2008.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/08/2015   
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The objective of collection operations is to conduct a high quality Census in a timely and cost-efficient manner. This includes recruitment, training, supervision and payment of a large temporary field force.

The ABS has developed a new digital-first approach to Australia's 2016 Census that will provide a faster, more efficient, more environmentally-friendly Census that is easier for people to complete. The new approach will overcome difficulties in recruiting field staff and at the same time take advantage of new technologies.


The new approach changes the way Census materials are delivered and information is returned by the public. These changes were designed taking into account international best practices in Census taking and build on the Australian public's increasing access to and use of the internet, and their willing support of the Census.

Under the traditional Census method used for the past 100 years, forms were delivered by hand to every household. The new delivery approach removes the need for Census Field Officers to visit every dwelling. Instead, approximately 80% of dwellings across Australia will, in the first instance, be mailed information which includes a unique login number for the online form. The online form is designed to be used easily and securely on a variety of devices from smart phones to desktop computers. Those residents who do not wish to complete their form online will be able to request a paper form, which they can complete and mail back in a provided prepaid envelope.

For households that have not yet responded, reminder letters will follow the initial correspondence. Census Field Officers will then only visit dwellings that have not participated.

In the remaining areas of Australia, a more traditional delivery approach will be used. In these areas, Census Field Officers will deliver materials to each dwelling, enabling residents to either complete their form online or mail back a paper form. In these areas, the Field Officers will attempt to make contact with residents when dropping off the form. Census Field Officers will then only make further visits to dwellings that have not participated.

In 2016 the paper forms will have a new look, encouraging people who receive them to go online, if they are able. The front page of the paper 2016 Household Form is reproduced below.

There will also be some tailoring of the standard mail-out or traditional procedures to better meet the needs of particular areas, based on demographics, location, internet connectivity and the experience of previous Censuses. The enumeration operation will be monitored on a real-time basis, with management information coming from Census Field Officers using handheld devices, call centre agents receiving public enquiries and forms received on paper and online. This information will be used to highlight areas of lower response, or any other issue, so that alternative strategies can be enacted quickly to respond to these problems as they arise.

It is expected that about two-thirds of Australians will respond online to the 2016 Census, doubling the online response rate in 2011 of 33%.


Central to the new delivery procedures is the ABS Address Register. The ABS has developed this register as the central source of addresses used in the collection of information. The main input to the register is the Geocoded National Address File (G-NAF), with continuing supplementation from other available address sources and from field work undertaken by ABS officers. Each unit listed on G-NAF has:

      • an address
      • geocode information (latitude and longitude coordinates)
      • land use details.

Residential addresses from the register will be used for the mail-out of unique login numbers and other correspondence. They will also be provided to Census Field Officers to allow them to follow up dwellings that have not returned a form. In areas where the register is considered to be of poor quality, necessitating delivery of Census materials by Census Field Officers, the officers will record the addresses of the dwellings they visit, for inclusion in the register.

All addresses provided during the Census, including those provided on Census forms and those recorded by Census Field Officers, may be used to validate the quality and coverage of the register. This will maintain it as a comprehensive listing of residential and business addresses in Australia.


The scope of the Census is all people in Australia on Census Night, excluding 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 the scope of the Census.

It is expected that in 2016, for the first time, people in Norfolk Island on Census Night will be included in the Australian Census, following passage of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015. The Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island will again be included in the 2016 Census. Following the enactment of the Territories Law Reform Act 1992, the results for these Territories were included in the counts for Australia for the first time in 1996.

People will be counted where they are on Census Night. This Census count is referred to as one conducted on an actual location or place of enumeration basis (often referred to as a de facto Census). Census counts will also be available on a place of usual residence basis.


The ABS uses a range of approaches for specific population groups to ensure the coverage of people in Australia is as complete as possible. These strategies are designed, in consultation and collaboration with the relevant communities and/or service providers, to ensure these groups participate in the Census and accurate information is collected. Some examples of population groups where such targeted approaches have been used to optimise accessibility and inclusion are:
      • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
      • people with disabilities
      • people experiencing homelessness
      • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
      • people travelling or away from their home on Census Night
      • people living in mining camps and fly-in/fly-out workers.

A range of approaches have been used in previous Censuses, for information on the approach taken in the 2011 Census, see 2011 Census Special Enumeration Strategies (cat. no. 2911.0.55.004). For the 2016 Census, the ABS will build on the success of the 2011 strategies. The targeted approaches and associated procedures used in 2011 are being reviewed and revised, to take into account the new Census enumeration model.


A number of approaches will be in place to ensure people in certain kinds of dwelling are included in the Census. These are dwellings that may be difficult to access, or which offer transient accommodation, with the result that the occupants are harder to contact and less likely to complete the Census.

People who are in a non-private dwelling, such as a hotel or hospital, on Census Night, are given a Census Personal Form by staff of the establishment who have been recruited as Special Field Officers.

People who live in a private dwelling that is clustered with other private dwellings in an establishment or in a particular location, for example, in a secure apartment building, caravan park, marina or manufactured home estate, complete Census Household Forms as do other households in private dwellings. For these types of dwelling, it is anticipated that the Census materials will generally be dropped off by Census Field officers rather than mailed out.

People in special dwellings will also be able to complete the Census online.


The ABS is highly conscious of the contribution that public cooperation and willing participation make to the Census. In turn, the ABS seeks to respect this contribution by returning the data we produce in easy to use and accessible forms. In 2016, a key aim will be to maintain existing high levels of goodwill and participation with the move to the digital-first Census. In order to minimise the cost to the taxpayer and reduce the number of interactions that households need to have with the ABS, we aim to encourage households to self-respond to the Census in a timely fashion after receiving their letter, in order to remove the need for a household visit.

A major national public awareness and education campaign will be implemented in the lead up to, during and after Census night. The campaign will educate the public on the value and usefulness of the information collected and the confidentiality of the information provided, as well as raise awareness of how and when to complete the Census.

Particular attention will be paid to communicating with groups identified as having barriers to participation. These include young people, the rural community, people with a disability, and those for whom English is not a convenient language in which to receive information. Communication materials will reflect the diverse range and needs of Australians and international visitors, by realistically portraying their interests, lifestyles and contributions to Australian society.

Assistance will also be available where it is needed most, including the operation of a telephone and online inquiry service, self-help facilities and other mechanisms of supported participation. These services will include facilities for people who are blind or vision impaired, deaf people or people with other physical or cognitive disabilities.


It is expected that the public awareness campaign on the nature of the Census, the assurances of confidentiality and the uses of the resulting statistics will ensure maximum cooperation. Action, including legal action, will be considered only where all possible measures to ensure completion of a Census form have failed.


Image: front page of paper 2016 Census Household Form.