What’s the Census and Why Should I Give a Shit?

You’ve probably heard a lot of yarns recently about the Census and how you have to complete it on August 9. That’s all well and good, but if your only exposure to said nationwide survey is through the incredibly vague TV advertisement, you might have some questions. Mainly, what the fuck is it and why do I need to donate my Tuesday night to doing it when I could be watching Netflix?

A sterling question, young Australian. Here are the basics.

What is it and why is it important?

In a nutshell, the Census is a survey of the entire country that provides a snapshot of the population at that point in time. The first Census was held in 1911 and carried out in each decade until 1961. From then on, they decided it would take place every 5 years.

Managed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the gathered data is used to improve the country based on what we need, such as education, transportation, infrastructure and so on.

It also gives us an insight into how we’ve changed over the years. For example, 1 in 250 people ticked ‘no religion’ in 1911. In 2011, this was 1 in 5. The times. They are a changin’.

What if I don’t wanna do ya damn Census?

You’ll cop a fine. A big one. The Census is compulsory and for each day you don’t submit a completed form, you’ll be slugged $180.

And if you give false or misleading information, you should expect a fine for 1,800 smackers, friend.

Also, you don’t have to complete it tomorrow night, but if you haven’t done it within 2 weeks, you’ll receive a visit from a Census officer who will ensure you complete it by September 23.

Should I be concerned about privacy/security?

Changes to how the ABS will store private data have certainly rustled the jimmies of privacy advocates across the country.

Until now, all names and addresses collected by the Census were destroyed after all other data was transcribed, effectively making the whole process anonymous. The ABS will now hold onto your identifying data for 4 years.

David Kalisch, head of the ABS says having names associated with forms often results in better data.

“We find when people provide their name they provide better quality information and they provide more accurate information,” he said.

To allay the fears of hackers gaining unauthorised access to your data, the ABS say that names and addresses will be stored separately and safely from the other collected data. They have also hired ethical hackers to test and improve the security measures currently in place.

So why hold onto it for 4 years when the process of stripping that data traditionally only took 18 months? According to The Daily Telegraph, leaked ABS documents suggest the stored data may be sold.

“The ABS insists it will not hand over private census data to other government agencies or businesses,” says the article.

“But confidential internal documents reveal the ABS, which earned $41 million last year selling data, wants to link names and addresses to census data to make “new products’’.”

According to the leaked document, they are retaining this data do address unknown “future needs”.

“While we may not know all of the potential future uses of all the datasets the ABS holds, the retention of some or all personal identifiers would enable us to be in a position to meet those future needs as they arise,’’ it says.

It’s fair to see why people are so concerned, particularly when the ABS are saying one thing and potential leaked documents are saying another. How this particular document will be addressed by the ABS is unsure at this stage, but whether or not it is legitimate or taken out of context are the biggest questions we have.

Some lawyers and scholars are even encouraging civil disobedience. But if you do, just don’t forget the fines.

Why are people on Facebook telling me to list a religion when I’m not religious?

This is a scare campaign by racist right-wing groups who fear that Australia will become a “Muslim country” due to an increase in atheism.

A bung email has also been doing the rounds urging people to tick the religion they were born into, rather than “no religion”.

“Bear in mind that although many Australians have no religion these days, the Muslim population in Australia will all declare that they are Muslim and this fact will be counted to ascertain what type of country we are in regard to religion,” it says.

“Even though you may now have no religion, please consider entering the religion you were christened or born into, when answering this question.

“Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared to be a Muslim country – because the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census will reflect this.”

This information is obviously false and should be ignored. The results of the 2011 Census show that just 2.2 percent of people identified as Islamic, less than the 2.5 percent of people who identified as Buddhist.

Catholic was the top response at 25.3 percent, followed by “no religion” at 22.3 percent.

At the end of the day, just tell the truth, ya dingus! You’ll avoid a fine and conduct your civic duty in shaping the nation. If you’re concerned for your privacy, well, we hear you, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do without said heavy fines. We’ll leave that decision up to you.