6102.0.55.001 - Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/05/2013   
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19.1 The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted the first Australian Census of Population and Housing in 1911. It was followed by others in 1921, 1933, 1947 and 1954. Following the 1961 Census, a Census has been taken every five years. In 1977 an amendment was made to the Census and Statistics Act requiring that "the Census shall be taken in 1981 and in every fifth year thereafter, and at such other times as prescribed".

19.2 The objective of the Census is to accurately measure the number and key characteristics of people who are in Australia on Census night, and of the dwellings in which they live. This information provides a basis for estimating the population of each of the states, territories and local government areas, primarily for electoral purposes and for planning the distribution of government funds.

19.3 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.


19.4 Census data are available on two different bases: place of usual residence and place of enumeration:

    • The Census count for Place of Enumeration is a count of every person in Australia on Census Night, based on where they were located on that night. This may or may not be the place where they usually live. Temporary visitors to Australia are included. This type of count provides a snapshot in any given area.
    • The Census count for Place of Usual Residence is a count of every person in Australia on Census Night, based on the area in which they usually live. Each person is required to state their address of usual residence on the Census form. Census counts compiled on this basis minimise the effects of seasonal factors such as the school holidays and snow season, and provide information about the usual residents of an area as well as internal migration patterns at the state/territory and regional levels.
19.5 Data from the 2011 Census were released in three phases. The first release of data containing core demographic variables were released in June 2012. The second release containing variables that require more complex processing, were released in October 2012. The third release of specialised products such as Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) and the Census Sample Files began in March 2013, with products being released progressively until the end of 2013.

19.6 The ABS website is the main channel for the release of Census data. The products and services from the 2011 Census include:
    Data products
    • QuickStats;
    • Community Profiles;
    • TableBuilder (Basic and Pro);
    • DataPacks;
    • Census Sample File (CSF);
    • 5% Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset (SLCD);
    Analytical products:
    • SEIFA;
    • Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census (cat. no. 2071.0); and
    • Customised Data Services.

19.7 For further information on each of the products released from the 2011 Census, refer to Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing, Products and Services, 2011 (cat. no. 2011.0.55.001).


19.8 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.

19.9 Persons residing in the external territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island were included in the Census for the first time in 1996. Norfolk Islands is outside of scope of the Census.


19.10 Since the first national Census in 1911, the content of each Census 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 for inclusion in the Census must meet the following criteria:
    • the topic is of major national importance and in accordance with the objectives of the Census; and
    • there is a defined need for data on the topic for small groups in the population or for small geographic areas. Otherwise, the need could be satisfied from a household survey; and
    • the topic is suitable for self-enumeration and meets sensitivity and privacy constraints.

19.11 The 2011 Census collected information on the following topic groups:
    • Person characteristics;
    • Education and qualifications;
    • Employment, income and paid work;
    • Cultural and language diversity;
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples;
    • Disability, need for assistance and carers;
    • Children and childcare;
    • Usual address and internal migration;
    • Family characteristics;
    • Dwelling and household characteristics; and
    • Household income and housing costs.

19.12 Labour-related topics on the 2011 Census include: labour force status, status in employment, employment type, occupation, industry of employment, hours worked, place of work and method of travel to work. For unemployed persons, information is collected on whether looking for full-time or part-time work.

19.13 For information on topics included in each Census held from 1911 to 2011, see How Australia Takes a Census (cat. no. 2903.0).


19.14 The Census is self-enumerated. Forms and information booklets are distributed by Census collectors to every household in Australia prior to Census night. The completed forms are then collected in the week or so following Census night. Since 2006, the Australian public had the option to complete their Census form via the internet. Various aspects of the collection methodology are discussed below. For more detail see How Australia Takes a Census, 2011 (cat. no. 2903.0).


19.15 The date each Census is conducted is carefully chosen to minimise the proportion of the population who are not at their usual place of residence. Recent Censuses have been conducted in August. The day of the Census varies, and is chosen to avoid school and other major holidays.


19.16 A large team of temporary staff is used to deliver and collect Census forms. All staff are appointed under the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 and are subject to the strict confidentiality provisions of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

19.17 ABS State and Territory Offices are responsible for the management of all field staff in their State or Territory. Around 43,000 collection staff were employed in the 2011 Census, the majority of which were Census collectors. They deliver Census Form and Census Guide to every household in their collector workload prior to Census night. They are also responsible for collecting the forms following Census night.

19.18 As the Census is self-enumerated, there is a heavy reliance on the ability of respondents to correctly interpret questions and to answer in the desired manner with the appropriate amount of detail. Collectors are encouraged to make contact with householders, since a high level of householder contact contributes to high response and a low under-enumeration rate.


19.19 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 15 June 2010 in parts of Sydney and Dubbo in New South Wales, in parts of Adelaide and Port Augusta in South Australia and in a geographical spread of remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia.


19.20 Significant investment is made in public communication and media relations activities to support Census field operations. Specialist communication staff are employed for the Census collection period, and an advertising campaign is conducted prior to the Census to highlight the importance of the Census and how the community is expected to cooperate to ensure its success.


19.21 A central Census Data Processing Centre is set up each Census with the specific task of processing the completed Census forms as quickly as possible and thereby achieving the timely release of results.

19.22 Completed Census forms are examined to ensure that key items have been answered. Some editing is undertaken to reduce inconsistencies. Write-in responses on family, qualification and occupation are coded to the appropriate classification categories.

19.23 For the 2011 Census, in cases of partially completed forms returned, imputation was undertaken for age, sex, geographic area of usual residence and registered marital status, when these questions were left unanswered. For dwellings occupied on Census Night but from which no form was returned, age, geographic area of usual residence and registered marital status may have been imputed. The number of males and females in these dwellings may also have been imputed. The remaining data items are set to 'not stated' or 'not applicable', dependent on the imputed age or sex of the person.


19.24 As with other statistical collections, the ABS ensures that high quality data are obtained from the Census. To this end, extensive effort is put into the form design, collection procedures, public awareness campaign and accurate processing of the information collected.

Field testing

19.25 The method employed to obtain information in the Census involves 'self-enumeration' in which each household is asked to complete the Census form with relatively little assistance from the Census collector. To make sure that this approach is successful, a series of tests is conducted before each Census to gauge public reaction to the form and the questions it contains.

Raising public awareness

19.26 To achieve high quality Census data it is essential that people understand its importance. Therefore raising public awareness through advertising and community briefings contributes to high levels of participation in the Census.

Quality assurance

19.27 Once the forms are in the Census Data Processing Centre, quality assurance procedures are implemented at all phases of processing to maximise the accurate recording of information collected and to eliminate as far as possible any inconsistencies in coding responses. Coding procedures, indexes, processing systems and training of staff are the key areas where changes can lead to improved data quality during processing.

Residual errors

19.28 The Census, like all statistical collections, is subject to a number of sources of non-sampling error. The four most significant sources of non-sampling error for the Census are: undercounting; partial response; respondent error; and processing error. These are discussed further below.


19.29 Despite efforts to obtain full coverage of people and dwellings, it is inevitable that a small number of people will be missed and some will be counted more than once. In Australia more people are missed from the Census than are counted more than once. The net effect when both factors are taken into account is referred to as undercount. To minimise or account for the net undercount, a Post Enumeration Survey is undertaken. The results of this survey is used to adjust Census counts in the calculation of Estimated Resident Population (ERP).

19.30 During the delivery and collection of Census forms to households, quality assurance field procedures are put into practice to ensure that the maximum number of households are included in the Census.

Respondent error

19.31 Most occurrences of respondent error are detected and corrected during editing. However, such procedures cannot detect and correct all errors, and some remain in the final output.

Processing error

19.32 Quality assurance procedures are used during Census to ensure processing errors are kept at an acceptable level. Sample checking is undertaken during coding operations, and corrections are made where necessary.

Evaluating the outcome

19.33 After the Census, an evaluation of the data is carried out to inform users about their quality, and to help plan the next Census. Evaluation includes investigation into the effects of partial response, consistency checks between related questions, and comparisons with data from other sources. Much of the information gathered about the quality of Census data is distributed in the form of commentary contained in Census products or in published working papers reporting on the evaluation of Census data quality.

Introduced random adjustments

19.34 Minor adjustments are made to the information to allow the maximum detailed Census data possible to be released without breaching the confidentiality of data reported by individual respondents. For this reason, great care should be taken when interpreting data in small cells, since possible respondent and processing errors have a greater proportional impact on them than on larger cells.


19.35 Estimates from the Census are subject to non-sampling error. For further information see paragraph 19.28 above


19.36 The main changes to labour-related data items in the Census over its history are outlined below.
    Census was established by the Census and Statistics Act 1905, and conducted in April.
    Labour-related data items included: labour force status; unemployment duration; occupation; and industry.

    Census conducted in April.
    Labour-related data item added: cause of unemployment.

    Census was delayed as a result of the economic depression, and moved to June.

    Census was delayed as a result of World War II, and conducted in June.

    Census conducted in June.
    Labour-related data item changes: industry - place of work also asked.

    Census conducted in June, and the frequency increased to five-yearly intervals.

    Labour-related data items added: hours worked.
    Labour-related data items dropped: unemployment duration and cause of unemployment.
    Data released on microfiche for the first time.

    Labour-related data items added: journey to work - collected by coding address of usual residence and address of workplace to obtain origins and destinations of travel to work.
    Labour-related data item changes: hours worked - question focused on hours worked in all jobs held in the week prior to the Census.
    Australian Standard Industrial Classification (ASIC) introduced for industry coding.

    Labour-related data items added: mode of travel to work.

    Census and Statistics Actamended to require Censuses at five-yearly intervals 'and at such other times as prescribed'.

    Labour-related data items changed: labour force status - since 1981 respondents are required to answer a series of questions from which labour force status is coded; hours worked in main job - replaced hours worked in all jobs.

    Labour-related data item changes: occupation - an additional question on main tasks or duties performed in the job has been asked since 1986.

    Census moved to early August after all mainland States changed from three school terms to four school terms, with holidays around the end of June.

    Labour-related data items added: availability to start work - to achieve comparability with Labour Force Survey definition of unemployment.
    Labour-related data item changes: hours worked in all jobs - replaced hours worked in main job.
    Two stage release approach introduced, with users gaining access to a wide range of first release Census data within 12 months, and the second release data released progressively from that time.
    Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) introduced to replace ASIC.

    Two stage release approach expanded, with more data items available as part of the first release.
    Introduction of intelligent character recognition, automatic coding and the use of images rather than paper forms during processing.
    Option to have personal details retained and made publicly available after 99 years.

    Introduction of the eCensus, an option allowing respondents to complete their Census form via the internet.
    Introduction of 'hotdecking' method of imputation for partial non-response.

    A new geographic standard, the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), was used for the 2011 Census for the first time.


19.37 For further details contact the Labour Market Statistics Section, on Canberra (02) 6252 7206 or email <labour.statistics@abs.gov.au>.

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