Every stat tells a story.

2021 Census Press Conference

Dr David Gruen
Australian Statistician
Friday 18 June 2021
Address to the Press Gallery, Blue Room, Australian Parliament House


Thanks Minister and thank you for coming to today’s press conference.

The Census gives Australians a detailed picture of their communities and also of the nation.   

The Census provides enormous value to the country. In particular, the Census provides information at a local level that often can’t be found elsewhere.

This information is relied upon by governments and also by lots of different organisations. Let me give two examples of organisations that use Census data.

First, the Wheatbelt Business Network in Western Australia’s south west provides support to businesses through advisory services, mentoring and networking.

Through Census data, they identified that women in business are one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial demographics in the region.

As a consequence, the Wheatbelt Business Network developed a business mentoring service, which connects female business owners in the region with high profile and respected business leaders.

The second example comes to mind because I spent last night sleeping rough up at the national arboretum. The second example is about Orange Sky which provides free laundry facilities, showers and conversation to the homeless.

The Census provides the most reliable information on homelessness and Orange Sky uses Census data to determine where their services are most needed. These two examples and many more are case studies you can find on the Census website that gives you a sense of the range of organisations that use Census data and what they use it for.

Let me now turn to the timeline and the significant milestones ahead and I’ll also describe how people can participate in the Census and what success will look like. 

How people can participate

The 2021 Census advertising campaign, as the Minister said, will start on Sunday 4 July and our Census Phone Service will open the next day to assist the public with queries.

On 28 July, the Census online form will open. Households across the country will start to receive instruction letters by mail in early August. 

These letters will include a unique log in ID and instructions about how to complete the form online, or if people would prefer how to order a paper form.

For those who wish to complete the form online, they will be able to do it securely on a computer, on a tablet or on their phone.

We are planning for around 75 per cent of forms to be done online, which was 63 per cent in 2016.

Paper forms will be delivered to households in areas where completing online is less likely to be preferred or possible, for example possibly because internet connection is poor.

As the Minister said, people can complete their Census as soon as they receive their letter if they know where they’ll be on Census night.

And as the Minister also said, we’ll 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.

An innovation from last time, there’ll be Census information hubs that will be available in up to 400 locations across the country, providing a face-to-face way for the public to find out more about the Census, or to get a paper form.   

There will be fill-in-the-form sessions and information sessions in a range of community settings.

Special processes are in place to count groups such as people experiencing homelessness, and those in institutions such as hospitals and hotels.

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

We’re employing over 2,000 Community Field Officers to specifically support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and the homeless.

Census advertising will be translated into 19 Indigenous languages to help Indigenous communities to be counted.

Census Information for people from multicultural backgrounds will be available in up to 29 languages. I was puzzled when I read up to 19 languages, I wondered why it was up to 19 languages, sorry I meant up to 29 languages, and the answer is that radio ads will be in 29 languages but other forms of communication will not be in 29 languages, they’ll be less and there’s in-language support through Telephone Interpreter Services.

For those living in remote Indigenous communities, the Census is conducted over an extended period between July and August. That’s so the remote teams can get to the remote communities and visit multiple communities rather than doing everything right around 10 August.

Census staff will visit remote communities during July and August to help people complete the Census through face-to-face interviews. If for whatever reason we can’t get access to a community, our Census Engagement Managers will continue to work with the community to understand their issues and to allay concerns.

All attempts will be made for Census staff to be recruited from within communities or surrounding regions.

Responding to the implications of COVID-19

For this year’s Census, we’ve got the added complication of needing to be ready to respond to possible interruptions because of COVID and of course, the safety of citizens and Census staff are of critical importance.

We’ve undertaken extensive planning on how to engage with the community, and how to protect staff in the event of a COVID outbreak.

Our planning includes quarantine facilities, we will ensure both incoming travellers from a declared hotspot and international arrivals staying in a Government, State or Territory quarantine facility have the opportunity to complete the Census.

Last year’s October Census Test involved 100,000 households in select locations across Australia. Our COVID-safe plan was tested in different states in this test.  

  • In Victoria, we used a mail-only approach with no field staff, relying on letters and advertising because Victoria was locked down.
  • In Sydney, we tested a 'contactless approach' where Field Officers dropped material at the letterbox instead of knocking on doors.
  • And in South Australia, we tested how we would withdraw our field staff in response to a sudden change in restrictions in that state and organised the safe return of field staff once restrictions were lessened. 

So we don’t know exactly what will happen but we have tested the various possibilities and we think we’re as well organised as we can with respect to COVID.

While the Census Test was small, it was 100,000 households and not 10 million, we were glad to be able to test our systems and our work health and safety processes ahead of the Census.

The responsiveness of our Covid-safe plan continues to be tested as we have adapted our field operations most recently in Victoria in response to the recent lockdown.

What will success look like

We have a range of metrics to judge success. We’re aiming for an overall response rate of 95 per cent, which as the Minister said is very high by the standards of other countries.

Success hinges on the timely delivery of Census instructions across Australia about how to complete and on providing a seamless and trouble-free experience for those who complete the form online.

The accuracy of counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people needs to be maintained, and we had an undercount in 2016. That’s a group that’s particularly hard to enumerate and in so far as possible, we want to improve our enumeration, that is the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that we enumerate. This includes a particular focus on the response rate in the Northern Territory, which of the states and territories has the lowest historical response rate.

We will also pursue high quality outputs, including robust information from the new questions that the Minister talked about.

Looking beyond the collection phase, data from the Census will be released in three phases –

June and October of 2022, and in March of 2023.

The Census will provide further insights into the impacts of COVID-19 across the Australian population. We need everyone to be counted to tell the story of how Australia has changed and to plan for the future.

As always, the Census will also provide invaluable information including at the local level that governments, businesses, communities, and individuals can trust to make important decisions.

The ABS is working hard to ensure that we deliver a safe, secure, and efficient 2021 Census and I thank everyone in Australia in advance for their participation.

This Census provides critical information to plan for the future. It is important that everyone completes.  

Thank you.

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