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 >> Collection



The production of accurate maps for use by Census Collectors is important to the collection of the census. They make it possible for Census Collectors to deliver and collect forms accurately from every household. For the 1996 Census, a new computer-based mapping system has enabled the production of higher quality maps than previously available. The higher quality of maps available will increase the accuracy of the counts for small areas.


Once the design of the census forms is completed, work begins on the typesetting and printing of the forms. For the 1996 Census, the ABS will produce 9.1 million household and 2.1 million personal forms.


The basic unit of collection is a collection district (CD). A CD is generally a census workload area that one Collector can cover delivering and collecting census forms in a specified period. On average there are about 200 dwellings per CD; however there may be more in urban CDs, and in rural areas a CD may contain few dwellings yet cover an extensive area. In statistical tables, CDs are combined to form larger geographic areas, for example, statistical local areas (SLAs), legal local government areas (LGAs) and Commonwealth electoral divisions.


Prior to the census the ABS conducts a comprehensive communications campaign to support the census. The aim of the campaign is to raise community awareness about the census and the date on which it will occur and to encourage accurate completion of the form. The campaign also supports operational aspects of the census, such as the recruitment of collectors. The communications campaign includes paid media advertising and a range of public relations activities including briefings for community and other public opinion leaders. There is also a comprehensive program of media contact to brief journalists and commentators on the census and to encourage coverage of relevant issues.

An important aspect of the communications strategy is to raise awareness of procedures available to obtain help, especially for people who may be disadvantaged through language or other difficulties, in acquiring information about the census or in completing the form. In addition, an information booklet is produced for every household.


An efficient collection operation is essential to the success of the census. As in previous censuses, the 1996 Census is self-enumerated. This means that each household is asked to fill in the details required on the census form. Assistance is available from the Collector, and the Census Hotline inquiry service (which includes a telephone interpreter service).

A hierarchical structure of temporary staff is used to deliver and collect census forms. All staff are appointed under the Census and Statistics Act and are subject to the strict confidentiality provisions of the Act.ABS State and Territory offices are responsible for the Field Managers who number between 3 and 43 depending on the State or Territory. Each Field Manager is required to direct between 18 and 22 Group Leaders. The Group Leaders are each responsible for training and supervising the work of approximately 1012 Census Collectors to ensure accuracy and completeness of coverage within their areas.

In total, more than 40,000 temporary collection staff will be involved in the delivery and collection of forms. These staff need to be recruited, trained, supplied with material, supervised and paid on completion of their work. The logistics behind this are enormous and require careful planning and implementation. The majority of this workforce, just over 30,000 people, are the Census Collectors.

Census Collectors deliver a form and information booklet to every household in their CD prior to census night. Where contact is made on delivery, the Collector arranges with the householder a convenient time to return and collect the form after census night. Collectors are required to return to each household to collect the form some time in the eight day period following census night. They are also required to scan each form to ensure it has been completed.

It is not an easy task to deliver and collect census forms, especially in remote areas, but Collectors endeavour to include everyone. This includes people camping in the outback or travelling and people who live in parks or on the street. In rural areas, Collectors use any means of transport at their disposal to locate every person who should be included in the census.


To ensure that public inquiries concerning the 1996 Census are dealt with speedily, the ABS operates a telephone Census Hotline inquiry service.
The Census Hotline answers public inquiries about the census itself, the procedures used and how to complete the census form, as well as providing feedback to census collection staff where further action is required to ensure the delivery and/or collection of forms.


For the enumeration of non-private dwellings such as hotels and hospitals, Collectors distribute census personal forms and privacy envelopes, rather than household forms, to people spending census night in that dwelling. Collectors are required to collect the completed forms as soon as possible after census night. In large non-private dwellings, Special Collectors are employed.

Personal forms are also made available for people on board ships in or between Australian ports, or on long distance trains or buses.


As was the case in 1991, all households in caravan parks and marinas are provided with household forms to enable statistics to be produced on the families living in such locations. Those living in manufactured home estates and self-care accommodation for the retired or aged will receive household forms for the first time.


Privacy envelopes are provided at collection for anyone who does not wish to have their completed form seen by the Census Collector. Envelopes are also provided to people in private dwellings who do not want their responses to be seen by other members of the household and for people enumerated in non-private dwellings. Members of the public are informed of the availability of privacy envelopes through the public awareness campaign, information booklet and the census form.


For indigenous people

Given the remoteness of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and their special characteristics, the ABS has developed an Indigenous Enumeration Strategy after consultation with organisations concerned with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services.

Central to this strategy is the appointment of officers who are involved in informing indigenous communities about the census and eliciting their support. Indigenous Interviewers are recruited to enumerate remote and other discrete indigenous communities and census information is obtained by interviews. The communications aspects of the strategy include paid media advertising, a program of contact with community leaders, briefings for representatives of indigenous media outlets, use of posters and leaflets specifically designed for indigenous communities, and dissemination of information via video cassettes.

For ethnic groups

With almost 15% of Australians speaking a language other than English at home, there is a need to provide assistance to households that have difficulties in speaking or reading English. A strategy has been developed by the ABS to ensure that the best possible enumeration of ethnic groups is achieved. The communications elements of this strategy include paid media advertising, providing information to community leaders and to relevant journalists and commentators, translating brochures into community languages, and providing information to migrant education units and community groups. The census also employs Collectors with skills in languages other than English, and operates a census telephone interpreter service. Arrangements can also be made for an interpreter to visit the home if required.

For the homeless

There are two groups of people whose kind (or lack) of shelter pose particular issues for collecting census data. The first group are people who live on the streets. The second group consists of people living permanently in boarding houses and those in refuges.

Prior to census night, senior collection staff will make contact with local offices of State and/or local government agencies responsible for licensing accommodation likely to cater for the homeless, and with groups providing other services for the homeless to identify hang-outs and skid rows. Also, members of the homeless community will be engaged to enumerate 'difficult' areas where significant numbers of homeless people are likely to be encountered on census night.

For others

A 1993 ABS survey revealed that approximately half a million of those with a limitation or disabling condition of some kind have difficulty holding a book, turning pages or reading normal print. Where requested, Census Collectors provide assistance to people who need it. This ranges from reading out the questions to noting answers. A telephone typewriter service for the deaf also operates. Subtitling the census television advertisements for encoder viewing will also occur.

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