The eCensus - the key to quick Census entries
Throughout its history the Australian Bureau of Statistics has been quick to adopt technical innovation.
One indicator of that is the speed with which the ABS has introduced an Internet option for the Census.
The Internet option, called the eCensus, will give householders the opportunity to fill in their Census forms online.
So for the 2006 Census - to be held on 8 August - householders will be given the usual paper Census form and a sealed envelope containing a PIN number which gives them access to the eCensus option.
Householders will also be supplied with a guide which will show them how to fill in the eCensus form online, along with the usual information about how to fill in the paper form.
Based on testing to date, the ABS expects approximately 10% of the population, or around 800,000 households, to complete their Census form online. Testing has shown that approximately 30% of these households (267,000) are likely to complete their form after 6pm on Census night, Tuesday 8 August 2006, with a further 20% (160,000) likely to complete their form the following day.
Peter Clark, Assistant Director, eCensus and Field Communications of the ABS, is coordinating the eCensus. He said he was sure Internet Service Providers would be ready for the eCensus. The ABS has written to ISPs letting them know the eCensus is coming, so that there are no unnecessary barriers preventing people from using the eCensus.
"When we started this project, we really weren't sure how many people might take up the internet option. The take-up was potentially big, so we made sure the system would be able to handle a high load," Mr Clark said.
He said the ABS had done what it could to ensure users would have a good experience with the eCensus.
The introduction of the eCensus option was a result of public expectation to be able to fill their Census form online. The final spur to the development of the eCensus came with the passage of the Electronic Transactions Act of 1999. This Act required all Australian government departments to provide the means for the public to interact with the government electronically.
The ABS began development of the eCensus alternative and even managed to have a very small scale version ready for the 2001 Census. Since then the eCensus has been further developed and rigorously tested.
Leading up to each Census, the ABS conducts a series of tests to fine tune its Census procedures. The test program culminates in a Census dress rehearsal, held in selected areas around Australia one year before the Census. In the Census dress rehearsal of August 2005, householders were given the eCensus option. There was an 8% take up of the eCensus option in the dress rehearsal. The take up in urban and rural areas was similar. New Zealand also used an Internet option for its Census held in March. About 7.5% of people used the option.
The ABS is very confident of the integrity of the system and the security of the data. ABS officers will be monitoring the eCensus site closely.
The ABS chose IBM to develop and support its eCensus program because of IBM's expertise in web-based solutions and scalable infrastructure. eCensus information is encrypted at all times while in the system and IBM does not have the keys required to decrypt the data. This means that no-one outside the ABS can gain access to any eCensus data.