ABS to remove ‘number of cars’ from 2021 Census (and other topic changes)
The ABS will be removing the ‘number of motor vehicles’ topic from the 2021 Census, along with a number of other changes that will be significant to people in the local government sector, including some exciting new data about long-term health conditions and information about where people attend education.
In May this year, .id submitted a number of proposals to the Census consultation for the 2021 Census. The Census is our most important statistical collection and underpins a lot of our work with councils. It’s incredibly important that it is collecting data that is relevant to all Australians, and particularly for Local Government, who are so close to the community in providing essential services.
The ABS opened consultation on which topics should be included and which should be removed. In turn, we asked you for suggestions for new topics or changes to the Census which would be useful at a local level.
With over 280 Local Government Areas subscribing to .id’s toolkit, we are uniquely placed to gather feedback from this sector.
We collated this and ended up submitting 7 proposals to the ABS, 5 of them suggesting new topics or significant changes to existing topics, one for retention of an existing topic, and one for removal of an existing topic.
Now, the ABS has just released the results of this consultation, which included over 450 submissions in total, of which 315 gave consent to be published (including all of ours).
1. We asked for the retention of the Number of Motor Vehicles topic
This is the most worrying result. The ABS originally stated that they were looking at dropping the “Number of motor vehicles per household” topic from the Census, which is one of our most utilised parts of profile.id.
Looking at adding topics does often mean the need to drop a topic to make room, but we argued strongly against this. Our clients in Local Government use this extensively in planning for new developments, developer contributions, transport planning etc. The ability to cross-tabulate by number of bedrooms and dwelling structure makes this a valuable tool for local planning.
Unfortunately, the ABS have now confirmed that they will almost certainly be dropping the Motor Vehicles topic from the Census in 2021. Ostensibly because it’s available elsewhere (eg. registrations data), however this misses the point about cross-tabulating by housing and demographic variables at a local level which makes it so powerful.
It looks like the decision on this has been made, however. So we will work with our clients in identifying replacement data for this to answer those important planning questions.
2. We proposed more detailed data on disability by type and severity of disability
This is a very commonly asked question from our clients, and it’s great to see that the ABS have commited to reviewing the question about Need for Assistance, to potentially provide more information about the type and reason for needing assistance, as per our submission.
This will be a great bonus to all our clients, though it is certainly a challenging topic to collect on a self-responded questionnaire. They stopped short of looking at NDIS participation, however.
We suggested more information about frequency and type of organisation volunteered for. Many of our clients are responsible for organisations which rely on volunteers, so understanding this community is important. Unfortunately, the ABS have decided to retain the existing topic with no change – however at least it will still be included!
4. ‘Journey to Education’
This is good news, as the ABS have committed to testing the feasibility of a question for students on their mode of transport and the location of their educational institution – this would enable us to see how far people travel to educational facilities and how they get there, which opens up a whole world of analysis and advocacy.
5. Long-term health conditions
We submitted on this one – the most common question I am asked at Local Government training sessions is around health information from the Census (there is almost none). Apparently a number of others did too, as this one came out as the strongest case for a new topic. The ABS will look into ways of asking these questions and it is very likely we will get a new question on Chronic (Long-term) health conditions in 2021.
6. Method of travel to work
Include a category for “Ride Sharing Service”, and a new question about usual travel time to work. This was based on a specific suggestion from the City of Manningham. This was a very specific change and apparently not supported by other submissions. Unfortunately, it didn’t get through – but the method of travel to work will be retained in its current form.
7. Domestic Work
We included a proposal to remove this topic to make way for other topics (including possibly retaining number of motor vehicles).
I have never known a local government user to make any use of this information in decision making, and it’s the least used of the 38 topic pages on our community profiles (profile.id). However, the ABS has decided to retain Domestic Work as a topic for 2021.
While we don’t mind having it on there, if it’s at the expense of more useful topics, this is unfortunate. The ABS have said it’s an important contributor to the economy when viewed in conjunction with data on paid employment. Which is true, but the collection ranges are so broad, and it’s very difficult to answer for most people, so it tends to show little regional variation and have very limited use.
So, in all, 3 of our 7 proposals were supported, with a further two at least retained in the current format.
New topics the ABS are considering
As well as this, ABS have committed to looking at new topics or changes to topics around:
- Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander cultural identity
- Sex and gender identity (with the possibility of further options than male and female. They have noted the need to be very careful to not undermine the usefulness of the current dataset, however)
- Shared care of children within families.
- Sexual orientation (further consideration will be given to the possibility of including the topic, but they do note the sensitivity of the topic and the possibility that there would be significant privacy concerns. Though this was raised by our clients, we did not put in a submission on it because of the difficulty including it on a self-responded questionnaire and privacy issues.
- Australian Defence Force service
The ABS will now consult further with key stakeholders (unfortunately that’s not us, it mainly includes State and Federal Government organisations) and make decisions on the inclusions and wording of the Census questions by mid-2019.
Any final decision rests with the government however, who have to approve funding for the Census. The last two topic consultations have been terminated resulting in no new Census topics since 2006, due to budget considerations.
Exciting times for Australia’s largest statistical collection, and we’ll keep you posted on any changes, and what it means for .id’s toolkit as well.