JOY DRIVE WITH EMMA & WARREN
THURSDAY, 16 MARCH 2023
SUBJECTS: Topics for the 2026 Census
WARREN ANDREW (CO-HOST): The Australian Bureau of Statistics has opened the first phase of public consultations on topics for the 2026 Census of Population and Housing. What sort of topics could be added to the census and how do we go about submitting them? Dr. Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. Andrew, welcome back to the programme.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks, Warren. Good to be with you both.
WARREN ANDREW: Now, how do you go about selecting topics for inclusion in the census?
LEIGH: Well, it's important that the Bureau of Statistics go through a really open consultation process. What we saw last time round was that cut short by political intervention from the former government. And we really want the Australian Bureau of Statistics to be able to do a deep dive, talk to people in the community, work out what should be added and also what needs to be taken off the Census. Obviously, you can't just keep on adding questions forever. And so in the past, the Census has had questions taken off it about what sort of material your walls are made out of or whether you've got an indoor toilet. And that makes room for some of the important questions that can be added. Last time, veteran status and long-term health condition were added.
EMMA CARY (CO-HOST): What's the Census data actually used for?
LEIGH: All kinds of things. So the Federal Government uses it to assign resources across jurisdictions. State and local governments use it for everything in terms of where to build a new road or where to put a bus route. Businesses use it to try and figure out where to open new outlets, and communities use it just to better understand the texture of your local area. So if you want to get a snapshot of your suburb, you can go to abs.gov.au and you can pull up a snapshot of your suburb in the last Census.
WARREN ANDREW: Andrew, will the LGBTIQA+ community be counted in the 2026 census or should we go about making submissions?
LEIGH: You should definitely make those submissions. When I was saying before about the political intervention that was over these questions where the former government just came through and just kiboshed any attempt to modernise the way in which sex and gender are asked about in the Census. So I'd really welcome submissions from LGBT+ community members talking about how this ought to be surveyed and what sort of issues would arise, what benefits we would have if we had those sorts of questions in the census.
CARY: Andrew, how does it work? Like, if we make a submission for questions about, let's say, the LGBTQIA+ community and how we identify how then does it go from submission to potentially an actual question on the Census?
LEIGH: Well, the Bureau of Statistics will draw together community views out of its consultation process and that can involve all kinds of submissions. So I don't want your listeners to get a sense that the only way of making a submission is to sit there and write a very formal letter backed up by years of academic research.
LEIGH: If people have a view on this, it's very straightforward just to go to abs.gov.au and make a simple submission. It can be as straightforward as saying what you'd like to see added. So don't feel this needs to be just a matter for the wonks. Have your say, it's really important we have that Australian Bureau of Statistics process running through -- at arm’s length from government.
WARREN ANDREW: Andrew, just let's say that LGBTQIA+ information is included. There is a question or multiple questions in the Census in 2026. How would that data be used in terms of I guess government policy?
LEIGH: It would certainly shape ways in which government thinks about marginalised communities and also about the provision of services. So when government is thinking about where to locate a new Pride Centre, for example, that might be a factor that would be taken into account. I think it's also just important to better understand the tapestry of who we are as Australia. We're very much, as a government pointing out that economics is about well-being, not just about money, and capturing the state of the nation as it is, and as Australians want to see ourselves, it is really how the Census needs to modernise.
CARY: When we actually do the Census in 2026, how private is the information collected within the Census?
LEIGH: So the Australian Bureau of Statistics works under very strict privacy conditions and certainly won't release any information that would allow somebody else to find you in the Census. Within the household, it's a shared form and so there is typically for a household, there is a single form that goes forward, so you don't necessarily have privacy from other household members. But once you put in that census form, then the Bureau of Statistics has very strict processes to keep your data confidential. And that's why so many Australians trust the Bureau of Stats. It's why people respond to ABS surveys at astonishingly high rates at a time when commercial market researchers are getting very low response rates.
WARREN ANDREW: Andrew, I reckon at the end of this, there'll be some funny submissions, I imagine, as well. Like, how many people own a poodle or something like that. You could publish a list of sort of funny questions. That'd be great.
CARY: That would be a funny article. We should definitely have, like, yeah, some sort of publishing of those and like, yeah, all the answers that didn't make it.
LEIGH: Exactly. And then you could have the old Census, much as the Archibald Prize, has the Salon des Refusés of all the paintings that didn't make the exhibition. Someone else could run the survey of the questions the Census rejected.
CARY: Yes. I love that.
WARREN ANDREW: Love it. Andrew, thank you so much for chatting with us on JOY Drive this afternoon.
LEIGH: Thanks, Warren. Thanks, Emma. Appreciate the conversation.
WARREN ANDREW: Thank you. If you wish to make a submission you can do it at the ABS website, abs.gov.au. And that's Dr. Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury.