1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2006-07  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2007   
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Contents >> Section IV - Special Articles >> Chapter 7 - 2006 Census of Population and Housing

Section IV - Special Articles

Chapter 7 - 2006 Census of Population and Housing

The fifteenth Australian Census of Population and Housing was held on 8 August 2006. The first 2006 Census-based results - the estimated resident populations for Australia and the states and territories - were released by the ABS on 5 June 2007, followed by the first release of detailed results on 27 June.

The Hon Peter Costello MP, Treasurer, with the Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, at the launch of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing results

The Hon Peter Costello MP, Treasurer, with the Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, at the launch of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing results

The purpose of each census is to put vital information into the hands of users across Australia. It helps Australians see how the nation is changing. It provides statistical information to assist decision making for all aspects of society. Sound decisions are most often based on good information, and the census is a very powerful source of information for governments, businesses, academics, researchers, students, community organisations and individuals. The census data underpins or complements many other statistical activities. It supports democracy through its application in the distribution of electorates across Australia and the allocation of government funding, particularly between the Australian Government and the states and territories, and in providing key information that enables the community to assess the performance of governments.

The public awareness campaign for the 2006 Census featured Ernie Dingo as the face of the census. Ernie appeared in a range of television advertisements in the lead up to census night as well as in print and radio advertisements. The advertising campaign ensured a high level of awareness and support for the census. This was supplemented with a range of public relations activities throughout the country, including a school poster competition in Melbourne, with the winning poster appearing on the side of Melbourne trams. Awareness of the census amongst the Indigenous community was assisted by the support of a number of high-profile Indigenous sports people.

Previous Australian Statistician Dennis Trewin; Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan; and Ernie Dingo at the national census launch at the National Press Club in Canberra

Previous Australian Statistician Dennis Trewin; Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan; and Ernie Dingo at the national census launch at the National Press Club in Canberra

‘All Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, should actively support the 2006 Census. The information gained from this exercise assists government and non-government agencies, like the National Aboriginal Sport Corporation, to better respond to the needs of communities, particularly Indigenous communities. The changes within communities of today can be rapid and drastic, and the census gives us the opportunity to map out these change and movements, and respond to the changing needs.’

National Aboriginal Sport Corporation

One notable feature of the 2006 Census was that very few members of the public questioned the overall worth of the census, even though they may have had concerns about particular aspects of the census.

The ABS established a telephone Census Inquiry Service to handle queries from the public. For the 2006 Census, this was contracted to an external provider, with the primary site located in Geelong and other sites in Melbourne and Sydney. Over 570 000 calls were received, with over 100 000 of these calls received in the two days before and two days after the census. A total of 788 people were employed to handle the calls. Overall, the Census Inquiry Service went well. However, it is always a challenge with an operation of this size, in matching the number of staff to the predicted number of calls. There were some peak periods where callers had difficulty getting through to an operator.

As Australia does not have a population register or a comprehensive list of all residential addresses, traditionally, local census collectors kept a record of the forms they delivered in an area and the forms that they received back. This type of record keeping is not possible when eCensus forms are completed and submitted online. To address this, a comprehensive field communications system was developed using mobile phone technology and SMS messaging, to inform collectors of electronic returns, or where paper forms had been mailed back to the ABS, as soon as the forms were received. The collectors then knew that they need not return to these households to collect forms.

‘As part of our ongoing campaign to reduce coastal drowning deaths, Surf Life Saving Australia relies on data concerning population shifts to coastal areas so we can provide the optimum level of surf lifesaving services.’

Surf Life Saving Australia

One of the greatest challenges for every census is the recruitment of the 40 000 field staff required to undertake the delivery and collection of census forms throughout Australia. For the 2006 Census, 30 000 staff were involved in the delivery and collection of forms to every household in Australia. The remaining 10 000 were appointed as special collectors, to deliver and collect the forms in places such as hotels and motels, hospitals, and student accommodation. Recruitment difficulties were experienced in some areas, particularly in the Northern Territory, northern Queensland and Western Australia, due to the strong labour markets. In these areas, there was approximately the same number of applicants for collector positions as there were positions available. Even where there were sufficient applicants, as a result of the attraction of more regular work, the ABS experienced a greater proportion of collectors resigning before completing their census duties, than in any previous census.

Census collectors leaving the Tasmanian office on 28 July 2006 to start the delivery phase of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

Census collectors leaving the Tasmanian office on 28 July 2006 to start the delivery phase of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

A range of different approaches were used to reach different population groups, including ethnic communities, truck drivers on the road on census night, ‘grey nomads’ holidaying in northern Australia, and the homeless.

‘Information collected from the census helps charities and community organisations as well as government and business to identify the people and the places in Australia most in need of resources and support. Every five years the census gives us a snapshot of our country that helps us to evaluate our recent efforts in making Australia a fairer and better place.’

Father Chris Riley, Youth off the Streets


The most noticeable change with respect to census collection for the 2006 Census was that people could complete their census form online. There were a number of statistical and technical issues that needed to be resolved to make this possible. It was particularly important to ensure that each person and household was included in the census, and not counted more than once; that people could supply their information with confidence, knowing that it would be kept secure and confidential; and that there would be sufficient capacity to handle the volume of people wanting to use the system on census night.

Technical issues revolved around ensuring the highest possible security for the eCensus system, in order to protect the confidentiality of all information supplied, and providing sufficient capacity to handle the volume of eCensus returns expected on and around census night. Implementation of the system was undertaken by an external contractor. The census data were encrypted end-to-end, and only ABS staff was able to decrypt the data. The contractor’s staff had no access to the census data.

Overall, the eCensus was an overwhelming success, with 776 000 eCensus forms submitted, representing 9 per cent of the estimated number of dwellings in Australia. The public reaction to the eCensus was also overwhelmingly positive, although a small number of people experienced problems in accessing the system.

People living in Indigenous communities were counted using a specially designed census form suitable for use by interviewers. Because of the large distances that had to be covered, and the need to adapt to local cultural and other events, enumeration in these communities commenced, in some cases, before census night and continued throughout August.

Some of the newest Australians who just made the count in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

Some of the newest Australians who just made the count in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

A special simplified form was also used to enumerate people sleeping outside, and in some areas, homeless people themselves were engaged as collectors to undertake the count. Extensive promotion of the census was also undertaken in various ethnic communities, and interpreter services were provided. One of the advantages of the eCensus was that many disabled people could, for the first time, complete the census form themselves. In addition, a range of census information was provided in braille and audio form.

The 2006 Census form was the longest census form since the 1976 Census, with sixty questions asked of each household compared to fifty in 2001. In 2006, several additional sets of questions were asked. These included questions on the need for assistance (a measure of disability), and on voluntary and unpaid work. A question on access to the internet was also asked of each household, and replaced the question on the use of the internet asked of each person in the 2001 Census. In addition, the 2006 Census sought information from females aged over fifteen years about the number of children ever born to them. This question is important for fertility analysis and for estimating the future population. It has been asked in every second census.

‘For the first time ever in an Australian Census, questions are asked about unpaid caring work for people with disabilities, mental illness or who are frail-aged. Unpaid caring work is so vital to our community that it is important we know exactly how many carers are out there. That way, better services and supports can be planned.’

Carers NSW

Census processing was undertaken at a centralised site in Melbourne by a staff that peaked at around 900. Processing involved the electronic scanning of the forms, data repair, and automatic coding of responses. Images of the responses that could not be automatically coded were examined by clerical staff to determine the appropriate code, which was then added to the electronic computer file. Quality assurance checks were undertaken, of both the automated and manual processes.

As for the 2001 Census, for those people who agreed to have their name identified, their census information was retained by the National Archives of Australia, and the images of the census forms were transferred to microfilm for release after ninety-nine years. In August 2105 this information will be publicly released and will be available to historians and genealogists for study. It will also be available to the descendants of those agreeing to have information retained in the Census Time Capsule. It will provide a valuable insight into how Australians lived at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The first release of data on 27 June 2007 included a large amount of information about Australia, with much more to come over the next twelve months. The data in this release reveals important changes occurring in Australian society, including: further ageing of the population; increasing cultural diversity, with English slightly less likely to be the language spoken at home; families more likely to be buying their own homes; and a decline in the number of family households, with more people living alone.

ABS media release 27 June 2007

The ABS website yesterday recorded 1 693 476 hits between 0930 and 1230. The rate was 9408 hits per minute.

Response times on maps and tables—the more difficult downloads—were on average between four and ten seconds.

The Census IT Infrastructure Director, Helen Robson, said the performance of the website had been ‘very impressive’.

‘It just went whoosh,’ she said.

‘Traffic was close to estimates, and load testing had ensured that we were able to put in place measures to keep the website operating at maximum speed and availability during the peak.’

The ABS website normally gets an estimated one million hits per day.

‘Accurate information about the cultural background of Australians and the range of languages that we speak is essential. Planning and funding for services that can properly meet the needs of all Australians cannot happen without it.’

Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia

Data from the 2006 Census will be largely disseminated in electronic format through the internet. The ABS census dissemination system has been completely redesigned for the 2006 Census and now incorporates a wide range of searching and mapping facilities. These facilities were progressively made available to the public, with 2001 Census data being made available in advance of the release of the 2006 Census data.

Message from the Australian Statistician

I would like to thank the Australian public for their support of the 2006 Census and encourage all members of the community to make use of the census data, which is an invaluable resource.

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