2903.0 - How Australia Takes a Census, 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/04/2011   
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The Next Census

Australia's sixteenth national Census of Population and Housing will be held on 9 August 2011 and will mark the centenary of national Censuses in Australia. The first Census was held in 1911 and since 1961 a Census has been taken every 5 years, a frequency which is specified in the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

Changing Times, Changing Census

In 1911

  • 7,300 Census Collectors were employed;
  • Census Collectors worked mainly on foot, but some travelled by horseback or bicycle;
  • A Census Collector was expected to cover the costs of fodder for their horse; and
  • The Census form asked whether respondents were subjects of the British Empire.

In 2011
  • Around 43,000 collection staff will be employed.
  • Collection is still mainly on foot. However some Census Collectors use motor vehicles and, in remote parts of Australia, even travel by helicopter.
  • Census Collectors will be paid motor vehicle fuel allowance.
  • The Census will collect a range of information reflecting multicultural heritage, including language spoken at home, country of birth, ancestry and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Why Have a Census?

The Census of Population and Housing is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and one of the most important. Its objective is to accurately measure the number and key characteristics of people in Australia on Census Night, and the dwellings in which they live. This information provides a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of each of the states, territories and local government areas, primarily for electoral purposes and the distribution of government funds. The Census also provides the characteristics of the Australian population and its housing within small geographic areas and for small population groups. This information supports the planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments and other users.

Under Australia's Constitution, the 'number of members (in the House of Representatives) chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people'. Population estimates based on the Census are used to determine the number of seats allocated to each state in the House of Representatives.

Population estimates are also used in the allocation of revenue by the Commonwealth to the states and the territories. In 2010-11, the Commonwealth will provide the States with total payments of $94.1 billion. This consists of payments for specific purposes of $45.5 billion and general revenue assistance, including GST revenue, of $48.6 billion. Population estimates based on the Census are key elements in the criteria used by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in recommending the appropriate distribution of these funds.

Who is Counted?

The Census includes all people in Australia on Census Night, with the exception of foreign diplomats and their families. Visitors to Australia are counted regardless of how long they have been in the country or how long they plan to stay. Australian residents out of the country on Census Night are out of scope of the Census.

People outside Australia who are not required to undertake migration formalities, such as those on oil and gas rigs off the Australian coast, are included.

Following the enactment of the Territories Reform Act 1992, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island have been included in the counts for Australia since the 1996 Census.

Norfolk Island is outside of the scope of the Census.