2008.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/08/2015   
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The Census is conducted under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 (The Act). The Act authorises the Australian Statistician to conduct a Census on a day appointed for that purpose by a Proclamation from the Governor-General, to collect information in relation to matters prescribed in the Census and Statistics (Census) Regulations 2015.

The Act empowers the Statistician to request persons to complete forms or answer questions. The ABS seeks the willing cooperation of members of the public. However, where a person refuses the Statistician may, by notice in writing, direct a person to complete a form or answer a question.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is committed to upholding the privacy, confidentiality and security of the personal information it collects. Not only does the ABS have strong legislative protections that safeguard the privacy of an individual's information, it has a proud 100-year history of maintaining community trust in the way it collects, uses, discloses and stores personal information collected in the Census.

Under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the personal information you provide in the Census remains strictly confidential to the ABS. The ABS never has and never will release identifiable Census data. The Act requires the Statistician to publish results in a way that is not likely to identify a particular person, household or organisation. The ABS also has an obligation to comply with the Privacy Act 1988, including the Australian Privacy Principles. The ABS recognises that protecting the privacy of individuals and the confidentiality of information supplied by them are paramount to the successful conduct of a Census.

While the Census collects information relating to each person and household in the country, it is not concerned with information about individuals as such. The Census is taken to provide information about the community as a whole and about groups within the community.

To ensure that confidentiality and privacy provisions are observed, a comprehensive set of practices is used by the ABS. These practices include legally binding all officers of the ABS to secrecy under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, including all temporary staff recruited for collection and processing of the Census. Section 19 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 forbids past or present officers of the ABS (which includes temporary staff) from divulging information collected under this Act, either directly or indirectly, under penalty of up to 120 penalty units (currently $25,200) or imprisonment for up to two years, or both.

The ABS also maintains a Privacy Policy which sets out its personal information handling practices. The ABS Privacy Policy can be found at www.abs.gov.au/privacy. The Census Privacy Statement will be released before August 2016 and will be found at census.abs.gov.au.

In 2016, more Australians than ever are expected to complete their Census form online. The ABS uses the strongest encryption technology that current internet browsers will support for the online Census to ensure information is delivered securely. All possible measures are taken to protect the integrity of the online site including comprehensive independent testing of its security and resilience. In addition, comprehensive security arrangements, already in use in the ABS, are used for online and paper Census forms, for access to ABS property and for ABS computer systems.

Any individual member of a household (including a visitor) can request their own unique login number for the online form, or a separate paper form and prepaid envelope.

The ABS only uses information collected in the Census for the purposes of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

Following the conduct of a Privacy Impact Assessment, the ABS made the decision in December 2015, to retain names and addresses from the 2016 Census. This will provide a richer and more dynamic statistical picture of Australia through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data.

The ABS’s existing practices and obligations will continue to ensure that no information will be released in a way that would enable users of Census data to identify any individual or household.

The ABS will store names and addresses separately from other Census data as well as separately from each other. ABS officers will not be able to view identifying information (name and address) at the same time as other information you provide (such as occupation or level of education.)

Stored separately and securely, individuals names will also be substituted with a linkage key, a computer generated random set of numbers and letters, completely anonymising the personal information. Only these anonymous linkage keys will be used by the ABS to bring data sets together.

Consistent with the Australian Privacy Principles, the ABS will destroy names and addresses from the 2016 Census when there is no longer any community benefit to their retention or four years after collection (i.e. August 2020), whichever is earliest.

Further information is contained in the Privacy, confidentiality and security and Retention of names and addresses collected in the 2016 Census of Population and Housing documents.