ABS opens second phase of 2026 Census topic consultation

ABS opens second phase of 2026 Census topic consultation

The ABS is consulting on the topics to be included in the 2026 Census. Initial submissions are in, and there is now a list of suggested topics and changes for which the ABS is seeking feedback. Census expert Glenn Capuano outlines the proposed changes and how you can make your submission.

At training sessions with Local Government, I often get asked, “Who decides what’s on the Census?” As a vitally important data source for Australia, it’s a good question. The short answer is that the government of the day has the final say on Census questions. The longer version is that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), who run the Census, provide very comprehensive guidance and recommendations on the content of the Census form. If you can convince the ABS of the importance of a Census topic, there’s a good chance it will get in there. But that’s not an easy task!

In February and March this year, the ABS consulted on Census topics as part of “Phase 1” of the 2026 Census review. It’s still 3 years away, but there’s already a lot of thought gone into this one. They took hundreds of submissions, including two from .id (informed decisions). And now they’ve just opened “Phase 2” of the topic review; that is open to September 8th, so there is still a chance to have your say. But not on everything.

Unfortunately, both our submissions in Phase 1 were rejected by ABS.

  • One submission was for the reinstatement of the vitally important Internet Access question, used by Local Government in planning and understanding digital access and inclusion. It was dropped for 2021, and it looks like it is not being considered for 2026, with everything about Internet and Digital Literacy being put on the “Not for further consideration” pile.
  • The second submission was for the different types of assistance needed due to disability collected already in the Census “eg. Self Care, Body Movement and Communication” to be disseminated separately, rather than the “Yes, needs assistance” or “No, doesn’t need assistance” we currently get. Unfortunately this is now listed as continuing (good) but “No further feedback sought” (not so good), so we’ll get the same question again by the looks of it. However, there is a possible new topic under consideration which is a broader measure of disability (beyond needing assistance), and that’s a good sign.

New / altered Census topic proposals open for submissions

The detail of the Phase 1 outcomes and Phase 2 consultation is located here, and well worth a read. There are a lot of topics under consideration. Most don’t need further input – they are staying on the Census from previously, or they have enough information to decide on changes – but the ABS has come up with a short-list of new topics or changes that they’d like further submissions on. If you’re interested in influencing these, now’s your chance.

The shortlist is found here, and I’ve summarised it below.

  • Ancestry Seeking feedback on a proposal to extend the question to collect information on 3 or 4 ancestries of an individual rather than just two.
  • Ethnic identity Potentially a new topic asking what ethnicity a person “identifies” with. I thought this was really the purpose of the Ancestry question, but it’s an interesting development.
  • Labour force It takes a little reading between the lines to see what this is about but I think they’re proposing something like a “Status in Employment”, which would include information on casual vs permanent (I often get asked for this one) and data on people who want a job but aren’t currently looking (and so don’t meet the definition of unemployed). It certainly sounds interesting.
  • Language Another potential change to an existing topic. The current version asks what language the person uses at home. The consideration is whether to drop the “at home” reference and maybe collecting information on all languages a person speaks. This would play havoc with our time comparisons, unfortunately, but potentially could provide additional data, on people who speak a language but are currently not included because they don’t use it at home.
  • Number of children ever born Changing to a 10-year cycle in years ending in ‘1’ only, as happened up to 2011. This is not a topic we use at .id, it’s mainly used in fertility studies.
  • Number of employees A very little used topic proposed to be dropped.
  • Number of motor vehicles at household We had to fight to retain this one last time, and ABS have again proposed it be dropped. I know how important this is to our Local Government clients who use it in negotiating with developers and planning for parking etc. So let us know if you want to see this one retained.
  • Religion A potential change to ask whether or not a person has a religion before going on to ask “Which religion?”. I kind of thought this had already been done by putting “No Religion” at the top of the list since 2016, but there may be a refinement of the wording here.
  • Unpaid domestic work The least used topic on the Community Profile is now up for removal. It just causes too many debates in my household! Though it does feature in our Gender Equity Report.

Other Census topics under consideration

There is a wide range of topics under consideration which ABS say they have enough information to consider (ie. they don’t want submissions), but that’s quite exciting with potential changes too.

  • Broader measures of sex and gender. Possible collection of gender identity.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Journey to education (like journey to work: where you go to education and how you get there)
  • Including “Home schooling” as an education attendance.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity – which mob or Aboriginal nation do you identify with?
  • Shared care of children.
  • Reason for dwelling being unoccupied (I often get asked for this and it’s really topical with the housing crisis at the moment).
  • Income – this one is huge – they are potentially looking at only getting income from administrative sources, and not directly from the Census. Income from administrative sources has recently been added to the 2021 Census, and in some cases it’s better than what comes in via the Census. The problem is it’s incomplete in a lot of areas, so would need further work.
  • Main reason for moving house in the last 12 months.
  • Possible addition of new Long Term Health Conditions to the variable which was new in 2021.
  • Household energy use.
  • Impacts of natural disasters.

Being on this second list does not mean all these will be collected. Generally a question has to go if you include a new one, unless ABS secures additional funding. But all of these are up for consideration, so there is the potential for several new questions on the Census form, and a lot of useful data to come out of it to assist in telling the story of place!

How you can contribute to the Census

You can have your say on the ABS Consultation Hub before September 8th. It’s open to everyone.

Or you can have your say here, in the comments! We’ll be putting in at least a couple of submissions on these; certainly on the retention of the motor vehicles data and maybe others. So let us know how you use the Census data and how the changes will affect you. There is likely to be quite an effect on our community profiles where the change over time is impacted. .id (informed decisions) will always work through this to provide you the best possible data source and utilize the new datasets if needed.

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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