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Census FAQs

Want to find out more about Census data? Read our frequently asked questions.

What can Census data tell us?

The first insights from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing were released on 11 April 2017, previewing the key characteristics that make the ‘typical’ Australian in 2016 and highlighting Australia’s diversity. The main release of 2016 Census data will start from 27 June 2017. This will include analytical articles designed to tell stories that reflect the nation. See 2011 analytical articles here.


How is Census data used?

Census is the definitive and often only available source of data on small population groups and small geographic areas. Data collected in the 2016 Census will underpin $500 billion of Government funding to States, Territories and local governments over the next five years. It’s also critical to the setting of Commonwealth, state and local electoral boundaries. Census data is also used by individuals and organisations in the public and private sectors to make informed decisions on policy and planning issues that impact the lives of all Australians.

How is integrated Census data used?


Census data is integrated with other data sources to create opportunities for research and in-depth analysis that would not otherwise be possible from any single dataset. Integrating Census with other data is a safe and efficient way of creating new insights by safely reusing existing data to address important questions about Australian society, without placing additional cost or time burdens on the Australian community.

For more information about 2016 Census data release and products see the summary of releases on our website.


What are Census data items?

A Census data item (or variable) is a characteristic of a data unit which is measured or observed, e.g. country of birth, or income.

Census data items are classified in three groups:
  • Person variables
  • Family variables
  • Dwelling variables

Further details and Census data definitions can be found in the 2011 Census Dictionary (cat. no. 2901.0) To find the definitions for a previous Census, go to Historical reference & information for links to the relevant Census Dictionary.


What data items are available in 2011 Census data products and where can I find a list of them?

Go to the Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing – Products and Services, 2011 (cat. no. 2011.0.55.001), Appendixes 2 - 9 for a description of the data items (variables) that are available.


Is Census data safe?

Yes. All personal information is safe. Census data is stored securely and privacy is assured. Census data is not released in a way that could identify individuals or households. The security of data is the ABS’ most fundamental responsibility and by law, the ABS must not release this information with any other government departments or agencies, including the police, Australia Taxation Office or Centrelink.


Is Census data reliable?

Yes. Overwhelmingly, Australians again completed the Census with participation rates in 2016 comparable to recent Censuses. The final response rate will be released on 27 June, along with the first comprehensive dataset from the 2016 Census.

The ABS undertakes rigorous quality assurance processes to ensure Census data is of the highest quality, including a Post Enumeration Survey, which has followed every Census since 1966. Data collected in this survey is compared to Census forms and the result is used to calculate undercount or overcount, thereby ensuring high quality official population estimates.

The ABS has also established an Independent Assurance Panel to provide extra assurance and transparency around Census data quality. The Panel is comprised of eminent Australian and international statisticians, academics, a state government representative and members of the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC). The Panel is undertaking an independent review of 2016 Census data, alongside the ABS’ existing quality assurance processes. A report will be provided to the Australian Statistician in June, and released on 27 June 2017 alongside the main Census data release. Early quality assessments indicate that 2016 Census data will be high quality and fit for purpose.

For general information about the accuracy of Census data see our Assuring Census Data Quality page.

Information about the quality of data from previous Censuses is in the Data quality and Historical reference & information section of the website.


Why is the ABS releasing data in June?

The release of comprehensive Census data on 27 June will coincide with the release of rebased Estimated Resident Population (ERP) and the results of the Post Enumeration Survey (PES) also on 27 June, providing a comprehensive package of Census and related information.

The release timing also ensures the Census Independent Assurance Panel, established by the Australian Statistician, has adequate time to review the Census results and to access validated Post Enumeration Survey data. The Panel is undertaking an independent review of 2016 Census data to provide extra assurance and transparency of Census data quality. All Census data released in June and October will be final.

2016 Census

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