The 2016 Census is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, August 9. For the first time, the online version — or "eCensus" — is the default method for filling in the national survey. As with the 2011 version, most of the online process is fairly self-explanatory, but here are ten issues to bear in mind.
You'll need your unique code to get started
In order to use the eCensus, you'll need to enter your 12 digit Census Login which should have come in the mail. If it hasn't turned up for some reason or you've managed to lose it, contact the Census Inquiry Service as soon as possible. (You can contact them online or call 1300 214 531.)
In addition to your 12 digit Census Login, you'll also need to write down a 9 digit password which will be auto-generated when you first log into your Census. You only need this if your session expires or you intend to complete the Census in multiple sittings. (Select the “Save and exit” icon on the top right hand screen of your Census form if you need to come back later.)
You don't have to wait until Census night
The official "Census night" is Tuesday August 9. However, you're free to fill it out ahead of time if you have plans that night or would prefer to get it over and done with. Simply head to the eCensus webpage and get cracking!
If you forget to fill out the Census, expect to be fined
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. Stiff fines apply for people who fail to complete the survey — we're talking a potential penalty of $180 per day. Forget to fill it out at your peril. With that said, the ABS considers fines to be an absolute last resort.
What's all this talk about privacy?
The 2016 Census will not be anonymous. When you fill out the 2016 Australian Census questionnaire, your name and address will be linked for the first time to other, previously anonymised data like your status of employment, education and personal health. This has proved to be controversial, with many Australians concerned about privacy. (You can read our thoughts on the potential dangers here.)
For its part, the ABS has outlined how it aims to protect the privacy of individuals on the Census website, which we have included below:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has legal obligations to keep Census data secure and ensure that it does not disclose identifiable information about a person, household or business. We use a comprehensive set of practices to ensure the confidentiality of information provided on Census forms.
The ABS uses the strongest encryption technology that current internet browsers will support to ensure information from the online Census form is delivered securely. For those who use a paper form, we provide prepaid envelopes to return the form. Any individual member of a household (including a visitor) can request their own unique login number for the online form, or a separate paper form and envelope.
Information provided on Census forms is protected by the secrecy provisions of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. These provisions legally bind all ABS staff to protect this information. Staff working on all stages of the Census, including collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of data, are bound by this obligation.
Under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the ABS must not disclose personal information in a way that will identify an individual, household or business. It is an offence for any past or present ABS officer to divulge, either directly or indirectly, any information collected under the Census and Statistics Act 1905.
Unfortunately, short of deliberately lying on the form, there's not much you can do about this issue.
You can request a separate form if you live with others
If you live in shared accommodation or on campus, you need to ensure that whoever fills out the online form includes you on their Census. But what if you'd rather keep certain details private such as your income? Thankfully, you can complete a separate form by contacting the Census Inquiry Service.
You will need internet access and a suitable browser
Well, duh. Any modern browser — Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Safari — should be fine, but if you have a very old version you might need to update. For example, only Internet Explorer version 10 or later is supported.
Use the "+More Information" button if you're not sure about something
Each question in the Census includes a "+More Information" button which provides more background. If you don't know what a question means or are unsure how to answer it, click on this icon for an overview.
You can click the "previous" button if you want to change a response. However, once you've completed and submitted your Census, you will no longer be able to make any changes.
Don't treat the religion question like a joke
The question about religion isn't compulsory. If you do answer, you can choose from a list of common religions, select 'No religion' or nominate your own. On the 2011 Census 64,390 Australians put “Jedi” down as their religion. While this is amusing, it can have real-world ramifications that you're not expecting. Data from this question is used to fund everything from community support facilities to public policy and city planning. The Atheist Foundation of Australia is leading a campaign to get people to stop making the "Jedi" joke for this very reason. (Read more here.)
By the same token, you should refrain from nominating a religion that reflects your upbringing rather than your current beliefs. The aim is to accurately reflect modern Australia's active religions. So don't put Uniting Church in Australia (or whatever) just because it's on your birth certificate.
You can now announce your census completion on Twitter!
When you submit the completed survey, there's an option to auto-tweet the news from inside the website. For posterity. Or something.
You can still request a dead tree version if you really want to
You can request a paper form of the 2016 Census by calling 1300 820 275. You will still need your 12-digit Login number which was already sent in the mail. Paper forms must be completed and returned in the Reply Paid envelope as soon as possible.