Axe the 2016 Census? You’ve got to be kidding!

Glenn - The Census Expert

Glenn is an ABS data expert with huge intellect and capacity to convert demographic data into profound insights about places. He has contributed numerous blogs and consulting projects covering economic development, housing consumption and affordability, migration, fertility, ageing, role and function of ‘place’, communities of interest and more. Glenn works with over 120 councils bringing the client perspective into the development of our information products. He is a Census data expert, having worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 10 years. If there's anything Glenn doesn't know about the Census, it's probably not worth knowing - so ask Glenn!

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18 Responses

  1. We rely heavily on reliable data when looking at land estates etc. Loosing the Census would really impact on our ability to do meaningful forecasts. Many of the areas we are currently looking at are very small. The traditional method of collecting data is often the only method of reaching these areas. Sample surveying is not always reliable when looking at these small areas.

    Regards
    Wendy Merchan
    Research Analyst

  2. Jim Wyatt says:

    Glen, I can understand your reluctance to agree. I use the census data for developing business cases for regional telecommunications development. Lately I have found numerous other data sets that have helped me to replace what I originally extracted from the census. In many cases far more focussed and relevant. In the age of Big Data and as we come to better harness this I could see a time where the census could be relaxed back to a 10 year cycle. In fact it may ultimately end up becoming a validation and verification process for the data we collect, analyse and utilise within the 5 year window let alone a 10 year one. Lets not rush this but lets keep our minds open to the opportunity of exploring the Big Data future.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Jim, my concern with Big Data is that it is not readily accessible at a regional or LGA level for a range of reasons – privacy being one major area. Take Centrelink data for example. You would think that this would be crucial for the current direction that the Federal Government is taking to change welfare policy. As a significant region of 4 local governmnet areas in Western Sydney (working in conjuction with UWS acedemics) we were unable to access Centrelink data at the local governmnet area to better target services to families and individuals experiencing homelessness. At the local governmnet area the data was so randomised as to be completely useless. I agree – lets not rush any decision to reduce the availablility of 5 yearly Census data. It is the most readilly availble & accurate source of data at the local level.

    • Generally these datasets are highly confidentialised at the local level. Again, while they might be OK nationally, at the local level and for small cross-classified popualtion groups, they are generally no good.

  3. Vivienne says:

    Just how are governments to cater for our population and the needs of our “diverse” community, something they are not opposed to promoting, yet don’t want a full census? Are the public just a generic mob of consumers, or economic units, in which demographic information based on loose surveys sufficient? Why would the government not want to know who the public are, and share information for strategic planning, and for future generations’ needs with regards to research and genealogies.

  4. Wes says:

    What a stupid decision by such a short sighteded government. Keep the census, for it is such a valuable tool for planners, business, historians, etc.

  5. Rosemary says:

    To eliminate the census would be ridiculous as we would have no way of getting such accurate data

  6. Well said Glenn. Only those that draw upon census data regularly fully understand how essential it is for the direction of future policy in this country.

    “Nothing can replace the Census”

    • Thanks for the support! Most of the suggestions to cancel it seem to come from people who don’t actually have use of the small area data. Anyone who’s used the Census I’ve spoken to is very keen to keep it.

  7. Valda Rose says:

    Being a Psychologist, I am well aware of the importance of large scale population research to better understand social trends and more strategically direct Government spending. Running small scale `focus groups’ etc are fraught with all sorts of biases and produce unreliable data. I would like to see an online petition set up through `AVAAZ’ or similar to gain a large number of supporters to petition the Government. It is a bit fragile at the moment, so the sooner the better. Best of luck. The Census is a very important piece of social research and should continue.

  8. Valerie says:

    I’m in commercial world and many of our (capital heavy) decisions are made from the understanding of our market formed from the Census. To replace the census with 10 year collection… think back 10 years ago – 2005 and how the world has changed socially and economically. Imagine basing decisions on the circumstances of 2005!
    Is anyone forming a petition in support of the Census or accepting as a done deal.

  9. More power to your arm Glenn! Local governments in Australia are increasingly exorted to use good quality information in their long term planning, while the Commonwealth is pulling that rug out from under their feet.

  10. Ruth Spielman says:

    The National Growth Areas Alliance totally agrees that the Census is invaluable. Growth area Councils rely on it to plan for their communities. it is also vital for populaiton forecasts and indexes of disadvantage amongst its many other uses. Samll area data is gold for understanding what is happening in communities and for planning. It’s not possible to get a good picture if we only see high level results.

  11. Kaleece says:

    As an aspiring town planner we DEPEND on the census to help shape the future of communities.

  12. ER says:

    You have me support. The accuracy of the data would be compromised if we don’t do a full census. The issues of cost is pure hogwash!

  13. James Molesworth says:

    I concur with axing the census unless it is changed significantly.

    I do not agree that the current census format gives enough useful, new information to be worth the effort.

    I spent 20 years as a data analyst, and am an expert in data warehouses and GIS-based information systems.

    Census collections had a place prior to the digital age, but 99% of all the questions I answer are already in Government Databases indexable by my TFN or Centrelink CRN. Get rid of the privacy phobia and connect/join the data, and no census is needed.

    Give me a month, and a fast SQL engine and I could write enough queries off existing Government databases to replace the entire census data with probably 98% accuracy.

    I object to being asked the same tired old demographic questions over and over again. And I have never seen evidence of any Government using census-collected data for a major infrastructure decision.

    Why ? Because the census just DOESN’T ask the right questions.

    Where are the valuable questions that can actually help governments target services. For example: Where do you expect to be living in 5 years time. Where would you LIKE to work if you could get a suitable job there. How long does it take you to commute to work ? Is public transport adequate for your commuting ? If not, where are the problem points ?

    I know some people say that’s not the function of the Census. Usually people with a vested interest in being paid to collect, process or on-sell the processed data.

    • Hi James,

      I disagree that the data produced from the Census is not useful. The wealth of data provided through our local government products, and the multitude of uses to which they are put, should put the usefulness argument to rest. I hear from our clients all the time how useful the data is in their work.

      The ABS undertakes considerable testing of the questions on the Census form to ensure that they produce meaningful data from a self enumerated form. There is also a public submission process and I’m sure the ABS would be interested in your ideas. Of course the suitability of the Census for collecting the data (also the cost of processing) from the questions you propose needs to be considered.

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