The 2016 Census: Making a difference to all of Australia

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22 July 2016
Embargoed: 11.30 am (Canberra time)

The 2016 Census: Making a difference to all of Australia

August 9 2016 will be the Australia’s 17th national Census of Population and Housing. It’s our moment to pause and make a difference.

For more than 105-years, the Census has been the centre of the Australian story, fully and accurately recording our nation’s development while enabling fact-based debate and evidence based policy making.

The Census guides Government funding for essential services and infrastructure and is crucial in setting electoral boundaries, allocating Australian Government funding to states and territories, planning educational and health services and other infrastructure for local communities. The Census informs all levels of government, business, academia and media, and Australians who want to learn the characteristics of towns and cities before buying a home or considering a new job – among many other uses.

By participating, as Australians have willingly and even eagerly done, we help shape our country’s future.

As Australian Statistician, I proudly lead the Australian Bureau of Statistics through the 2016 Census, and am excited to sit down with my family on August 9 to record our characteristics. I urge everyone in Australia to join me and share in the excitement of this once-in-a-five year opportunity. Australians have no cause for concern about any aspect of this Census, and can have ongoing trust and confidence in the ABS.

The ABS has made a number of major changes to the 2016 Census to make it easier, cheaper, more relevant and more valuable to our rapidly growing and changing population, society and economy.

We’ve gone digital and expect two-thirds of Australians to complete the Census on their smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops, wherever they are on Census night. This saves $100m for taxpayers, making the nation’s largest peacetime logistical operation significantly more efficient and enabling earlier release of Census data.

We continue to collect names, as we have done in previous Censuses, in order to produce accurate population numbers and better estimate Indigenous life expectancy. In 2016, I’ve decided to keep names and addresses for longer. This is for statistical purposes only, and will increase the value of Census data. This will enable the ABS to produce statistics on important economic and social areas such as educational outcomes, and measuring outcomes for migrants. Names and addresses will be permanently destroyed by August 2020.

My decision followed community consultation, direct engagement with the Australian Information Commissioner and each State and Territory Privacy Commissioner, and a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). The ABS has transparently communicated its process and decisions every step of the way. We advertised our PIA process in the national media in November 2015 and received few responses.

Names and addresses are specified in the Census Regulations as Statistical Information, like all other Census topics, which must be collected. Names have always been critical to ensuring the accuracy of the Census. The requirement for all topics, including names and address, on the Census forms to be filled completely and accurately is consistent with 105 years of Australian Census practice, the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and legal advice to the ABS from the Australian Government Solicitor, who has the legal expertise I rely upon. The only exception is religion, which the legislation specifies is optional.

There are extremely robust safeguards in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the information collected in the Census, including names and addresses. After data collection and processing, the ABS removes names and addresses from other personal and household information, stores them securely and separately from one another, and other Census information. They will never be recombined. This is a new capability for the ABS, and a new security feature that protects the community, introduced over the past decade.

The ABS never has and never will release identifiable Census data. This is set out not only in our legislation, but is ingrained in our organisational culture, just as filling in the Census is ingrained in our national culture. Please play your part on August 9 – your information will make a difference.

David W. Kalisch
Australian Statistician

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