On the countdown to Census (and why we care)

Australians are exactly three months out from one of the most important nights in their lives yet for many, answering a multitude of seemingly broad questions is simply a chore, with no obvious benefit. By contrast for demographers, like Astrolabe’s Dr Kim Johnstone, the Census count, and the resulting data are like a long-awaited gift, ready to be unwrapped and enjoyed layer by layer as its true insides are revealed.

Taking place every five years, the Census of Population and Housing will be held on 10 August 2021 and is the only data source that aims to get an accurate count of how many people are living where, for every place in Australia, as well as who they are, where they came from and what they do.

The Census is the most reliable and valuable way to plan for communities and make decisions. It also provides a snapshot of who we are at a point of time – and measures key trends consistently with past Censuses.

“When our clients want to know what is happening in local suburbs and regions, the Census is one of the primary sources we look to understand a place,” Dr Johnstone said. “The strength of the Census is that we can find out things like the types of jobs people are doing, their highest level of education, the types of households people live in, and how they get to work whether they live in the inner city or in rural communities. No other data set gives us this type of coverage.”

“One of the ways we’ve used Census data at Astrolabe is to help local government understand what’s driving population growth and change by using migration data from the Census – looking at where people were living one and five years ago compared to where they were living on Census night.

“It’s the only data source giving us migration data by age and sex, by origin and destination. We’ve been able to look at whether certain occupation groups are more likely to move, or people with particular qualification levels and answer questions about why are people moving to one place, not another and help ensure the place is right for the people living there – and if it’s not, what needs to be done to better match people and place.”

The Census is also used as the base for Australia’s population estimates, updated quarterly for States and Territories and once a year for small areas. This is used to inform funding distribution from the Commonwealth to State and Territory governments and decide the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Population estimates are an important evidence base for local strategic planning and monitoring change. The Census provides a sense check for these estimates so getting the best count possible is important. Planning for major services such as schools and hospitals is also based on Census information so it’s important everyone takes part.

“Census information is de-identified so it’s important everyone takes it seriously and provides accurate information,” Dr Johnstone said. “With three months to go, the countdown is on to make sure we encourage everyone to take part in the Census so that we continue to have this valuable data set to support planning and investment in the coming years.”

Join our virtual event to learn more: Making People Count in Local Government 

Astrolabe Group will host Making People Count in Local Government” – a virtual event on Wednesday 26 May, 12.30pm AEST. Aimed at helping anyone working in local government or in their local communities to understand the data available and how others have used the various resources available to them to plan and advocate for their communities, the lunch and learn event is free to attend.

Find out more and register for the online session here: Making People Count In Local Government, Hosted online, 26th of May