The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has endeavoured to answer all questions posed by the public and the media relating to recording Jedi as a response to the question on religion in the 2001 Census, to be held Tuesday 7th August. The answers provided by the ABS are not always provided in full due to the constraints of the forums in which the questions have been asked.
The ABS has not issued warnings or threats. We have explained the reasons for the census question on religion and the possible impacts of people providing misleading answers to this question. In this way we hope to get the willing cooperation of people in filling out the census form accurately. We have been highly successful in this regard in past censuses. In answer to media questions about penalties, we have simply stated what the law provides.
The following information is provided for the benefit of members of the Australian community who may have ongoing concerns regarding the issue.
The Census is important to Australia
Information from the census is vital for planning services and understanding our community. It is used widely by governments, private business, community groups and individuals for this purpose. Every day census data makes a difference to the way we live - whether in determining the allocation of billions of dollars of government funding to the States and Territories or a community group presenting a submission to get a local swimming pool; from understanding the impacts on populations of major environmental issues such as salinisation of the Murray-Darling Basin and impacts of aircraft noise in our cities or the implications of rerouting the local bus services, or providing extra cycling facilities.
It is important that everyone is counted and that they provide accurate information. This seems to have been lost in some of the media coverage of the Jedi issue.
The Census and Penalties
The ABS seeks the cooperation of the Australian public in completing census forms. Experience has shown that such cooperation leads to best quality responses to census questions. Census information is important to governments, private organisations, community groups and individuals in planning for community services. Most Australians value the census and "penalties" are not an issue, even though the Census and Statistics Act does provide for penalties of up to $1000 for knowingly supplying false or misleading information.
Main purpose of the religion question
The religion question is included in the census as religious organisations are the biggest providers of services, outside of government, in a number of areas such as schooling, health services, aged care services, and community support facilities. The question is not designed to measure the degree of participation in particular religions and philosophies.
Rather, as many people access services in accord with their nominal religious affiliation, the statistics are highly useful for planning these services (eg many Catholics who do not actively participate in their religion send their children to Catholic schools). The religion question has been optional in all Australian censuses; this follows from a requirement in the Australian Constitution.
The cost of people falsifying the census
The cost is to the community. Census information is used by governments, private organisations, community groups and individuals in planning services and understanding their communities. For example the religion question is used by religious groups to plan for the current and future provision of schools, health services, aged care services and community support facilities.
The cost of wrong information is to the current and potential users of these services. If, for example, people of a particular religious affiliation do not provide the correct information, certain facilities might not be built that otherwise would be.
ABS recognises that people have a wide range of belief systems
If your belief system is "Jedi" then answer as such on the census form. But if you would normally answer Anglican or Jewish or Buddhist or something else to the question "what is your religion?" and for the census you answer "Jedi" then this may impact on social services provision if enough people do the same.
ABS has not issued warnings or threats to anyone
The ABS hasn't threatened anyone. We have explained the reasons for the census question on religion and the possible impacts of people providing misleading answers to this question. In this way we hope to get the willing cooperation of people in filling out the census form accurately. We have been highly successful in this regard in past censuses.
In answer to media questions about penalties, the ABS has stated what the law provides. Some sections of the media seem to be dwelling on the issue of penalties. In Australia, penalties are provided for any number of reasons - from littering, failing to vote, polluting the environment, providing false information on tax returns, driving over the speed limit and so on.
Criteria for inclusion in the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups
The Australian Standard Classification Of Religious Groups (ABS Cat. No. 1266.0) lists all religions which the ABS has identified and is used for coding census responses. The criteria used for recognising something as a religion are discussed in that publication and go beyond the number of responses a particular answer receives in the census.
The classification is is periodically updated when new information comes to light. Answers such as Jedi and others which have not to this point in time been identified as a religion in the classification will be coded to the one category"not defined",which is the label to be used in standard census output reports.
It is not practical to separately list in these reports each and every different response received for the religion question. The ABS will know, however, how many people gave a particular response and following the census the ABS classification program will evaluate all such responses to see which, if any, warrant separate identification in the next issue of the classification.
How Australia Takes A Census including a sample of the 2001 Census Household Form.
This page first published 2 May 2001, last updated 27 October 2006