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Jul 06

Blogathon Post 31

This is a census year and the first where Australians can fill out the census form online. The census is a statistics gathering exercise where the ABS attempts to get the various details of every single person living in Australia on the census night (which is 8 August). It’s a tremendous task. I remember a series of Full Frontal skits (which must be either 10 or 15 years ago now) where they showed a census collector popping up in the weirdest places (an Aboriginal tribe in the outback, someone lost on a desert island off the coast of northern Queensland, etc).

Filling out a census form is a legal requirement, and it is regulated by the Census and Statistics Act 1905. While it’s not illegal to fail to fill out the form, per se, the “Australian Statistician” (a person in the ABS) can direct a person (in writing) to answer any unanswered census questions (which are not optional to answer). It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with such a direction. The maximum penalty is one penalty unit (or $110)… per day (and not $100 like the census booklet says). Which makes it more expensive than failing to get your name marked off the electoral roll during elections.

In terms of privacy, each member of a household is entitled to a separate form if they want one. Your details are kept confidential, and the Australian Statistician can be whacked with a $13,200 fine and/or 2 years’ imprisonment if they divulge any information given to them (in a manner not authorised by the Act). Furthermore, a “person who is or has been the Statistician or an officer must not, at any time during the period of 99 years beginning on the Census day for a Census: (a) be required to divulge or communicate to an Agency any information that is contained in a form that is given to the Statistician or an authorised officer under section 10 in relation to that Census…”. They same exemption applies against providing such information in courts and tribunals. Therefore it sounds like census details are safe from the prying eyes of the intelligence officers at ASIO. After 99 years, we have the option of having our details released so future generations can study this generation.

There are a few interesting things I’ve noted about this year’s questions. Question 12 asks country of birth, and the options are Australia, England, NZ, Italy, Viet Nam, Scotland, Greece and Other. It’s logical to assume that these countries reflect the most frequently selected options. (Also interesting is that they’ve decided to spell Viet Nam in two words, like it’s done natively. Vietnamese used to be written in Chinese characters before a missionary romanicised their language. Therefore, Vietnam actually is two words, but when it’s Anglicised, it’s normally written as a single word – just as how “China” is the Anglicised version of China, which is written as two Chinese characters which, when translated, have nothing to do with the word “China”.)

Question 19 asks about religion. It’s an optional question, as always. In the examples of ‘Other’ religions, one example specified is “Salvation Army”. I wasn’t aware it was a religion. In the last census, over 70,000 Star Wars fans decided to write “Jedi” as an answer. However, their ploy failed and the ABS refused to recognise “Jedi” as a religion.

Finally, I think question 59 is new: “Can the Internet be accessed at this dwelling?”