point, he believed that he had an agreement and therefore a legal contract with the ABS, but never received any money, he told InDaily.

Ironically, the ABS had to give millions of other Australians extra time to lodge their forms online in August 2016, when the Bureau’s website crashed on Census night.

On a Wednesday evening in January this year, in the car park of the Woodcroft Hotel, Brown was served with a summons to appear before the Magistrates Court, charged with five offences against the Census Act.

The following week, Magistrate Susan O’Connor convicted Brown of the charges, in his absence.

Brown says that he misread or confused the time of his hearing – 10am – and instead turned up at the courthouse at 2pm – the time he believed he was meant to appear in court. Discovering he had been convicted in absentia, Brown lodged an appeal.

He now concedes that he probably should have done more research before representing himself in front of the Chief Justice, Chris Kourakis, in the Supreme Court last month.

But he says he runs a business and generally works about 70 hours a week and didn’t have time to prepare his case.

“I didn’t have a day to spare, unfortunately… I run my own business and I’m pretty flat out,” he told InDaily.

He maintained that it would have been a breach of his human rights if he were made to fill out the Census without payment.

“Slavery was abolished … I can’t be forced to work for free,” he said.

“I consider myself as someone who wanted to fight for what’s right – what’s just and fair.”

According to Kourakis’ judgement: “Mr Brown has been anxious to make the point that he brings this appeal with the best of intentions as a man of honour, essentially asserting … rights, which he says that free and independent persons in a liberal democratic state like Australia should have.”

“The sentiment is understandable but the law dictates otherwise.”

The judgement says Brown had made his appeal on the basis that the parts of the Census Act requiring him to fill in the survey were invalid.

He had argued that failing to fill it out should not be considered like comparable regulatory offences, because it placed no-one at risk of harm.

“However, the purpose of the Census is to inform government policy and economic decision making which ideally would advance the welfare of all members of the Australian community … that is the policy reason for making the law” the judgement says.

“Be that as it may, it is really of no consequence.”

Kourakis found that under the Australian Constitution, the Federal Government can make “such laws as it sees fit (including) the creation of offences within the particular areas of legislative authority”.

“Those laws are properly made after they are passed through both houses of parliament and given assent by the Governor-General, the regularity of which the court presumes. Accordingly, and for those reasons, I dismiss the appeal.”

Brown maintains, however, that legislation is “the lowest form” of law, made by politicians who “don’t have the people at heart”, which could not override universal human rights.

“When government brings in policy … there is no mandate (because) there was no referendum,” he said.

“It can be unfair … breaching the highest laws that exist but it is still legal and will stand up in court unless you are strong enough to take the time and money it takes to fight it.”

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