OVERVIEW OF CENSUS TOPICS
Since the first national Census in 1911, the content of Censuses has varied. 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 assessed importance of the topic at the time. See Census Topics 1911-2011.
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 as a 'no change' in content Census. As a consequence the public consultation process regarding topics and procedures for the 2011 Census was stopped. All topics asked in the 2006 Census were retained. Prior to that point, a need for additional topics had already been identified and it is likely that more data needs would have emerged if the consultation had continued.
The ABS is conducting a review of all current topics, which will enable incorporation of appropriate new and revised topics in the 2016 Census, to meet the emerging needs of Australia's constantly changing and diversifying society. The review aims to optimise data relevance, whilst also considering the decreasing need for any current topics. As a result of this review, it is expected that some topics may be removed from the Census and that others may be included on a 10 yearly cycle. It may subsequently be possible to include a small number of additional topics following their evaluation and successful testing.
Conducting the Census operation efficiently and effectively imposes constraints on the types of topics that can be included. There is also a need to limit the total number of questions in order to minimise respondent load and Census costs.
In the Census, information is collected by 'self-enumeration', with each household being required to fill in a Census form. Self-enumeration, and the need to ensure that the large Census operation is conducted as efficiently and effectively as possible, impose certain constraints on the type of topics included. Questions asked on the Census form need to be readily understood by all householders. The Census form may be completed by one household member on behalf of others.
Topics that require detailed explanation to ensure accurate answers are unlikely to be answered correctly. Research has shown that people often do not read the explanations that accompany questions. Questions that are controversial or could cause adverse reactions may also not be answered correctly. Such questions could also adversely affect the quality of other responses. Information about these topics may require interviewer based collection methods.
The ABS topic recommendations are being provided as a starting point for public comment - see Making a Submission for more details on the public consultation and submission process.
The ABS has used the following set of criteria to make its initial topic recommendations and judge the suitability of topics for a Census. The questions on the submission form also relate to these five criteria, which will be used to finalise recommendations following the public consultation and submission process.
- The topic is of current national importance.
- There is a current need for data on the topic for small population groups and/or at the small area level.
- There are no other suitable alternative data sources available for the topic.
- The topic is suitable for inclusion in the Census.
- There is likely to be a continuing need for data on the topic in the following Census.
The assessment criteria on national importance reflects the importance of trusted statistical information to inform public debate and enable effective decision making. The ABS is working with users and producers of official statistics to identify the core set of essential statistics from a large number of data sources, that are critical for decision-making for the nation. A preliminary list of Essential Statistical Assets for Australia
(ESAs) was released in May 2012 for consultation. This preliminary list has been considered by the ABS in its initial topic recommendations for the 2016 Census. The preliminary list of ESAs includes the following statistics sourced from the Census of Population and Housing:
- Household economic wellbeing
- Estimated resident population
- Housing utilisation
- Internet usage and access
- Population structure and household composition
- Social housing supply.