Census Field Operations a Success
The enumeration stage of the Census has been highly successful. Planning for the 2006 Census commenced prior to the previous Census. It has been a long haul, including dress rehearsals in selected areas of New South Wales and South Australia in 2005.
However, Collectors did not make direct contact with the public until the month before the event. Distribution of forms for the Census began on 28 July, after the national launch. Census Night was 8 August and forms were collected from the day after. Most collection of Census forms ceased on 28 August, but collection continued in selected areas until mid-September.
People also had the option of completing their Census forms on the Internet - the eCensus.
Several new initiatives were introduced for the 2006 Census field operations, including the use of SMS messaging. Collectors were sent SMS messages when eCensus forms in their Collection districts were lodged. This let them know that they did not have to return to those households to collect a form.
The national launch of the Census at the National Press Club in Canberra on July 24 was a great success. There was a large media turnout and excellent coverage across the nation.
Treasurer Peter Costello gave the keynote address and emphasised the vital role of the Census in the projection of population figures and national decision making.
The Australian Statistician Dennis Trewin also spoke. He said that the Census, conducted every five years, was a resource for all Australians. “It is important to the accuracy of the Census that everyone completes the Census form.”
Television presenter Ernie Dingo, who featured in TV, radio and print advertising for the Census, was a special guest. The Census employed a small army of 30,000 Collectors and Supervisors Australia-wide. With their bright yellow bags, Collectors were the public face of the Bureau over the Census period as they delivered Census forms to every household in the nation.
Special Counting Procedures
Because of their special circumstances, some remote communities (especially Indigenous communities) were counted in the weeks before and after Census Night. The ABS’ Indigenous Collection strategy recognises that people living in remote and traditional settings require different approaches to those used when counting urban populations. Collection in these remote areas took place over a six to eight week period.
The ABS is recognised internationally as having one of the best procedures for counting the homeless in a Census. For the 2006 Census the ABS continued to refine and improve upon the procedures which were first put in place in 1996. A range of organisations dealing with the homeless were consulted about strategies, procedures and promotional activities to be used for counting. This strategy has helped to ensure the Census obtains a good response from homeless
ABS staff worked with ethnic community leaders to help raise awareness and encourage participation in the Census. They were well supported by further PR activities directed at the many community groups and nationalities in Australia, as well as Indigenous Australians. A special Census Inquiry Service in Carlton catering for people speaking a language other than English received 25,000 calls during the Census collection period. The top five number of inquiries by language were: Mandarin (1,896), Cantonese (1,725), Vietnamese (1,547), Arabic (1,353) and Korean (1,097).
The ABS also put in place procedures to help those with a print or hearing disability complete their Census forms.
The Census Household guide was available on the website in audio (MP3), large font and as a web document. Audio versions of the guide and Census form were made available through Blind Citizens Australia.
In designing the eCensus the ABS consulted organisations such as Vision Australia and the National Information Library Service. Text was able to be resized and the eCensus form was made compatible with screen reading programs for the visually impaired, such as Jaws and Windows Eyes.
Counting procedures for these groups worked quite well. A further range of improvements are being identified for the 2011 Census.
Census Inquiry Service
The main Census Inquiry Service in Geelong handled 460,000 phone inquiries over the Census period. The ABS handled this volume of calls by providing an automated system that dealt with the most common questions and issues up front, with the more complex calls being dealt with by an operator.
The Internet Census worked well with a total of 775,856 households successfully completing their Census this way. This is about 9% of people who took part in the Census - or about 2 million people. ACT took most advantage of the new option, with 16% of people choosing to use eCensus. The eCensus inquiry number received 89,000 calls over the Census period.
There were several attempted ‘denial of service’ attacks by hackers on the eCensus system, but they were repelled. The security of the site was proven. Thousands of eCensus users have also provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on the 2006 Census of Population and Housing’s online option.
Some of the features that will be retained on the Census page include the Media Centre, privacy statements, frequently asked questions about the Census and a list of supporters of the Census.