About the Census
The next Census will be held in 2021. Censuses have been conducted in Australia in the first half of August since 1991.
The Census measures the number and some characteristics of people in Australia on Census night and provides a snapshot of the economic, social and cultural make-up of our nation.
Australia’s first national Census was held in 1911. The data collected over time through the Census helps to tell the story of how Australia is changing. It informs planning for services and the level of funding to be distributed between state and local governments.
Census data is used by people and organisations from all over Australia to inform decisions on issues that impact on our lives. This includes governments and government agencies, departments, local councils, not for profit organisations, researchers, businesses and community groups.
Census data also helps to:
• determine the number of seats allocated to each state and territory in the House of Representatives and informs decisions on electoral boundaries
• inform the distribution of billions of dollars of annual GST revenue to states and territories - $64 billion in 2017-18
• determine state and territory grants to local government areas.
Legal authority for the Census
The Census is conducted under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 (the Act). The original Act stipulated that the Census would be taken in 1911 and in every tenth year thereafter. From 1961 the Census has been conducted every five years. This became mandatory with the 1977 amendment to the Act, requiring that the next Census be taken in 1981 and in every fifth year thereafter and at such other times as prescribed.
Who is included in the Census?
The Census includes every person, including overseas visitors, in Australia, Norfolk Island, the Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island on Census night.
The Census does not include Australian residents who are out of the country on Census night nor foreign diplomats and their families living in Australia.
Participation in the Census is compulsory and while penalties may apply if a person refuses to complete the Census, the ABS’s priority is to obtain informed and willing cooperation from everyone to complete the Census.
Responding to our changing environment
The Census approach must keep pace with the changing nature of the Australian community. Across our community living arrangements, lifestyles and family structures are becoming more complex. This means, for example, we need to be able to capture information from groups living in multi-generational households with large numbers of extended family members, and from people living in secure apartment buildings that are difficult to access.
In 2016, nearly half (49%) of Australians were either born overseas or had one or both parents born overseas. It is important that we capture data that accurately reflects this diversity.
We must continue updating our processes and using available technology to provide effective methods for people to participate, while also providing alternatives for people who choose to, or who have no option than to, use paper Census forms.
Internationally, Censuses and surveys are experiencing lower response rates. At the same time, national statistical offices around the world continue to face the challenge of meeting demands for more data.
We work collaboratively with our colleagues in international statistical organisations to share information and experience as we face many common challenges.
Making the 2021 Census a success
The ABS aims to deliver a successful 2021 Census by ensuring that:
• the Census experience is simple and secure
• there is a high level of community participation
• the resulting Census data is high quality
• governments, businesses and the community have confidence in the Census data.