2007.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Consultation on Topics, 2021  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/04/2018   
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The ABS is consulting to seek views on the information to be collected in the next Census and this topic brief provides detail about what has been previously included on cultural diversity.

The opportunity to participate in the consultation will be available from 3 April to 30 June 2018 via consult.abs.gov.au


Cultural diversity topics on the Census included:

  • Australian citizenship
  • country of birth
  • country of birth of parents
  • year of arrival in Australia
  • main language other than English spoken at home
  • proficiency in spoken English
  • ancestry
  • religious affiliation.

For more information view 2901.0 - Census Dictionary


Understanding the characteristics and origins of all people who call Australia home plays a role in policy and service development. Questions in the Census about citizenship, country of birth, ancestry and when people arrived in Australia provide insights into the nature of our diverse society. For example, knowing which languages are spoken and having information on whether people speak English, and how well, makes it easier to plan for English language programs and translation/interpreter services. Special interest groups, such as religious groups and organisations, also use Census information to assess the need for, and location of, religious based schools, hospitals, community services and homes for the elderly.

If you’d like to explore more about the religions included on the Census form, and why it doesn’t list all religions, read our Religion topic brief.

  • Is the person an Australian citizen?
  • In which country was the person born?
  • In which country was the person’s father born?
  • In which country was the person’s mother born?
  • In what year did the person first arrive in Australia to live here for one year or more?
  • Does the person speak a language other than English at home?
  • How well does the person speak English?
  • What is the person’s ancestry?
  • What is the person’s religion?

Source: 2071.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016

Speech bubbles “hello” in five most common languages spoken. English only 72.7%, Mandarin 2.5%, Arabic 1.4%, Cantonese 1.2% and Vietnamese 1.2%.
Infographic showing speech bubbles “hello” in five most common languages spoken. English only 72.7%, Mandarin 2.5%, Arabic 1.4%, Cantonese 1.2% and Vietnamese 1.2%.

Family tree infographic representing the top 5 listed ancestries. English 36.1%, Australian 33.5%, Irish 11.0%, Scottish 9.3% and Chinese 5.6%.
Infographic showing family tree representing the top 5 listed ancestries. English 36.1%, Australian 33.5%, Irish 11.0%, Scottish 9.3% and Chinese 5.6%.

Pie graph showing proportion of first, second and third-plus generations of Australians.
Infographic showing proportion of first, second and third-plus generations of Australians.

Infographic showing religion for those born in Australia and overseas, 2016.
Infographic showing religion for those born in Australia and overseas, 2016.


A number of standards are used by the ABS to classify statistics relating to cultural diversity:
1200.0.55.010 - Australian Citizenship Standard, 2014, Version 1.2
1200.0.55.004 - Country of Birth Standard, 2016
1200.0.55.007 - Year of Arrival Standard, 2014, Version 1.4
1200.0.55.005 - Language Standards, 2016
1200.0.55.009 - Ancestry Standard, 2014, Version 2.1
1200.0.55.003 - Religious Affiliation Standard, 2016


The ABS has undertaken initial discussions and reviewed feedback from the 2016 Census in preparation for this consultation.

Feedback from stakeholders has indicated that cultural diversity of Australian society remains a very relevant and important topic for inclusion on the Census. Specifically, we have heard how expanded data on this topic could help to better understand new and emerging priorities to meet national data needs.

Emerging themes include:
    • Adding a question on visa type has been suggested by some stakeholders. Persons on temporary visas such as international students and skilled temporary workers make up a large and growing proportion of the population.
    • Currently on the Census we ask for country of birth of a person’s father and mother. The ABS is considering whether gender neutral phrasing may be more appropriate.

This consultation is an opportunity for you to provide your views on what cultural diversity information should be collected on the 2021 Census.


Unfortunately we cannot list every option without the questions becoming too long. The available options for selection in these questions include the top six to ten most frequent responses by people from the previous Census. This makes it easy for the majority of respondents to select an option.

If your country, religion or language is not within the option, the Census form includes the ability to type or write in the answer that applies to you.


The ABS collects information on country of birth, citizenship and visa for people migrating to Australia, and produces annual population estimates for people born in each country. All household surveys including the General Social Survey, National Health Survey and Survey of Education and Work collect country of birth details of individuals. Surveys like the Characteristics of Recent Migrants are more focussed on the labour force outcomes of migrants who arrived in the last ten years.

Listed below is a selection of ABS publications. For the comprehensive list of ABS products, please visit the ABS website.

3412.0 - Migration, Australia
This publication includes information on international migration into and out of Australia, internal migration within Australia and information on overseas-born residents of Australia. It is updated every year.

6250.0.25.002 - Characteristics of Recent Migrants
The Characteristics of Recent Migrants Survey is conducted every three years. It provides a range of information on the labour force status of recent migrants and temporary residents and includes visa category, residency status, language spoken and proficiency in English. The survey was last conducted throughout Australia in November 2016.

3418.0 - Personal Income of Migrants, Australia, 2009-10
For the first time, this release presents detailed information on the sources of personal income that migrants received for 2009-10 including employee income, own unincorporated business income, investment income, other income and foreign income by characteristics such as visa stream, applicant status and location of visa application.

4159.0 - General Social Survey
The General Social Survey (GSS) is conducted every four years and collects a range of demographic information including country of birth and year of arrival. The GSS aims to provide an understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of relative advantage and disadvantage across the population, and to facilitate reporting on and monitoring of people's opportunities to participate fully in society. The survey was last conducted in 2014.

4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey
The National Health Survey is conducted every three years and was designed to collect a range of information about the health of Australians. Language and Ancestry are also collected on National Health Survey. The survey asks: language mainly spoken at home, proficiency in English, ancestry and country of birth of both mother and father. The survey was last conducted in 2014-15 and is currently in the field for 2017-18.

6227.0 - Education and Work
The Survey of Education and Work (SEW) ask respondents for their country of birth, year of arrival, residency status and student visa status. The survey was last conducted throughout Australia in May 2017.

4235.0 - Qualifications and Work
The Qualifications and Work publication presents detailed information about the educational history of people and the relevance of each qualification to their working lives.


2900.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia, 2016
This publication provides information to help people use and interpret 2016 Census data. The articles 'Understanding ancestry in the Norfolk Island population'and 'Ancestry' include additional information on specific concepts relevant to the topics outlined in this brief.

What are your cultural diversity data needs? Share your views with us on the most useful information we should collect in the 2021 Census. Make your submission to our review of 2021 Census topics at the ABS Consultation Hub.

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