WHAT IS THE CENSUS?
The Census of Population and Housing has provided a snapshot of Australia for more than 100 years.
In 1911, Australia’s first statistician, Sir George Handley Knibbs, said ‘The Census gives us not only a vivid photograph of the present, but with past censuses, shows also the direction in which we are travelling and the rate of progress we are making.’ The Census provides a reliable source of information for small population groups and geographic areas. The rich picture that emerges from the Census has complemented social and economic statistics programs for many decades.
The scope of the Census is all people in Australia on the Census reference day, excluding foreign diplomats and their families. Visitors to Australia are counted regardless of how long they have been in the country or how long they plan to stay. Australian residents out of the country on the reference day are out of scope of the Census; however they are included in official population estimates using overseas migration statistics.
HISTORY OF REVIEWING THE CENSUS
Census data has played an important role in charting Australia’s history and shaping its future. Since the first national Census in 1911, the ABS continues to review procedures and topics to deliver the high quality, timely information that Australia needs. Review and development between each cycle has included improvements for collecting, processing and distributing results.
Review of topics is a fundamental part of planning for each Census. A number of topics have been included on every Census creating a valuable time series of critical information. However, the full content has changed over time to reflect contemporary views and emerging needs with topics being included or excluded depending on relevance and importance at the time. In the 2011 and 2016 Census the decision was made to maintain the same list of topics. This means that the Census has maintained the same topics since 2006. The full history of topics collected on each cycle of the Census from 1911 to 2016 is included on the Downloads tab of this publication.
The submission process outlined in this paper will be an important step towards identifying and recommending changes in the 2021 Census which will contribute to the Census objective of delivering high quality data that is widely used to inform on areas of importance to Australia.
IMPORTANCE OF PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
The Census collects information relating to each person and household in the country but is not concerned with information about individuals as such. The Census is taken to provide information about the community as a whole and about groups within the community.
The public expects that the information they provide will be kept confidential and secure. Protecting privacy and confidentiality is critical to the ABS.
The ABS complies with the Privacy Act 1988 and handles personal information in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles. The ABS also has strong legislative protections founded in the Census and Statistics Act 1905 that safeguard the identity of a particular person or organisation. The Census and Statistics Act secrecy provision requires that all information, including personal information, provided to the ABS remains strictly confidential and is never released in a manner which is likely to enable an individual to be identified.
All ABS staff are legally bound never to release identifiable statistical information collected by the ABS to any external individual or organisation - including to courts and law enforcement agencies. This is a lifelong obligation which carries heavy penalties for breaches, including fines of up to $25,200 or imprisonment for up to two years, or both.
Since the 2001 Census all people have been given the option of having their name identified responses retained by the National Archives of Australia (Time Capsule). After 99 years, the name identified data will be made public for future generations.
This information will only be kept for those people who explicitly give their consent. For privacy reasons, the name identified information will not be available for any purpose, including a court or tribunal, within the 99 year closed access period.
COLLECTION OF NAME AND ADDRESS INFORMATION
Name and address information has been collected from every Australian in all previous Censuses, and is a feature of international Census collections for sound statistical purposes.
The collection of information regarding name and address is considered essential for the conduct of an accurate and high quality Census. Name information is used for form management procedures and coding of household composition. Household address is used for geographic coding and is the basic unit used to distribute, collect and monitor the return of Census forms.
This information is also essential for the conduct of a high quality Post Enumeration Survey, which is used to measure the level of under-count in the Census and to estimate the resident population.
ADDING VALUE TO CENSUS DATA
The value of Census data can be further maximised through integrating it with other public and private sector data sources. Important questions about Australian society can be addressed by safely bringing together information from different sources for statistical and research purposes.
Data integration is increasingly being utilised in important areas such as health, education, infrastructure, innovation and the economy to establish a stronger evidence base to support the key challenges facing Australians and future generations. The practice can aid the targeting of services to those most in need and reduces the administrative burden on the public by reusing data already provided for other purposes.
For more information about the ABS’ data integration work, refer to the data integration section of the ABS website. This section includes case studies on use of Census data to understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy; labour force outcomes of permanent migrants; and socio demographic characteristics of people accessing mental health services.
One example of a major data integration activity Census contributes to is the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP). This is a partnership among Australian Government agencies demonstrating how to maximise the value of existing public and private sector data for policy analysis, research, and statistical purposes. The MADIP combines existing data on health care, education, government payments, and personal income tax with the Census to inform on matters of importance such as improving employment options for people with disability.
The Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD) is another example of enhancing the value of Census data by building a rich longitudinal picture of Australian society. The ACLD brings together a random 5% sample of data from Censuses to create a longitudinal dataset. It provides a unique safe and secure data resource that allows researchers and governments to study a range of population groups over time.
Graphics and tables showing initial analyses from the 2011-2016 ACLD are available in Australians' journeys through life: Stories from the Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset, 2011-2016 (ABS cat. no. 2081.0), with plans to expand analysis to 3 waves of data (2006-2011-2016) in mid-2018. Microdata is available in Microdata: Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset, 2011-2016 (cat. no. 2080.0).
Information from the Department of Social Services’ Social Security and Related Information (SSRI) dataset was added to the 2006-2011 ACLD to create a new dataset (ACLD-SSRI). The linkage of the ACLD with the SSRI data provides valuable information on the characteristics of people receiving a benefit, both at the time of receipt of the benefit and five years previously.
Significant value has been and can be obtained from linking Census data over time and with public and private sector data. Future opportunities for further enhancing Census data will be considered during the preparation for the 2021 Census.