2903.0 - How Australia Takes a Census, 1996  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/04/1996   
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Contents >> Uses of Census Data



The basis of other ABS statistics

Census data form the basis of many of the ABS' most widely used products and services. One is the official population estimates which are updated each quarter. Census data are also used in compiling the monthly employment and unemployment statistics and the national accounts.
The number of people in each area collected in the census is also used in the framework for selecting the samples used in ABS household surveys.

Public inquiries

The ABS itself has had over 500,000 requests for data from the 1991 Census. In addition there are many inquiries made to libraries and other organisations that disseminate census data.

Allocation of funds and federal seats

The official population estimates are used to allocate Commonwealth funds to State and local governments, and to determine the number of seats each State and Territory has in the House of Representatives.

Planning and administration

The census also provides the characteristics of the population and its housing for small areas and for small population groups to support the planning, administration and policy development activities of governments, business and other users.


These characteristics have been used to study the social and economic circumstances of particular population groups, for example, the localities where people who were born overseas were living at census time, the employment status of these people, the main occupations and industries they work in and their educational qualifications. As another example, those planning transport facilities have used census data to study the main flows of people within a city and the methods people use to get to work, relating these data to average income levels and the availability of motor vehicles in households.
While some of this information is available from other sources, only a census can provide the information for the country as a whole and for small geographic areas and small population groups. Census data play an important role in many decisions affecting public expenditure. For example, the Department of Employment, Education and Training has said it uses Census data on occupation, industry, qualification and journey to work to:

develop local area profiles for use in targeting labour market programs and improving client services;
guide the allocation of vocational education and training, higher education and school resources;
advise the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on targeting of skilled migration; and
monitor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, migrant and women's participation and equity in the labour market as a basis for program targeting and policy development.


To give an idea of the uses to which census data can be put, here are some of the ways in which they have been used in the past, both commercially and for community projects.

Breast cancer clinics

Objective: To select the best areas to establish breast cancer screening clinics.

Data use: Census data was used to identify and map the target population for breast cancer clinics for an area health service in a large city. Maps were created in which women aged between 50 and 69 years were displayed according to their postcode, and major shopping centres, main roads and public transport routes were added to the maps to indicate whether the proposed clinic sites were easily accessible.

Result: The areas most in need of new breast cancer clinics were identified, as were indicators of ease of access to the proposed clinics.

Recreation and public transport facilities

Objective: A local government council wanted to look at the impact of high density rental accommodation on the demand for recreational and transport facilities.

Data use: The council, using census dwelling data, mapped areas of Housing Commission rented dwellings together with population density. By identifying areas with a significant proportion of high density rented Housing Commission properties and the population within those areas, the town planner could determine if the recreational and public transport facilities were adequate.

Result: The council can plan more effectively for present and future needs for recreational and public transport facilities.

Charity organisation

Objective: A charity needed to plan effective door-knock appeals, by targeting the best areas to approach.

Data use: By reviewing past campaigns, the charity knew that certain family types above a particular income level were more likely to donate. Using census data, the charity selected areas with the highest density of that family type and with a high proportion of that income level. They planned door-knock appeals in those areas, and used cheaper, less time-consuming methods of collection, such as letterbox drops, in other areas.

Result: The charity was able to target its donors more accurately, raising a higher rate of donation for each collector.

Homes for the aged

Objective: A church welfare group wanted to select the area most in need of homes and care for the aged.

Data use: The ABS was able to provide the group with census data on age, income, and home ownership for the different areas they were looking at as possible locations.

Result: The group was able to assist the aged who were most in need of homes and care.

Broadcasting company

Objective: The company wanted to know if they were broadcasting the right type of non-English programs for the people living in their region.

Data use: They received census data for the region showing where people had been born and what languages they were speaking at home.

Result: The broadcasting company was able to better meet the needs of the non-English speaking residents in their area.

Government child care

Objective: The Department of Human Services and Health wished to allocate funding for existing child care centres.

Data use: They received census data on the number of children, by age, for the locations of the centres.

Result: The funding was allocated based on the number of children in each centre's catchment area.

Fast food company

Objective: The company wished to expand and wanted to select the best area in which to locate a new outlet.

Data use: The company gave the ABS the age range they wished to target along with the general area in which they wished to locate the store. Census data showed the company where the greatest concentration of the population in the target age range lived within the proposed area.

Result: The company was able to settle on which site to locate their new store.

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