The ABS's Role in Australian Democracy
ABS statistics play a critical role in Australian democracy, and the Census is one of the most nationally important collections.
Statistics based on the Census are used for the distribution of billions of dollars in government funding and the determination of the number of representatives in Parliament.
The determination of the number of seats for each State and Territory in the House of Representatives is undertaken by the Australian Electoral Commission based on information provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Quarterly official estimates of the population, known as the Estimated Resident Population, are provided to the Electoral Commissioner for determining the number of seats given to each State and Territory.
The Estimated Resident Population uses the 2001 Census count as a basis, then excludes overseas visitors, includes Australian residents temporarily abroad, and makes an allowance for undercount. It then updates the figures with the births, deaths, immigration and emigration that occurs each quarter.
While the Census makes every effort to count each person once, inevitably some people are missed and some are counted more than once.
Generally, more people are missed than are counted multiple times, and this leads to a net undercount. The level of undercount is determined from the Post Enumeration Survey, conducted soon after the Census.
The most recent electoral determination was made on 20 February 2003. The result of this determination was that South Australia and the Northern Territory would each lose one seat in Federal parliament, whilst Queensland would gain one seat.
Some concern was expressed at the time about the statistics used, and the reliability of estimates of the undercount of the Northern Territory population.
Following this concern, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters held an inquiry into the representation of the Territories in the House of Representatives, and made a number of recommendations.
Soon after, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment(Representation in the House of Representatives) Act 2004 was passed.
The new legislation was aimed at removing any ambiguity about the statistics that need to be provided and improving transparency about the process used to determine representation in the House of Representatives. It also set aside the determination of 20 February 2003 that the Northern Territory would lose a seat.
Under the legislation, the ABS must also commence collection, compilation and publication of population
• Jervis Bay Territory,
• Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands,
• Territory of Christmas Island,
• Territory of the Coral Sea Islands,
• Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands,
• Heard and McDonald Islands Territory,and
• the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Prior to the amended legislation, this was not the case.
A determination is normally undertaken in the thirteenth month after the commencement of a new Parliament and applies for the next general election.
For more information, consult Information Paper: Determining Seats in the House of Representatives, (cat. no. 3107.0.55.002) and
“Drawing House of Representatives electorate boundaries”,in Year Book Australia, 2005 (cat. no. 1301.0).