What is the Census and why do we do it?

What is the Census and why do we do it? Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: Australia's 17th national census is set to take place on Tuesday, August the 9th, and, for the first time, most people will complete it online.

Australia's five-yearly snapshot about its country and its citizens is fast approaching.

Just like in 2011, the national census will occur on Tuesday, the 9th of August.

It is the largest collection of statistical information that the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertakes.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says it has been increasing its efforts to promote the count within multicultural communities.

Australian visitors are counted, but residents out of the country on census night are not.

The director of the Census National Management Unit, Sam Thomas, says it provides a moment for everyone to play a role in shaping Australia's future.

"It provides a picture of who we are, where we live and what we do. So census data is used to provide critical information to assist in planning for service delivery and infrastructure requirements such as transport, health and education."

The 17th national census will be Australia's first predominantly digital census.

Ten million letters will be sent to the majority of households, providing an online login for people to complete the census on the internet.

Mr Thomas says the move is efficient and will not compromise anyone's personal privacy.

"It's a very fast, safe and easy way to complete your census form. It can be completed at home or using a smartphone, tablet or computer, and we're expecting around 16 million people to complete their survey online this time. We're hoping to achieve over 65 per cent of households completing their census form online, which is about a doubling of what we experienced in 2011."

But people can still complete the census on paper and return it by mail -- and fines do apply for not completing it.

The digital move has cut the census cost by $100 million compared with 2011, down to $330 million.

There has also been a strong focus on better engagement with Australians who predominantly speak a language other than English.

Samantha Palmer is the general manager of governance, people and culture at the Bureau of Statistics.

She says the Bureau has worked hard with community groups and support organisations to engage with citizens and make them understand why the census is so important.

"It's absolutely important that everyone who is in Australia on the 9th of August gets counted in our census. And we know that people who don't speak English as their first language, they'll need a different range of services to be provided, compared to those people for whom English is their first language. And the census makes sure that government understands where everyone lives who is in that circumstance, and can properly account for and provide those services."

The Census Inquiry Service has linked up with the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) to accommodate those needs.

Ms Palmer says people can call the TIS to speak with translators, who will then help them fill out the census.

"The census form is available only in English, and so this translation service enables a person who doesn't speak English to be able to actually complete their census form through a translator. And, of course, there's more than 2,500 language translators who work in the TIS and who cater to the most common languages -- so, about 20 of the most common languages in the country -- to enable everyone to be able to complete their census form."

Many government organisations use the census information, including SBS, which has more than 70 languages on its radio schedule.

Audio and Language Content Director Mandi Wicks says the 2011 census helped SBS better serve multicultural communities.

"So we used the data to determine which were the largest communities in Australia, based on language, but which were also the high needs. So we looked at things like household income, recentness of arrival, their English proficiency. And by doing that, we're able then to determine which languages really, really need our services, and we ended up adding six new languages to the schedule, including Tigrinya, Swahili, Dinka ... some of the African languages in Australia."

University of Sydney anthropology specialist Dr Luis Angosto-Ferrandez says it is crucial for those communities to stand up and be counted.

"Sometimes, it delves into other aspects of social life that are very difficult to measure -- for instance, social identities. And both sets of data become indispensable for public policy-making, because politicians and legislators and people in the realm of policy-making do resort continuously to this type of information to, basically, make decisions. And, therefore, censuses are not only just a tool that captures reality but, to some extent as well, really creates reality. And that's why they are so important. It offers very, very interesting insights into, if you want, political comments that people make about social identities."



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