Development of population estimates
1.1. Basic enumerations of the population have been made since the early days of European settlement in Australia. The early enumerations were known as 'musters'. A census conducted in New South Wales in 1828 became the first in a series of regular censuses in that colony and periodic censuses were taken in the other Australian colonies. The dates of these colonial censuses are shown in Table 1.1. The first simultaneous censuses of all the Australian colonies was taken in 1881 and the first national census was taken in 1911. It was followed by others in 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954 and 1961. Since 1961 they have been conducted at five yearly intervals. The censuses provide comprehensive population data cross-classified by a wide range of socio-economic characteristics and for a variety of geographic areas. These data are referred to as 'census counts' and are available as at census dates only.
1.2. Since very early times these census counts have been updated quarterly to provide up-to-date totals of the population of Australia, States and Territories. These quarterly updates have been required by law since 1977 (see paragraph 1.16). Throughout this publication references to States also include the two Territories unless otherwise stated.
1.3. Annual estimates of the population by single years of age and sex for Australia as a whole commenced in 1921 and for the States in 1961.
1.4. In 1910, on the basis of the early 'musters' and other colonial records, an annual series of population totals for the States was published for all years commencing from 1788, the year of the first European settlement in Australia. They are disaggregated by sex from 1796. (See ABS publication Australian Demography Bulletin No. 19, 1909. While an updated series was last published in Australian Demography Bulletin No. 65, 1947, the series is still maintained by the ABS).
1.5. Annual estimates of total population in Local Government Areas (now disaggregrated further to 'Statistical Local Areas', which in most cases are identical to Local Government Areas), have been published for New South Wales from 1911, Victoria from 1875, Queensland from 1911, South Australia from 1915, Western Australia from 1926, Tasmania from 1923, the Northern Territory from 1981 and the Australian Capital Territory from 1968.
1.6. Until 1967, section 127 of the Constitution required the exclusion of some Aboriginal people when estimating the population: 'In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted'. This was interpreted as requiring the exclusion of 'full-blooded' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (ie. those persons with more than 50% Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander blood). (An exception to this rule occurred when Torres Strait Islanders were classified by the 1947 Census as Polynesian and by the 1954 and 1961 Censuses as South Pacific Islanders, resulting on these three occasions in their inclusion in the population). As counting of 'full-bloods' was not a prime purpose of the Census, remote areas of Australia which were completely uninhabited by non-Aboriginal people were not enumerated, although 'counts' were sometimes derived. The quality of such 'counts' is questionable.
1.7. This provision was repealed with the proclamation of the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Act 1967 so that officially since 10 August 1967 population statistics have included 'full-blooded' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Population statistics prior to 10 August 1967 have been revised to include them. Population statistics by single years of age and sex for Australia and the States include them from 30 June 1966, and totals (not disaggregated by age) of the population for Australia and the States include them from 30 June 1961.
1.8. In censuses from 1971 onwards Aboriginal people were no longer asked to state their degree of Aboriginal descent. In 1996, for example, the census question asked 'Is the person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?' Changing social attitudes, political developments, improvements in census coverage and a broader definition of 'Aboriginal' are likely to have contributed to the rapidly rising numbers of Aboriginal people that have been recorded since 1971. For further information on Census questions on Indigenous status, refer to Chapter 1 in the ABS Occasional Paper Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996 (4708.0).
1.9. After the 1981 Census, an important change was made to the concept of what constitutes the 'population'. The ABS decided to define it according to the number of 'Australian residents' (ie. people who usually reside in Australia). Prior to this the population had been defined as the number of people actually present at a given time (at the census this meant the number of people actually counted and therefore included foreign tourists but excluded Australians abroad). The current 'population estimates', therefore, are the estimated numbers of Australian residents. They are compiled initially at the census date by firstly adjusting the census count of residents upwards to compensate for census underenumeration, and then further adjusting (also upwards) to include an estimate of the number of Australian residents who were overseas on census night. Population estimates based on this new concept were constructed back to 1971.
1.10. These population estimates, and the regular updates of them have been adopted as the official population series. A detailed account of the introduction of this series is available in the ABS technical paper Methods and Procedures in the Compilation of Estimated Resident Population 1981 and in the Construction of the 1971-81 Time Series (3103.0) issued on 11 March 1983.
1.11. As had been customary prior to 1971, the estimates are updated quarterly at the State level and annually at the Statistical Local Area (SLA) and Local Government Area (LGA) levels.
1.12. During the 1980s the service was further improved with the addition of three new annual series (included in the following table). A complete listing of the population estimates series now published by the ABS is given in Table 1.2, with additional unpublished estimates available as indicated in the footnotes.
Use of Population Estimates
1.13. Population estimates have wide application in many aspects of modern society. Some estimates, which are acknowledged as being of particular importance to government, are specifically required by Acts of Parliament to be compiled by the ABS.
1.14. The range of uses of population estimates can be gauged by the following brief summary of requirements.
1.15. There are several legislative requirements for the Statistician to provide population estimates (as opposed to census counts).
1.16. Section 9, subsection 2 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 requires the quarterly estimation of the population for each State:
"The Statistician shall collect such information as is necessary for the compilation and analysis, under section 12, of statistics of the number of the people of each State as on the last day of March, June, September and December each year, but nothing in this subsection shall be taken to limit the generality of subsection (1)."
1.17. The State Grants (General Purposes) Act 1994 requires the Statistician to provide estimates of the populations of each State as at 31 December of a year before 10 June of the subsequent year.
1.18. Under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995, funds are allocated by the Commonwealth Government for local governments. This again requires the provision by the Statistician of estimates of the population.
1.19. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires the Statistician to supply all such population statistics as requested by the Australian Electoral Commission for the regular review of the number of seats each State is entitled to have in the House of Representatives. An amendment in 1989 to the Commonwealth Electoral Act requires the Statistician to supply on request the 'latest statistics' for Territorial as well as State populations. In addition to the NT and ACT, population figures are required for Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Coral Sea Islands Territory.
1.20. The Copyright Act 1968 makes reference to "the number of persons comprised in the estimated population of Australia as last set out in statistics published by the Commonwealth Statistician".
1.21. Other Acts may reference population estimates, without specifically referring to the Statistician. For example, in preparing for regional elections associated with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 refers to:
"an estimate by the Minister, made after consulting the Australian Electoral Commission, in relation to each region whose boundaries are changed, of:
This requirement in the Act is also extended to estimates at the sub-regional ward level.
1.22. There are few government programs at any level of government which do not use population data in their work. Population statistics are needed in the formulation of most policies, particularly those involving service delivery. They are also needed to monitor existing government programs. The major requirements are for annual 30 June and 31 December estimates of the population by age and sex for each State and annual 30 June estimates for each Statistical Local Area (SLA). There are also requirements for estimates by other characteristics in addition to age and sex (eg. country of birth). In addition, population estimates form a crucial basis for weighting surveys conducted by ABS and other organisations.
1.23. For forward planning purposes, various Commonwealth and State government agencies or the ABS on their behalf produce regular population projections which rely on up-to-date population estimates as their base.
1.24. Applications in private enterprise and other non-government activities are too numerous to describe in detail. They might be broadly described as 'market research' and 'academic/demographic research'. Requirements for these applications vary a great deal. The demand for population data for very small geographic areas is generally satisfied by the five-yearly population census. More up-to-date population estimates are also required - usually at annual intervals. The main needs are for estimates by age and sex for various geographic areas.
1.25. Finally, many statistical indices and rates have a population estimate as their denominator. They range from per capita gross domestic product and labour force participation rates to fertility rates, life tables and educational participation rates. In the main, total populations by age and sex for States satisfy this demand, although in some cases disaggregation of the population by other characteristics is also required. For example, divorce rates calculated as a proportion of estimated married persons are more appropriate than as a proportion of estimated total persons.
(i) the number of persons who will be entitled to vote at the next Regional Council election for that region; and
(ii) the number of persons living in that region who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders ..."
This page last updated 12 March 2007