Understanding Census geography

Understanding and selecting the appropriate geography for your data search

Released
11/04/2022

Overview

The Census of Population and Housing is conducted every five years and provides demographic information for geographic areas across the country.

This information is used to:

  • provide a count of people living and working in geographic areas
  • measure geographic movements of people between Censuses which helps governments, businesses and communities determine and plan for future growth in different areas
  • plan for emergency response and improvement of infrastructure.

The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) defines all the geographies used by the ABS for release of data. Each geography has its own name, boundaries, and purpose. 

Guide to selecting a geography

To access Census data for an area, you will need to select a geography. There may be different ways to examine the area you are interested in. Selecting the right ASGS geography will depend on the population, characteristics or general trends you’re interested in.

If you are interested in analysing:You may want to select:

Suburbs

  • Suburbs and Localities (SALs)
  • Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) (in urban areas)

Local council/government areas

  • Local Government Areas (LGAs)

Towns

  • Significant Urban Areas (SUAs)
  • Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) – for populations greater than 200 people

Capital cities

  • Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA)

Indigenous areas

  • Indigenous Locations (ILOCs)
  • Indigenous Areas (IAREs)
  • Indigenous Regions (IREGs)

Census data gives us a snapshot of Australia at a specific point in time. This is important to note as geographic boundaries may have since changed.

For QuickStats and Community Profiles, the available geography boundaries are reflective of what they were on Census Night and will remain the same until the next Census. For TableBuilder, Local Government Area (LGA) boundaries will be updated annually; State and Commonwealth Electoral Division boundaries will be updated annually in the years that redistribution occurs.

Maps

To assist you with your geography selection, the following map tools are recommended:

  • Search Census data – search and select your location of interest to view Census data in QuickStats or Community Profiles.
  • ABS Maps – visually compare the difference between ASGS geographies as well as the changes in a geography over time.
  • Data by region – select your area of interest, and view collated data and statistics sourced from the Census of Population and Housing, administrative datasets and various other ABS surveys.

The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS)

The ASGS provides comprehensive information about each geography used by the ABS for the release of data. As well as using the ASGS for further information on geographies, the following pages are recommended for reference:

The ASGS is divided into two parts:

The ASGS diagram provides a visual representation of the hierarchy and relationships between each geography.

Note: A small number of customised geographies are available for Census data to support user needs. Details of these can be found at the end of the Census geography glossary.

ASGS diagram

    ASGS Diagram
    The diagram shows how different elements of the ASGS are related.

    The main building blocks of the ASGS are Mesh Blocks. Mesh Blocks build to SA1s which aggregate up to SA2s and so on in the following order from smallest to largest areas: Mesh Blocks, SA1s, SA2s, SA3s, SA4s, State/Territories and Australia. Greater Capital City Statistical Areas are published as part of the Main Structure and are built up from SA4s.

    The smallest units of the Indigenous Structure, Indigenous Locations are built up from SA1s. Indigenous Locations aggregate up to Indigenous Areas and Indigenous Areas then aggregate up to Indigenous Regions.

    Most Non ABS Structures are built up from Mesh Blocks. This includes Postal Areas, Suburbs and Localities, Local Government Areas, State Electoral Divisions, Commonwealth Electoral Divisions, Australian Drainage Divisions and Destination Zones. Tourism Regions are the exception and are built up from SA2s.

    Urban Centres and Localities (UCLs) are built from SA1s. The population contained within each UCL then determines which Section of State Region and Section of State each UCL is allocated to. Significant Urban Areas are built from SA2s and are designed to capture larger towns and cities.

    Remoteness Areas are built up from SA1s.
    Further detail on how both the ABS Structures and Non ABS Structures are designed is available in the different sections of this publication.