The Census – what's new? (Media Release)

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25 July 2014
Embargo: 11.30 am (Canberra time)

The Census – what's new?

The Census of Population and Housing provides a snapshot of the nation. It aims to count every person and every household in Australia on Census night.

Conducted every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has made little change to the traditional delivery and collection procedures used in the Census over its 100 year history.

In April 1911, Census Collectors set out all over Australia by foot, bike and horse to deliver the traditional paper Census form – up to four days prior to Census night in towns and cities and up to two weeks prior in country areas.

Since then, the central delivery and collection role of the Census Collector has remained the same. The most noticeable development was the introduction of the online Census form in in 2001, which enabled people to supply their information securely over the internet instead of on the traditional paper form.

While online completion had a very modest uptake in 2001, in 2006 close to 800,000 (or almost 10 per cent) of households in Australia chose to complete the Census online. In 2011, some 2,706,051 (or 33 per cent) of households chose this method to respond to the Census.

In August 2016, the ABS will change the way it conducts the Census to overcome the challenges in recruiting some 40,000 field staff, take advantage of new technologies, and become even more efficient while maintaining the high quality of information collected in the Census for all Australians.

The new delivery and collection procedures aim to increase online participation, contributing to a high quality, timely and cost-effective Census operation.

Head of the 2016 Population Census, Duncan Young said the changes to the Census reflect the way Australians now interact and conduct their business and transactions online.

“August 2016 will be the fourth time the ABS has offered an online completion option,” Mr Young said.

“In 2016, the ABS anticipates more than 65 per cent of Australian households will complete the Census online.”

As part of new delivery and collection procedures, households will receive a letter from the ABS addressed ‘To the Resident’, which will include instructions on how to complete the Census online, and a form ID and passcode unique to the household or individual.

“This will result in Australians being able to complete the Census in a faster, easier way that is more secure and environmentally friendly,” Mr Young said.

“The online form can be completed wherever you can access the internet – whether it’s on desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

“You don’t need to use your home computer. You can use a dial-up, broadband, mobile or wireless internet connection. Online help is also available.

“Online completion will also contribute to the collection of high quality data due to the electronic and automated nature of processing.

“This will result in better information and decision-making for services and infrastructure in your community, including housing, transport, education, industry, hospitals and the environment.”

The changes to the Census won’t see the end of the traditional Census Collector or paper form. In 2016, Census Field Officers will deliver and collect paper forms in areas where we know there is limited or no access to the internet, and follow up with households that haven’t participated.

They will also help ensure vulnerable or hard-to-reach population groups can participate fully in the Census.

“The ABS understands that not everyone can do the Census online, so we’ll still be offering the traditional paper form and support and assistance where it is needed most,” Mr Young added.

“Census Field Officers will continue to play a crucial role in the way the ABS conducts the Census to ensure everyone is counted on Census night, as well as playing a more active role in following-up with households who have not submitted their online or paper form.”

To get more information about the Census, visit or call the Census Inquiry Service on 1800 138 756.