Every stat tells a story.


Media background information on key Census topics.

Communicating Census participation

National approach

The Census counts each household and person in Australia on Census night, Tuesday 10 August 2021. The 2021 Census needs to deliver a high level of participation across Australia to ensure quality data for all regions and communities. To achieve this, we are aiming for a 95 per cent response rate in the 2021 Census. While, ultimately, the Census is compulsory under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) aims to achieve informed and willing participation from everyone.

To achieve a high level of participation in the Census, the collection of data continues for several weeks after Census night. Households that have not responded will be mailed a reminder to participate. Census staff will follow up with dwellings that have not completed a Census form. It is important to note that the Census is undertaken in rural and remote areas over an extended period and paper forms from these areas will not be received for some time after Census night.

Measuring participation

The ABS will monitor the level of participation through the number of forms received online and by mail. From early August through to September, responses will be received progressively as people continue to submit online forms and return paper forms.  

During the collection phase in August and September, the ABS will regularly publish a national tally of forms received online and by paper as an indicator of participation. A breakdown of tallies for each state and territory will also be published.

The number of forms submitted does not represent a response rate and cannot be measured against the Australian population. Most forms collected represent households not individuals.

A response rate is an official completion measure for the Census. The response rate takes into account a number of factors that can only be determined after all forms have been submitted and quality checked.

For example, the ABS needs to understand how many households or dwellings were unoccupied on Census night to remove them from calculations. The removal of dwellings that are unoccupied on Census night and quality checks undertaken during data processing enable the ABS to determine a final response rate for the 2021 Census.

The final response rate will be published with the first release of Census data in June 2022.

How people can participate – online or paper

The ABS will deliver instructions to all households from early August 2021. All households will receive instructions on how to complete their Census either online or by ordering a paper form. Some households will also receive a paper form, which once completed can be returned using the reply-paid envelope provided.

We expect the majority of households to respond online. We will immediately register these responses as they are received. Paper forms will be registered by the ABS as they are received by mail.

Face to face interviews will also be used to support Census participation for people experiencing homelessness and people living in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Frequently asked questions

What does the tally consist of?
The tally is a point in time measure of participation in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing. It includes both the number of forms submitted online, and the number of paper forms received in the mail.  

Why are you publishing a tally?
The ABS recognises there is public interest in Census participation. We are publishing a twice weekly tally to provide the community with a regular report on the number of forms received from early August through to the end of September. The tally will be published each Monday and Thursday and on Wednesday 11 August at 10am AEST.

Why not publish more often?
Publishing twice weekly tallies will ensure the community is informed with the latest updates. Publishing tallies more frequently would not provide additional information as paper forms take time to arrive and Census collection continues over several weeks after Census night including in remote communities. 

Is the tally the same as a response rate? What is the difference between the tally and a response rate?
A tally is indicative of activity but not the full picture. It is a measure of participation in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing through the number of forms submitted online, and the number of paper forms received in the mail.

A response rate is an official completion measure in the Census. The response rate takes into account a number of factors that can only be determined after all forms have been submitted and quality checked. For example, the ABS needs to understand how many households or dwellings were unoccupied on Census night to remove them from calculations.

Response rates, for both dwellings and people, are measures that are used internationally and are an important part of understanding data quality. For further information on response rates, visit Understanding Census Data.

How accurate is the tally?
A tally is an early indication of activity and cannot be relied upon as a definitive measure of participation in the Census.

When will you publish a final response rate?
The ABS will publish a final response rate for the 2021 Census with the first release of Census data in June 2022.

2021 Census topics


On 16 November 2020, the ABS published the 2021 Census topics and data release schedule.

The publication outlines what information will be collected in the 2021 Census and when, what and how the data will be released.

We conducted extensive public and stakeholder consultation to finalise the Census topics for 2021.

We have introduced new questions in the 2021 Census; the first significant changes to questions collected in the Census since 2006.

Changes to existing questions have also been made to ensure the Census continues to be relevant to the community.

These include a non-binary option to the sex question and improved collection of language and ancestry data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

New questions

The 2021 Census will contain new questions on long-term health conditions and service with the Australian Defence Force.

The changes allow the Census to collect data on long-term health conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, to inform health policy and planning for community services.

Collecting information about Australian Defence Force service will provide a better understanding of the circumstances of Australia’s veteran community and support better provision of services for this group.

The addition of these two new questions will enhance the value of the 2021 Census to the Australian community.

Information on long-term health conditions will inform preventive health programs and funding for local services, and assist decision making for health authorities, researchers, policy makers, communicators and educators.

The inclusion of the Australian Defence Force service topic will provide a better understanding of the circumstances of Australia’s veteran community.

Removal of internet question

Our extensive consultation on Census topics determined that the question on home internet access did not provide a contemporary reflection of today’s society with the increase in mobile internet usage on personal devices outside of the home.

Sex and gender

The 2021 Census will collect information on sex as we have for every Census. The sex question is one of the most important in the Census as, along with age and location, it directly feeds into the official estimates of Australia’s population.

In the 2021 Census, people who wish to report their sex as other than male or female will have the option of a ‘non-binary sex’ response category. A person can select one response only or they can select more than one response, in other words male and non-binary sex, or female and non-binary sex. It is not possible to select male and female.

The online Census form allows respondents who select the non-binary sex response to provide further information. This field is optional and can be used to describe the circumstances specific to the person responding.

The ABS defines a person’s sex as being based on their sex characteristics, such as their chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.

Separately, gender is about social and cultural differences in identity, expression and experience as a man, woman, or non-binary person.

A person’s gender may differ from their sex and may also differ from what is indicated on their legal documents. The Census will not collect information on gender identity. Gender is collected in some of the ABS’s health surveys, namely the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. It will also be collected in next year’s National Health Survey and Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.

The ABS will release data on the number and characteristics of people who responded with ‘Non-binary sex’ in an analytical article. Analysis of the responses to the further information text will be presented in this article.

Sex and gender - Census form questions

Sex and gender - Census form questions
Sex and gender - Census form questions

Religious affiliation question

A person’s religious affiliation is asked as part of a suite of questions on cultural diversity. It has been collected since the first national Census in 1911.

Information gathered is used by religious organisations and government agencies to plan and deliver services, and incorporate religious practices within community services, such as education, hospitals and aged care facilities.

The Census question is intended to measure religious affiliation, which may be different from a person’s practice of, or participation in, a religious activity. It allows people to respond with secular or spiritual beliefs and to indicate if they have no religious affiliation.

Someone's beliefs or their faith is personal. We encourage respondents to answer the question in the way that best suits them.

Based on the most common responses from the 2016 Census, the top ten religions, including ‘no religion’ have a tick box listing on the form. A text field is provided to capture other responses not listed.

The ABS adopts this approach to make it as easy as possible for people to complete their Census.

Whether a person selects from a tick box or writes in an 'other' religious affiliation, all responses are classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups. The classification has seven broad groups made up of 131 detailed religious groups.

  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Other religions inc. Australian Aboriginal Traditional Religions, Chinese Religions and Japanese Religions
  • Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation

If a response provided isn't in the classification, it is coded to inadequately described. For example, if someone answers Jedi, Pastafarian or something similar, it is reported in the data in the same way as if the question wasn't answered.

There is a provision in the Constitution that states that the Commonwealth is not to legislate in respect of religion. Therefore, the religion question is optional and people cannot be required to answer this question.

Despite this question being optional, approximately 90 per cent of respondents have answered the question in recent Censuses.

Since early 2018, the ABS has run a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process on the topics to be included in the Census.

This included a public consultation, which received approximately 450 submissions. Fifteen submissions were received from a range of individuals, religious organisations, and secular bodies on the religious affiliation question.

The submissions presented a range of views including suggestions to remove the question; collecting participation in religious activities rather than affiliation with a religion; and how religions are classified and presented in the Census.

These views were considered as part of the assessment of topics and there was no change to how the 2021 Census collected religious affiliation.

The religion question on the 2021 Census paper form

Religion question

2021 Census data release

The ABS will release data from the 2021 Census in three phases:

  • in June 2022, key demographic, cultural diversity and health data will be released
  • in October 2022, employment, educational qualifications and internal migration data will be released
  • in early to mid-2023, complex data such as distance to work, socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA) and counts for people experiencing homelessness will be released.

More detailed information about the plans for 2021 Census data products will be released in early 2022.

All information collected in the Census is confidential, and no identifiable information can be released.

The 2021 Census topics and data release plan is published on the ABS website.

Statistics from the 2021 Census will be released in the same core products as previous Censuses, including through QuickStats, Community Profiles, TableBuilder and DataPacks & GeoPackages.

Independent assurance panel for 2021 Census data

The ABS will establish a 2021 Census Statistical Independent Assurance Panel. The 2021 Panel will independently assure the 2021 Census data and publicly release a report on their findings.

This initiative follows the establishment of the 2016 Census Independent Assurance Panel. The 2016 Panel published their findings in the Report on the Quality of 2016 Census data, which is available on the ABS website. The 2016 Panel recommended that the ABS continue the practice of an Independent Assurance Panel reviewing the quality of the Census data to provide greater transparency and accountability.

Providing customer support and assistance


We are working closely with a range of communities and organisations to ensure that we are helping people who need additional assistance in completing the Census.

We will host Census information hubs and fill-in-the-form sessions in areas where we know people might need more help. In some places, this includes in-language assistance.

People experiencing homelessness will receive help from our trained Census staff working with service providers who have direct contact with people experiencing homelessness.

We will be providing support options for people in deaf or hard of hearing, blind or low vision, and CALD communities who need assistance completing their Census, including:

  • making the Census form available in Braille, large print, and audio
  • ensuring the National Relay Service is available for people to call who are deaf and/or find it hard hearing or speaking with people who use a phone
  • providing assistance in languages other than English through the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450
  • videos on each Census question will be available in Auslan.

Please see the additional information below on the range of customer support and assistance available.

Helping people with vision and hearing challenges

There is a range of information and support available on our website for people in the deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision communities, including:

  • Census forms available in Braille and large print for people with a vision impairment
  • an easy read guide to completing the Census
  • information in Australian Sign Language (Auslan)
  • additional customer service channels for ordering Braille and large print forms
  • a range of options to access Auslan videos, and video guides with closed captions (from July)
  • an Auslan video with closed captions to introduce the Census, and a video of a round table discussion on Census based scenarios
  • as part of the Census question about language on the Census form, we have highlighted Auslan as an example of another language.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the Census Contact Centre through the National Relay Service for support and assistance. 

Braille forms type 1 and 2, or large print forms, are available by calling a 24-hour automated paper form request service. Braille and large print forms will also be available through the Census Contact Centre.

A Census guide will be available in Braille and large print and an audio MP3 of the questions and Census guide will be available on the website. The Census website, including the online form, is compatible with screen readers.

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

We're working closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to make sure everyone can take part and be counted. This includes seeking guidance about our communication, recruitment, and engagement.

Sometimes people either don’t complete all the information required, or not everyone who lives in the home is counted. We’ll be working with communities and using the media to remind people to include everyone who’s staying in your home, including babies, Elders, and visitors. It doesn’t matter how many people are there—include everyone.

In remote areas, the Census is conducted over an extended period between July and August. This is so remote teams can cover vast areas and visit multiple communities. For people living in remote communities, Census staff will be there during July and August to help people to complete the Census through face-to-face interviews.

We’ll also have face-to-face help, such as fill-in-the-form sessions and Census information hubs in places like Alice Springs. Additionally, national radio advertising for the Census will be translated into 19 Indigenous languages to support awareness in remote communities.

In remote areas, we’re employing locally to help people in the community fill in the Census. Where we come across a household that needs assistance with language, we will organise a Community Field Officer Interviewer or Facilitator from within the local community who can speak the language and assist the household by providing direct support in completing their Census.

We’re also supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders by providing range of tailored, culturally appropriate resources.

Beyond the Census, the ABS Round Table for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics continues to provide ongoing valuable insights into community perspectives, improving the way the ABS does business, and supporting improved data outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Supporting communities from a culturally and linguistically diverse background

We want to support all people in Australia to complete the Census. Some members of migrant communities may find it difficult to complete the Census. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as language barriers or the Census being a new concept.

We’re putting a range of supports and resources in place to help migrants, refugees, and international visitors to complete the Census, including:

  • fill-in-the-form sessions, including in-language, around the country to provide face-to-face support to complete the Census
  • supporting organisations across Australia, such as Migrant Resource Centres and community Information hubs, with material to help community members to understand and complete the Census
  • offering Census lesson plans to organisations around the country that teach English to migrants. These lesson plans detail what the Census is, why it's important and where to get help to complete the Census
  • hiring Census staff who speak additional languages and reflect the diversity of the communities they'll be working in
  • encouraging people to call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) for in-language support to have questions answered or to find where to get help locally
  • translated information on our website in 25 languages, and advertising in 29 languages
  • we’re continuing to develop in-language resources, including
    • education videos
    • social media graphics
    • simple, in-language information on the back of the Census letter.

We’re also sharing in-language stories about how information from the Census helps communities, businesses, and governments across the country make informed decisions. For example:

  • libraries use Census data to understand languages spoken in local communities so they can stock in-language books for their readers
  • supermarkets use Census data to inform the products to stock for their customers, including international foods
  • broadcasters use Census data to decide which in-language radio and media services are needed for their listeners.

People experiencing homelessness

The Census provides the only national estimate of the prevalence of homelessness. There were 116,427 people, or 0.5 per cent of the Australian population, who were homeless on Census night in 2016.

The ABS is engaging with service providers who have direct contact with people experiencing homelessness to promote the Census to the homeless population they support.

A successful count is contingent on the support of the homelessness services sector, including providing intelligence for regions of high homelessness, and nominating individuals with the appropriate knowledge, experience, and networks to fill Census field roles.

Some of the things we have in place to ensure people experiencing homelessness are counted in the Census are:

  • working closely with the sector to help plan the rough sleeper count and identify supported accommodation where residents need additional support to complete the Census
  • targeted messaging to couch surfers and people living in severely crowded households, including through social media and school ambassador programs
  • recruit people with lived experience and connections with the sector to ensure we are counting people experiencing homelessness in a way that feels safe and respectful.

Census data has significant impacts on funding for homeless services and programs, including emergency shelters, social and affordable housing, and community support programs.

Homeless estimates are used by governments, research and community for policy, research, and service delivery purposes.

Scale of the Census

Scale and scope

The Census is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the ABS. The task is to reach out to everyone in Australia—regardless of where they are located, or their living circumstances, across the continent.

Across Australia, the scale of Census operations extends from the physical dimension—large distances, diverse climate, different terrain, to the people dimension—trust, cultural diversity, a common understanding of the purpose and value of the Census, and the other important factors like verifying the quality of the data captured, and looking after our Census staff.  

In capturing a comprehensive and inclusive picture of Australians and Australian communities, over ten million households will be contacted by the ABS either by mail or by field officers.

Given the geography, distance, diversity of climate across such a vast country; six years of intensive planning and preparation is required.

Implementation of Census operations involves 38,000 temporary employees operating across every corner of Australia. We will have more than 20,000 Field Officers working across the country to help people complete their Census, including reminding them that their Census is due.

Field staff are estimated to complete a combined total of two million hours of work and will travel approximately 13 million kilometres in 2021, much of this will be on foot going from door-to-door.

Fifty per cent of Australia’s land mass will be covered by the Census remote team of 1,850 staff. For those living in remote Indigenous communities, the Census is conducted over an extended period between July and August. This is to facilitate Census remote teams to cover vast areas and visit multiple communities.

Census information hubs will also be available in around 400 locations across the country for the public to seek information about the Census or access a paper form.  

During our peak period of Census operations, the Data Capture Centre will register over 100 forms a minute and process more than 500,000 forms in a day.

A successful Census requires us to plan for the diversity of people in Australia, including people with disability, people experiencing homelessness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. 

Special processes are in place to count groups, such as people living in remote communities, and those in hospitals and hotels.

We will be providing support options for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or blind or with low vision, including resources in Auslan and the ability to order Braille and large print forms.

Census information will be translated to help Indigenous and multicultural communities to complete the Census. Information for people from a multicultural background will be available in up to 29 languages and there is a Telephone Interpreter Service.

This is achieved with the invaluable support from community organisations who help us identify the needs of diverse communities and assist us in planning our approach and sourcing engagement staff that can raise awareness about the Census to their members.    

For this year’s Census, we’ve got the added dimension of having to be able to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation.

We’ve undertaken extensive planning for how we engage with the community, and how we protect staff in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak and we’re well placed to respond.

Ultimately, the health and safety of our Census staff and members of the community throughout Census operations is our highest priority, particularly as we navigate through a pandemic environment.

Looking beyond the collection phase, data from the 2021 Census will be released in three phases—June and October 2022, and March 2023.

The ABS is working hard to ensure that we deliver a safe, secure, and successful 2021 Census and we’re looking forward to all Australian residents present on 10 August participating.

History of the Census

The first population counts in Australia were made as early as 1788.

From 1795 to 1825, ‘musters’ were held regularly where all members of the community gathered at specified locations to be counted.

In 1828, the first colonial Census was conducted in New South Wales, with Tasmania in 1841, South Australia in 1844, Western Australia in 1848, and Victoria in 1854.

In 1881, the first simultaneous Censuses of all the Australian colonies was conducted.

First ABS Census

In 1911, the first national Census was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Around 7,300 people were appointed for the collection work.

Field Officers travelled by horse, cart and bicycle to collect forms across the country and the information gathered was tabulated by hand.

The Census was repeated in 1921, 1933, 1947, 1954, 1961, 1966 and from then on, every five years.

Evolution of the Census

In 1921, Census information was tabulated using mechanical machine equipment. 

The machines used in 1961 were so large that when delivered they could not fit through the door of the Census office in Canberra. A large hole had to be cut in the side of the wooden building to install them. The 1961 Census was the last to use tabulating machines.

In 1954, women were hired to process and code data for the first time. The 1967 Referendum mandated all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be counted in the Australian Census.  

Computer technology was first used to process Census information in 1966 and people were provided with the option to complete their Census online in 2006.

Census jobs


We are currently recruiting 38,000 temporary positions to fill a range of diverse roles across Australia to successfully deliver the 2021 Census.

The roles are short-term and available in all cities, towns and regional areas nationwide with flexible and variable working hours.

These positions range from field roles to office-based roles. Some employment contracts are for a few months, and others are up to 10 months.

Previous experience isn’t necessary for many of our roles. We’re looking for motivated people who are available to work variable hours including weekdays, weekends and evenings.

To find out more, visit our Census jobs dashboard.

Field roles include:

  • Field Officer
  • Field Manager
  • Community Field Officer
  • Local Engagement Officer
  • Census Engagement Manager
  • Remote Area Management Team Leader
  • Remote Area Management Team Member.


There are also a number of office-based roles, including:

  • Field support centre
  • Census Escalations team
  • Census Operations Manager
  • Warehouse, scanning and data verification
  • Data entry and coding.


The ABS has appointed Adecco Australia to assist with the recruitment of temporary staff. Adecco will focus on finding staff in capital cities and major regional areas. The ABS is working with local people and communities to recruit staff in rural and remote areas.

We are also looking for people who can speak a language other than English as part of the job, and people with experience working with diverse population groups including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • people with a disability
  • people experiencing homelessness
  • older Australians
  • youth.

Field officer recruitment

We are recruiting 20,000 (to be exact 19,791) Field Officers in cities, towns and regional areas across all states and territories to help deliver the 2021 Census.

Field Officers are a crucial workforce that will help people throughout Australia to participate in the 2021 Census. This includes:

  • delivering Census instructions and forms and visiting households that have not yet responded
  • promoting Census participation and answering peoples’ questions
  • helping members of the public who need special support to complete the Census.


State breakdown      Field Manager         Field Officer             Total

         NSW                        800                         6,010                  6,810

          VIC                         679                         5,060                   5,739

         QLD                         550                        4,057                   4,607

          SA                          199                         1,423                   1,622

          WA                         288                         2,160                  2,448

          NT                            29                           210                     239

         TAS                            83                           589                     672

         ACT                           38                           282                     320 


What skills do Census Field Officers need?

The ability to work independently with a positive attitude and a willingness to help others and support your community.

Field Officers must be able to work flexibly in a busy environment with attention to detail and a keen eye for accuracy.

The Field Officer should have local area knowledge and an ability to read and navigate maps.

Field Officers must have a mobile device with a reliable internet connection to use for work, a current driver’s licence, and access to a registered and insured vehicle.

What are the pay rates, terms and conditions?

Census Field Officers will earn $24.80 per hour (inclusive of 25 per cent loading), plus superannuation.

All pay rates are inclusive of a loading of 25 per cent. This is in lieu of paid leave and payment for public holidays where the employee is not rostered to work and applies to the hourly rate.

All roles are temporary, short-term contract roles with variable working hours, including weekdays, weekends and evenings.

What is the process for applying for the roles?

The process starts with applicants completing the online form at www.census.abs.gov.au/careers.

It takes approximately 15 minutes to apply.

Candidates will be shortlisted and complete phone or video interviews.

Conducting a Census during COVID-19

Keeping the community safe during COVID-19

Understanding the impact of the pandemic

This Census will be the first major data insight showing the impacts of COVID-19 on the living and working arrangements of everyone in Australia. It will provide valuable insights into how the pandemic has changed life in Australia.

Census data will provide us with a detailed picture of:

- changing employment profile and work practices

- changes in our work commute and how we use public transport

- which towns and cities we have moved away from, and where we have moved to

- the impact of reduced migration and less overseas visitors and workers

- changes to industries like hospitality and agriculture.

Census data is used to inform decisions that impact all of us. From schools, healthcare, transport and infrastructure to local services for individuals, families and communities. We will be proceeding with the Census during COVID-19 with careful planning and monitoring.

Conducting the Census in a COVID-19 environment

The 2021 Census will go ahead, with careful planning and monitoring. The health and safety of the community and our staff will continue to be our highest priority.

We've undertaken extensive planning for engaging with the community and protecting our staff during COVID-19.

We're monitoring the changing COVID-19 environment to ensure that our safety measures are up-to-date and meet the guidelines and advice from federal, state and territory governments. We will actively adapt our approach to suit local circumstances including lockdowns.

We’re also learning from our international partners in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada about their success with conducting Censuses safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are following a similar approach to our international counterparts. They have reported that they had great cooperation from the public and high response rates, including high rates of online response.

Completing the Census

For the vast majority of people, the Census will be contact free. Most households will complete online using instructions received by mail.

Paper forms will be delivered to selected locations or on request. These will be delivered contact free to the letterbox either by Australia Post or a Census staff member. 

Paper forms are requested to be returned to us by mail in the reply-paid envelope provided.

Staff and community safety measures

Census staff will adhere to all public health orders and current rules and restrictions. Our Census staff are provided with face coverings and training about social distancing and hand hygiene They have clear instructions about what work is permissible in their local area.

Where we do need to work in the community, such as in areas where internet and postal services are less reliable, we will do so safely and following all public health orders. This includes minimal face to face contact with the community in all locations with COVID-19 restrictions and ceasing face to face contact in accordance with stay-at-home orders. For example, it may be appropriate to drop Census materials in a letterbox in some areas but not permissible to knock on doors.

Quarantine facilities

There will be no direct contact with people in quarantine facilities. We will provide quarantined travellers instructions on how to complete online. We are working closely with state governments and accommodation providers. This will includes any athletes returning from the Olympic games.

Digital security

2021 Census

Keeping people’s information safe, secure, and protected from cyber-attacks is of the utmost importance for the ABS.

Security and privacy were key factors in designing all elements of the 2021 Census particularly the Census Digital Service, which includes the online form.

For 2021, the ABS has completely rebuilt the Census Digital Service incorporating a range of security elements.

The ABS has implemented state of the art cyber-security protections informed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre and other experts.

We are also:

  • undertaking rigorous testing such as ethical hacks of our IT systems to ensure that our systems are robust
  • running a 24x7 Security Operations Centre to monitor Census systems with real-time information and alerts on potential security issues, and
  • conducting independent security risk assessments of our Census systems by endorsed third party assessors through the Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) Information Security Registered Assessors Program (IRAP).

Ahead of the 2021 Census, the Digital Transformation Agency has confirmed the Census Digital Service is compliant with the Digital Service Standards for Australian Government services.

All information collected in the Census will be securely hosted in Australia and encrypted end-to-end. Only selected ABS staff can access the data.

2016 Census

In 2016, the online form experienced a significant outage on Census night. The ABS still received a 95 per cent response rate and delivered quality statistics as we had planned. The 2016 Census counted almost 10 million dwellings and 23.4 million people across Australia.

What happened on Census night?
The online Census form was targeted by a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Compounding the problem, an attempt to restore the system during the fourth DDoS attack led to the failure of one of our supplier’s routers.

Australians accessing the online form did not cause the problem, in fact 2.2 million households completed their forms prior to the outage; evidence that the system was not overloaded.

The Australian Signals Directorate reported the incident was a DDoS attack and that there was no unauthorised access to, or extraction of, any personal information. The online form was open to the Australian public, one day 18 hours and 44 minutes after the decision was taken to close the online form.

Why the ABS closed the online form?
Because, at the time, it was not known if the unusual outbound traffic from our systems was malicious or benign, we decided to close the online form to protect the privacy of the Australian public.

In a statement on 11 August 2016, the Australian Privacy Commissioner (and Acting Australian Information Commissioner) said they were satisfied that personal information was not inappropriately accessed, lost or mishandled.

2016 Census data
An Independent Assurance Panel reviewed the 2016 Census to provide assurance and transparency of its data quality. It considered issues including Census design, enumeration, processing and quality assurance, and using the quality of outputs from the 2011 and 2006 Censuses as benchmarks. 

A full copy of the report is available online. The Panel concluded that the 2016 Census data could be used with confidence. The 2016 Census data is of comparable quality to the 2011 and 2006 Census data. You can access the 2016 Census data from the ABS website

What is different in 2021?
We have built a completely new online system, which has enacted the findings of key 2016 reviews. The 2021 Census systems have been subject to independent review and we are working closely with key government security agencies to do everything possible to ensure the online form is safe, secure and easy to complete for the Australian community.