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


Well before one Census is completed, work on the next Census begins. Preliminary work on the 2011 Census began as early as 2004. The 2011 Census will be the largest data collection ever undertaken by the ABS.

Aspects of the 2006 Census were examined by the ABS with a view to identifying areas of potential improvement. This included the evaluation of form and question design, the effectiveness of collection and processing systems and the quality and usefulness of the data provided to users.

The major improvements to Census procedures since the 2006 Census include changes to the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a vastly increased use of the internet, especially in terms of providing assistance to respondents, use of the eCensus, and improved engagement.


    The 2011 Census results will be released on a new geographical classification, the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS). This geography is more stable than the previously used Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) and will improve the quality of outputs available from the Census. The implementation is covered in more detail in the Geography section.


    The ABS is aiming to have at least 30%, and perhaps even 40% of Australian households complete their Census form via the Internet in 2011. The eCensus system has been redeveloped for 2011 using web 2.0 technologies to create a faster, more efficient application which is easier to use and more cost-effective for the ABS. The eCensus has been tested with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome. Recommended versions of web browsers to use are Internet Explorer 7 or later, Firefox 3.5, Chrome 3 and Safari 4.

    To support increased use of the eCensus, the ABS website will include a Census-Help area, a replacement for the detailed Census Guide given to each household in 2006. This area will provide answers to questions about Census content, as well as allow people to request other assistance such as additional forms.

    Please refer to the section on eCensus for more information.

    Indigenous Enumeration

    The ABS has implemented procedures tailored to the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in discrete communities since the 1976 Census. The 2011 Census procedures build on this experience with the 2011 Census Indigenous Enumeration Strategy. Procedures will be tailored in response to the requirements of each Indigenous community.

    In most Indigenous communities, an interview form designed to be appropriate to Indigenous culture is used where there is a need due to cultural or language barriers. Where possible, Census field supervisors recruit, train and work with people from the community to manage the enumeration and conduct the interviews.

    In urban and regional areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are enumerated using standard mainstream procedures and forms. Special collectors skilled in Indigenous languages and culture are available to assist in these areas if required. Special workloads will also use an interview approach which aims to increase data quality and response rates.

    The Collection section contains more information about the Census Indigenous Enumeration Strategy.

The Green Census

For the 2011 Census, Household, Personal, Summary and Special Short Forms will be produced on Carbon Neutral paper. This paper is produced by Australian Paper in Tasmania and is called ENVI.

The ENVI range of paper is Australia's first range of carbon neutral paper. In particular:

  • It is sourced from sustainable managed forests with a guarantee of no input from old growth timber;
  • It is totally chlorine free when pulp bleaching which further reduces environmental harm. Mills where ENVI is produced are internationally accredited with ISO-9001 Quality System and ISO-14001 Global Environmental management System; and
  • Mills implement measures including the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) dual certification, that ensure only fibres from responsibly managed forest sources are used in paper production.

The detailed Census Guide provided to households for the 2006 Census is being replaced with a much smaller version, with the majority of information provided in 2006 being available electronically from the ABS website.

Census Topics

Since the first national Census in 1911, the content of Censuses has changed. Some topics have been included in each Census since 1911, for example, age, marital status and religion, while others have been included or excluded depending on the importance of the topic at the time. Topics selected for a Census must have specific purposes which are of national importance. There must be a demonstrated need for the Census data for policy development, planning and program monitoring.


    Factors considered

    The Census of Population and Housing collects information by self-enumeration. Each household is asked to fill in the Census form with relatively little assistance from the Census Collector. Self-enumeration and the need to ensure that the large Census operation is conducted as efficiently and effectively as possible, impose constraints on the types of topics and questions that can be included in the Census. Topics which require complex questions or question sequencing are not suitable for a Census as the responses obtained may not be reliable. There is also the need to limit the total number of questions asked in order to minimise the respondent load on households and Census costs.


    In October 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published the Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing: ABS Views on Content and Procedures, 2011 (cat. no. 2007.0). As well as outlining the broad nature of plans for the taking of the Census, the paper summarised proposals for the next Census under three categories:

    • topics to be included in the 2011 Census;
    • topics under review; and
    • topics to be excluded from the 2011 Census.

    However, in February 2008 the Australian Statistician announced that due to financial constraints within the ABS, changes needed to be made to its work program. One of these changes was a decision by the Statistician to conduct the 2011 Census of Population and Housing on a basis comparable to the 2006 Census. As a consequence, the public consultation process regarding topics and procedures for the 2011 Census was withdrawn.

    In June 2008, the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) was advised of the draft recommendations on the content of the 2011 Census based on the changes to the ABS work program.

    In late 2009, the ABS presented a submission to the Government concerning the topics to be included in the 2011 Census. On 19 November 2009, the Government announced its decisions on the 2011 Census.

    Regulations associated with the taking of the 2011 Census and an Information Paper, 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Nature and Content (cat. no. 2008.0) have been tabled in Parliament.

What is on the 2011 Census Form?

All topics asked in the 2006 Census were retained.


    To test field procedures and processing systems, a program of tests is conducted before each Census. For the 2011 Census, three tests, including a dress rehearsal, were carried out in various cities, rural and remote locations between 2007 and 2010.

    The dress rehearsal was held on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 in parts of Sydney and Dubbo in New South Wales, in parts of Adelaide and Port August in South Australia and in a geographical spread of remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia.

    Recording the answers

    The 2011 Census sees the continuing use of both Intelligent Forms Processing (IFP) and automatic coding (AC) for the capture of responses from hard-copy Census forms.

    Most questions will again be answered by householders making horizontal marks on the form, to indicate their answers from lists of options. For some questions written responses are required. IFP technology allows hand writing to be read automatically and translated into classification codes. Responses which cannot be processed automatically will be processed using online coding systems.

Census Data Enhancement

The Census Data Enhancement (CDE) project is a major project involving integrating unit record data from the Census of Population and Housing with other ABS and non-ABS datasets to create new datasets for statistical and research purposes. The project also adds value to data from the Census of Population and Housing by linking together with data from successive Censuses.

The CDE project delivers significant public benefits without compromising the privacy of individuals or the confidentiality of their data. The project facilitates:

  • Improved information to support good government policy making, program evaluation and service delivery; and
  • An improved and expanded range of official statistics.

The Australian Statistician announced his intention to proceed with a CDE project in August 2005 after extensive discussion and consultation. The project was first undertaken for the 2006 Census and the ABS intends to continue the project for the 2011 Census.

Details on the Census Data Enhancement Project is available from Census Data Enhancement Project: An Update, Oct 2010 (cat. no. 2062.0).