The Census


How is the date for the Census chosen?

In selecting a Census date, the ABS aims to select a date which minimises the proportion of the population who are not at their usual place of residence. In 1911 and 1921, a Census date near the beginning of April was selected. For the 1933 Census through to the 1986 Census, the Census date was moved to be at, or near, the end of June.

In 1991, the Census date was moved to early August, after all mainland states changed from a three term to a four term school year with school holidays falling near the end of June. School holidays on, or close to, the Census date increase collection difficulties and reduce the quality of data obtained, as many people are absent from their usual place of residence.


Is it compulsory?

Ultimately, yes. The Census and Statistics Act 1905, which authorises the Census, also provides for the compulsory completion of the form. If an individual doesn't answer the questions on the Census form, the Australian Statistician has the authority to direct them to complete the form, with the legal obligation to comply. The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides for penalties of up to $110 per day for people convicted of failing to complete and return a form when directed to do so.

Is Census information about me private?

Further information can be found in the Privacy and confidentiality page as well as in the 2011 Census Dictionary.


What topics are covered by the Census?

Since the first national Census in 1911, the content of Censuses has changed. Some topics have been included in each Census since 1911, for example, age, marital status and religion, while others have been included or excluded depending on the importance of the topic at the time. Topics selected for a Census must have specific purposes which are of national importance. There must be a demonstrated need for the Census data for policy development, planning and program monitoring. Appendix 4 of How Australia Takes a Census, 2011 (cat. no. 2903.0) lists the Census topics that have been included in each Census from 1911 to 2011. Topical issues are covered in the Analytical articles, which highlight topics of interest that affect Australians. Articles will be released progressively, with the first articles using 2011 Census data to be released on 21 June 2012. A comprehensive list of 2011 Census analysis from a range of ABS publications will be available on the Analytical articles details page from 21 June 2012 and updated progressively.


What topics are not covered by the Census?

In some cases, the Census of Population and Housing is not the best source of data about an issue. The Census of Population and Housing collects information by self-enumeration. Each household is asked to fill in the Census form with relatively little assistance from the Census Collector. Self-enumeration and the need to ensure that the large Census operation is conducted as efficiently and effectively as possible, impose constraints on the types of topics and questions that can be included in the Census. Topics which require complex questions or question sequencing are not suitable for a Census as the responses obtained may not be reliable. There is also the need to limit the total number of questions asked in order to minimise the respondent load on households and Census costs.

Information about other sources of statistics are available in the Statistics section of the ABS website.


Where can I find out about the history of the Census?

Chapter 2 of How Australia Takes a Census, 2011 (cat. no. 2903.0) gives a brief summary of the history of the Census. The publication Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census (cat. no. 2071.0) includes some articles about the history of the Australian Census.

See also the Historical reference and information page. To access data from previous Censuses, go to the Historical data page.


Where can I find out about the latest Census?

To find out more about the 2011 Census, go to the What is the Census page. How Australia Takes a Census, 2011 describes the questions on the 2011 Census form and why they were asked, as well as how the delivery and collection of Census forms was organised, how the eCensus was conducted, and how the data were processed. To access data from the 2011 Census, go to the Data and analysis page to select a product or read more about our data products.


What is planned for the next Census?

To find out about plans for the next Census, go to the 2016 Census page.