The latest on the Census

Glenn - The Census Expert

Glenn is our resident Census expert. After ten years working at the ABS, Glenn's deep knowledge of the Census has been a crucial input in the development of our community profiles. These tools help everyday people uncover the rich and important stories about our communities that are often hidden deep in the Census data. Glenn is also our most prolific blogger - if you're reading this, you've just finished reading one of his blogs. Take a quick look at the front page of our blog and you'll no doubt find more of Glenn's latest work. As a client manager, Glenn travels the country giving sought-after briefings to councils and communities (these are also great opportunities for Glenn to tend to his rankings in Geolocation games such as Munzee and Geocaching).

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14 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good luck getting useful results from the 2016 census.

    For the record, experts doubt that a DDoS attack happened. See this:

    I would encourage no one to complete the census until such time that the ABS can guarantee that there is no SLK that links all government databases and assists the government to monetise its citizens via sales of data extracts. And have you seen how basic the SLK is? – is this some sick joke?

    I simply cannot consent to any of this. All this hacking, DDoS stuff is just fluff around the edges of the real issues of privacy and selling personal data to fill government coffers.

    The original purpose of the census was to inform redistribution of electoral boundaries based on population. If it goes back to asking how many people live at your address and how old they are, that’s fine. But I don’t think the current form of the census can be justified.

    • Thanks for the reply. The ABS may have been a bit over-cautious in taking the site down in response to a relatively minor DDoS attack, but based on the level of concern about privacy and hacking out there it was probably justified. No personal data was lost in the attack.

      Just to set a few facts straight – there is no attempt to monetise any Census data. The Census is a public dataset with a vast amount of data returned to the public domain, including via .id’s websites as well as the ABS directly. No-one is selling anyone’s personal information (there are very strict restrictions on what hthe ABS can release and they can’t identify individuals), and the Census costs far more to conduct than the ABS makes in the small amount of cost recovery of complex datasets that they produce. To reiterate – no-one’s personal information is ever sold – in fact the Census has never been about personal information, and the SLK key is only about expanding the range of statistical information available and getting the best value out of the Census, which is quite costly to run.

      You are right that the original purpose of Census was about electoral boundaries (and estimating the population), but if we were to go to only those very basic questions it would be a sad loss of an extremely useful dataset for all levels of government and business planning. Almost everyone in Australia uses Census data to understand their own communities at some stage, and each place has its own story to tell, a story which can only be told through Census data. Just have a look at some of our community profile websites and the wealth of information on there and ask yourself if we’d want to give this up. Remember it’s the detailed, local level information that matters, and that’s available from no other source.

    • Simone Alexander says:

      Just to expand on Glenn’s reply – the Census still does ask how many people are at your address and their ages. Nothing has changed in that respect. In fact, the questions on the Census form have remained largely unchanged (bar a few minor tweaks such as Internet accessibility) since 2006. If you go back further in time, there are many questions on the 2016 Census form that have been asked for many decades, including marital status, occupation, where you lived 5 years ago, birthplace – just to mention a few.

  2. Leo says:

    There should be an analytical platform for individuals to do their own search of information on the data.
    Is there such a tool?

    • This is a great idea! In fact we discussed this in the office recently – it would be great if there was a way to access your own Census records back over time, and a nice summary of how your life has changed over time! Unfortunately I’m sure this would be against all the strict privacy rules that the ABS must sign on to in order to have the data available. They can’t release any information about individuals, or even data that might have the potential to identify even a single characteristic of an individual. So I don’t see it happening, but nice idea!


    Even if the denial of service attack had not occurred, it is clear now that the ABS made a mess of the census. They catered for only 0,5 million people being online at the same time when it should have been clear that 2.0 million households would probably require the service at its peak.
    Not only that, but it seems that more people refused to do it online than were catered for.
    Why did the ABS believe that almost all people would do it online and that they would all coordinate their timing with each other to avoid overload?

    • I think they were definitely over-optimistic about the percentage who would do it online compared to requesting a paper form. With the questions around privacy, many more were opting for the paper form and this caught them unawares and made the phone lines impossible to get through on. Which is a bit ironic, because in many ways the online form is far more secure than paper. But it’s all about perception. Also the promotion of needing to do it on the night of 9th August meant there was a bigger spike at that time than expected. The messaging should probably have been that it’s fine to do it before or after the night, because 99% of people’s details don’t change over that short time frame anyway.

  4. jarred says:

    Hi Glen.
    I would like some help – is the census per dwelling/house, or is it per person? if that has already been answered, my apology as i have not seen it.
    The reason i ask is because i have my place, but will stay between that and my mum’s (as my dad passed away late last year). so if i stayed at my mum’s on the night of the 9th, do i fill out my info under my mum’s place&code, or can i still do it under mine? if the former, do i just ignore my code?
    By the way, thanks for the very informative and concise site.

    • In private households, the Census is done per dwelling, on a household form. You should be included on the form where you stayed on Census night. Anyone who was at your dwelling on Census night would fill in your household form, or if the dwelling was empty you can ring the ABS and tell them so, so they can record it as an unoccupied dwelling. You would have marked your usual address on the household form you filled in, so for most data output you are moved back to your home area.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Paul says:

    I hear the census stuff up was ‘purportedly’ managerial and government incompetence at a high level’
    Except for this one, the track record for successful census collection over 100 years has been good.
    Who was in charge of this one?

    • Nothing has changed in terms of who was in charge of it. However part of the problem which has undermined the public confidence somewhat is I think the involvement of politicians in it. The ABS is an apolitical public service authority – when I worked there we never even knew who the minister in charge of the ABS was. But the public has little faith in politicians, and many have got involved this time, which doesn’t help.

  6. Update from the ABS – 76% of private dwellings have now returned a Census form. There are two weeks of collection followup to continue.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Hi Glenn – Approximately when, and I realise this is entirely dependent on the ABS, do you think we might see 2016 data beginning to filter through into .id forecasts and summaries?

    • Hi Jeremy,

      The ABS will release Census data in 3 stages. The first stage, April 11th, doesn’t affect us too much as it’s national and state data only. 2nd release on June 20th is when most of the datasets will come through for the community profile topics. We will endeavour to update these as soon as possible after this, topic by topic for all our clients. 3rd stage is in October 2017 and includes all the workforce and economy topics. can only be rebuilt on the revised 2016 Census basis once we have updated Estimated Resident Population data, so this will probably start from late 2017 but will be done client by client, based on the age of the current forecasts.

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