Ten Things To Remember When Doing The Census Online

Ten Things To Remember When Doing The Census Online

Census night is Tuesday August 9, but you can save yourself a lot of hassle by completing the online eCensus version instead ahead of time — no working through questions you don’t need to look at on the 18-page paper form. Most of the online process is fairly self-explanatory, but here are 10 issues to bear in mind.

Yes, you have to participate in the census. Participation in the census is compulsory for all Australians. As the data is used to help determine allocation of government funds, it’s also an important part of participating in a democracy. Individual data from the census is not made public. (There’s a question where you can opt-in to have individual forms made publically available 99 years from now. Future family historians will be grateful if you do, but the choice is yours.)

You can’t simply go online and fill out the form. In order to use the eCensus, you’ll need both an eCensus number and a census form number, which are supplied by your local census collector. If you’re home when the collector drops in, you can simply get the envelope; if you’re out (as I was), your collector will leave both a paper form with a number and an eCensus envelope.

You can get extra numbers for extra people. Up to 10 people can fill in one census form for a dwelling. However, you can ask to have your own form to submit so your details remain private. This could be useful in a share house, especially if you don’t want your housemates knowing your approximate income.

You need a suitable browser. Any modern browser — Chrome, Firefox, IE or Safari — should be fine, but if you have a very old version you might need to update. You also need to make sure JavaScript is enabled (this will be the case on most systems, but if you have turned it off for security or performance reasons you’ll need to re-enable it). The ABS technical help page has extra information.

Use the information buttons if you’re not sure about a question. Each question includes an information button (a blue letter i) which provides more background. Click on it to read the background, and again to go back to the question.

You’ll automatically skip past irrelevant questions. One big advantage of the online census is you don’t have to read through every question on the paper form. Options that aren’t relevant to you will be automatically skipped over.

Think carefully about the religion question. The question about religion isn’t compulsory; if you do answer, you can choose from a list of common religions, specify your own, or answer ‘No religion’. You should answer the question in a way that reflects your beliefs honestly, not enter “Jedi” as a joke or pick a particular religion that reflects your upbringing rather than your current belief. As Gizmodo has pointed out, data from this question is used to fund public services, so it should accurately reflect modern Australia.

The process isn’t too time-consuming. I did the entire form in about 15 minutes. I’m a fairly fast reader, but I was also stopping to take notes and screenshots.

The internet usage question is disappointing for geeks. There are only four choices on offer: broadband, dialup, mobile or none. Many Lifehacker readers probably have multiple options from this list, but this is not the time to boast about how you alternate between Next G and ADSL2+.

You can submit before August 9. While the census form should reflect who is in your household on the night of August 9, the system will let you submit ahead of time. Given that the servers are likely to be overloaded on the night, there’s a lot to be said for getting in before that.



      • TPG are fantastic value for money compared to other service providers. I’d rather pay 9.5c/minute with TPG rather than 70c/minute with Vodafone or Telstra. Yes they charge a lot for 13/1300 numbers, but it’s a matter of perspective, and their overall charges are much cheaper than “big” providers.

    • Mmmmmm. Agreed fully 1000%. They should (especially government department) list local or mobile numbers to call along side any 1300/1800 numbers.

    • The regular phone number is on the ABS site under contact us “International callers +61 2 9268 4909”

      Just need to look harder if your phone provider gives you cheaper local or STD rates than 13/1300 numbers. It’s not terribly difficult.

  • What’s wrong with putting Jedi as a religion? I’m more than happy to do what it takes to divert money away from religious institutions. God should provide for them, not the government with my tax money.

    • If you want to divert money away from religious institutions, choose “no religion”. Choosing “Jedi” adds fuel to the “most Australians have religious belief” argument that gets them funding.

      • Have you any idea how much your taxes would increase if parents stopped paying private (religious) school fees AS WELL AS their own tax bill? Or if you were taxed so the Government could provide charitable services now being supplied by ‘religions’?
        It might even be more expensive than the “carbon tax” which won’t stop global warming one little bit.

        • Given that private schools also get generous dollops of government funding, there’s no reason whatsoever to assume taxes would rise if they disappeared.

          • Yes they get funding, but that’s from the federal government. state schools get it from the state government.

            religion on a census has nothing to do with schools.

    • If you want money diverted from religious institutions then put “no religion”. Putting a joke religion is regarded as no response, so it will put the percentage of Christians up, thereby more money going to religious institutions.

    • @ Jose

      Clearly you have no idea how the Census data work, how the government works, how religion works, how belief works or how God works.

      Perhaps you know alot about yourself though? at least enough to think only about yourself i am sure.

      • Why do you use a capital when talking about the Christian god? If you want to be specific about what god you are talking about use their name, don’t just assume that your god is the only one and therefore permitted to take the name God. Ignorant oppressor…

  • i just rang them to let them know i will be overseas buy Tuesday and that the old, non-english speaking people at home can’t fill in the form…

    the response: that’s ok, they can fill in the form for you

    you’d think the dude on the phone would actually understand what i was trying to tell him seeing as he couldn’t speak english

  • When the guy handing them out at my place was finished giving me the relevant docs, he was ready to walk off when I asked him about eCensus! He looked quite surprised and said I was the first to ask about it! Doesn’t look like many people will use it if they aren’t given the option! #}

      • Actually Census workers are paid a flat fee, have between 350-520 houses to deliver to and collect from, and if they have to spend more time out there effectively their hourly rate goes down. (Just like those tricky vote counts on election night- the longer you are there, the less you get paid per hour.) They don’t get paid more if their area has more houses (than the other areas).

        The census worker I know has actively encouraged people to do the e-census. (500+ houses) You can fill in the paper form and use it to help you do the e-census if you’re of the demographic that isn’t comfy with computers.

        When people fill in the e-census your census worker gets a text saying not to go back to that house, because the census has been completed.

        The ABS are aiming for 30% e-census completion.

  • Please tick the authorisation for the records to be released in a 100 years. Future historians will thank you. Down side is that if your off spring lead the revolution the Terminators may find you too. Your choice

  • Your article says that I should have received by census mail already, but I haven’t. I’m near central Perth.

    I rang the census hotline, and the recorded voice said the census people are still out delivering forms, so I just hung up.

    Does anyone else not have their forms ? Do I really need to talk to someone on the hotline to get my forms?

  • Angus, you might want to make a correction to this article – everyone who is in Australia on Census night has to complete a Census form, whether they are Australian or not.

  • I’m a little concerned with this census.. especially since it’s being run and backed by Lockheed Martin, hardly a humanitarian society by any means.

  • Yes, the census is compulsory, but not all the questions are.

    If you read the Census and Statistics Act of 1905, section 9-2 to be precise, you will see
    its purely for housing/population statistics. The rest of the questions are tacked on so people believe they have to answer them too.

    (2) The Statistician shall collect such statistical information as is necessary for the purposes of the compilation and analysis, under section 12, of statistics of the number of the people of each State as on the last day of March, June, September and December in each year, but nothing in this subsection shall be taken to limit the generality of subsection (1).

    The rest of the Act craps on about what happens if you dont answer the questions.

    If you visit http://www.abs.gov.au/census it even says at the top of the page “Census of Population and Housing”.

    • Questions that aren’t compulsory are clearly marked as such. But “population” covers demographic information about the population, which is why most questions aren’t optional.

  • I really hate invasion of privacy requirements like this. Frankly I dont want the government to know me, or my personal information. Wish they would mind their own business.

    On second though, who says I have to provide accurate information? I think I’ll be a 55 year old business executive, of Mexican descent, earning over $150,000. Oh and Jedi. =)

      • They do. They ask for your name, address, employment, salary, shoe size, everything.

        OK, I’m joking about the shoe size. 🙂 If the census was anonymous, I wouldn’t have a problem. But it’s not.

    • That and the bit where it says all over the form that they will not supply this information to anyone – *including* other government departments. They know that if people are worried about centrelink or the ATO realising their shenanigans they’ll provide inaccurate information.

  • I am not overly a fan of “compulsory” govt. surveys…however, as it is used for the intent of providing data for provision of services and future planning etc. answering honestly does kind of make sense. If it was voluntary responses then everthing would be skewed (bit like the argument for/against voluntary voting).

    Wish they would use the opportunity to add some “hot topic” questions to the survey…like NBN, Illegal Immigrants, Carbon Tax, GST on Internet purchases from O/S under $1K etc. etc. The results would of course provide data to answer how public money/resources should be spent/focussed…..


  • First I have heard of it…

    finally had some free time to browse lifehacker overseas (i have been holidaying for 3 months)

    and lucky i saw this article…

    is there a procedure for people not in australia at the time of the census, a punishment, etc?

  • Privacy, Privacy, Privacy….. is the Number 1 reason that people will not answer census before or on Ausust 9th.

    Why? Because how can you trust a government that first said “there will not be a Carbon Tax” then later changes it’s mind to try to force a Tax on the very people it said it was not going to do.

    Secondly, most people are honest and want to do the right thing, But, are worried that the answers they give could be used against them by “OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCIES” ie. Child Support or Centrelink. With the government already pre-filling taxation returns about inderviduals with the information that they have already cross referenced without you prior knowledge, what will the government do with Census Data? The world we live in is a very dangerous place, we as citizions of Australia would love our government in POWER to listern to All area’s of the community. AND not just ignor us and do what THEY THINK IS BEST FOR THE COUNTRY. If someone is of a religion of something other than the NORM it should not be discounted, as these people are also members of our community too. I would love for a CENSUS aimed with questions DIRECTED at our Sitting and Non-Sitting Members of ALL 3 levels of parliment. With questions like “What do you believe your position is worth to the community?” “What are your big IDEA’s to get AUSTRALIA through the next 50 years?” “Is a 4 year term to short and means that you can’t get your plans into a place where the people can benefit?” And I am sure people could come up with MORE!!!

    Census, detail is good but there is more money wasted on trying to promote that a CARBON PRICE will be great for this country. If the same effort was put into promoting the reasons we should all put the right information in our CENSUS and garantees that there would be NO ACCESS FROM other GOVERNMENT departments that include our department of “HUMAN SERVICES” Then people will fill out it properly, but until this time, you will still find that the majority of Australian’s don’t trust where THEIR personal information will end up. I am sure I also speak for many of my fellow Australians. (Please Post)

  • “Participation in the census is compulsory for all Australians. As the data is used to help determine allocation of government funds, it’s also an important part of participating in a democracy.”.

    I can’t get my head round the word compulsory? If you are in a democracy you should have the choice to say “no” to the census.
    Or is that wrong?
    Being told what to do is a dictatorship, isn’t it.

    • Democracy gives everyone the opportunity to participate in the political process. If you choose to opt out of the process, there’s not much grounds for complaining about the outcome.

      • I agree that people should participate in census. I don’t agree that non participation looses grounds to complain. What if what I wish to complain about is the lack of an ability to participate in a way that actually has an impact. Or complain about the lack of an ability to not participate.

        I don’t think census should be compulsory, but I do think people should complete it so I think the government should have a system of positive incentives for make people want to complete the census on their own accord.

  • to DanA:

    Actually the second question they ask is your name. I also don’t remember them asking this previously. Anyone know why it is not optional? I don’t see how having our names is relevant to housing and population stats. I know they want it to be able to release details to the national archive in 99 years but having our names on there should be optional rather than compulsory

    • None of your answers are cross-referenced against anything. So you can enter any name/address/answer you want. If you don’t feel comfortable giving your real name, then don’t.

  • I’m sorry, but I totally believe it should be compulsory, otherwise, what’s the point?
    Its amusing that people are happy to give their personal details to businesses like Google, Facebook and Twitter, who have a vested interest in using this information for their own benefit, but not to a statistics gathering organisation.

    • I thought the requirement for having children was either sex or adoption, not marriage. I didn’t realise it just needed the exchange of vows to kick-start a lady’s baby-making machine. Did you get married once for each kid?

      See, the census helps identify families with 5 kids born in wedlock to the same couple, AND families with 5 kids born to couples who “don’t need to get married” or similar.

      • Sorry, I misread your statement of “it asks have they ever been married” as “it asks have you ever been married”.

        Still, maybe if there’s a child bride visiting from another country…

  • I live on a boat in a marina, no sign of any form delivery, 2 hours on hold to try to get a number, finally hung up in disgust. Beuracracy at its best.

  • do not comply lockheed martin the us military coorporate murder company is collecting the data u just gave ur personal details to the military so they can spy on u . fools. lockheed martin the biggest arms manufacturer in the world !!!!!!they are not to be trusted . why are they involved in this information gathering when they are a intelligence gathering oganisation ???? nwo

    • This is simply not true. It is the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), a government organisation that runs the census. No data is linked to your name. This isn’t designed to spy on the populace, but to work out where funding should go.

  • I am surprised at the comment that we live in a democracy, and therefore it is a requirement to fill in the census. Anything that is compulsory is the antithesis of democracy. Has lifehacker been gotten at now by the government? Or was this simply an unthink from a lifehacker staffer who believes that we should all have to give our information, regardless of our choice to do so. Voting is also supposedly compulsory. In reality all you have to do is turn up. You do not have to vote. That is almost a choice. I still have to go to a polling booth, but if I belive that my choices are not to my liking I can vote not vote.

    When we really get a democracy here in AUstralia, the government may be more fearful of its people. Then they will get us what we really need, that is what we ask for.

    • If that’s how you feel, I can’t see what’s stopping you submitting a blank census form. And in a actual non-democracy, you wouldn’t get the chance to leave comments questioning if you were in a democracy!

      Bit of a tendency here to state”I don’t like the current government/aspects of the political process, therefore this isn’t a democracy”.

    • @Andrew: I don’t see, why compulsory stopping at a red traffic light has anything to do with antithesis of democracy. Effectively the democratically elected Government has decided to do this census.

  • kinda need a bit of help guys. my brother filled out the census without me in it because he thought I would be at my partner’s house so placed me as absent. heard you could get fined if you dont fill it out. do you know what I do now? not keen on any fines you know =\

  • What to do, if someone who lives together on same unit filled out online just for 2 people and there still 2 or 3 more left to fill the form. Can we fill online again or not? We tried with same pin number but unable. Can other (who still not filled the form)fill online or have to fill paper manually? So could you please advice?

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