The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) held a webinar in April 2018 about the review of 2021 Census topics. The webinar was presented by Dr Paul Jelfs (General Manager, Population and Social Statistics Division) and Caroline Deans (Director, Census Content Review) from the ABS Canberra office. The webinar can be viewed here.

The webinar was the public launch of the Census 2021 review. The review of the information collected in the Census is an important step to ensure that it remains relevant to its users and is reflective of Australian society. The webinar was designed to assist people in participating in the public consultation process and helping them make their submission.

Some key points from the webinar:

  • ABS releases over 500 statistically releases annually, covering Australia’s economy, population and the environment. The Census is a large data collection on population and housing that complements these data releases.
  • Census data is extremely important as it informs decision makers on the allocation of government funds and the development of a variety of policies and plans.
  • The topic review process is as follows: (1) consultation with data users; (2) ABS publishes details of the submission process; (3) Public submissions open from 3 April 2018 until 30 June 2018; (4) ABS publishes consultation summary and refines recommendations; (5) Approvals by Australian government; and (6) ABS publishes final 2021 Census questions late 2020.
  • There has been no change to Census topics since 2006, however there has been some minor changes to the wording of some questions.
  • It is expected that there will be high demand for change due to the little to no change over the past decade, however it is not expected that there will be radical changes to the Census topics moving forward. There is a need to balance changes to the Census topics with other considerations such as time series, respondent burden and limited space on paper form.
  • From the consultations that have already occurred with Census users, the following feedback has been received by the ABS:
    • The need for a non-binary sex option and for same sex marriage is accurately captured.
    • The possibility of an additional question to address the undercount of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
    • The need for increased representation of diverse family structures such as shared custody (where a child is not in a household on Census night) or multiple families.
    • Enhancements to volunteering and journey datasets (including journey to education, not just work).
    • Same sex marriage is accurately captured.
    • Possible new topics around health, defence force service, and movement and location of service populations.
    • Possible removal of topics such as number of motor vehicles and household internet access due to low relevance and the fact that it can be accessed from other sources.
  • Submissions are not required to retain critical topics, rather to propose an argument for the collection of new topics. Some existing topic categories will automatically be updated based on 2016 responses (for examples, countries of birth, religion, language and ancestry).
  • Submissions to the 2021 Census topics criteria must meet the following seven assessment criteria:
    • Must be a current topic of national importance (that is, for an electoral or legislative purpose or needed to support policy and program development or research purposes).
    • There is a need for data from a Census of the whole population.
    • The topic can be accurately and easily completed in a household Census form.
    • The topic would be acceptable to Census respondents and not considered intrusive, offensive or controversial.
    • The topic can be collected efficiently and not require a lengthy instruction or explanation.
    • There is likely to be continuing need for data on the topic in the following Census, and will remain relevant in the future.
    • There are no other suitable alternative data sources or solutions that could meet the topic need.

The content presented in the webinar is presented in detail on the ABS website: Census of Population and Housing: Consultation on Topics, 2021 (Cat. No. 2007.0). Submissions for the Review of 2021 Census Topics can be submitted here (closes 30 June 2018).


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