8 August 2016

Remarks with the Australian Statistician, Mr David Kalisch, ABS Headquarters, Canberra


Well, thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Statistician, David Kalisch, to again talk about the importance of tomorrow night’s Census – Census 2016. What an important event it is. The largest logistical exercise conducted in Australia.

It’s conducted once every five years, the last one – of course – in 2011. Tomorrow night will be the 17th since 1911 in Australia and certainly the most important. We expect that two thirds of people will fill this year’s Census out online. Already, half a million homes have completed the Census online. That represents 1.3 million people. Two and a half million paper forms have been distributed.

I want to absolutely emphasise that the Census is critical to gaining important data – the sorts of infrastructure, the sorts of resources, the sorts of funding that Governments of all persuasions – federally, state and local government too – are able to access so they can distribute those funds, those resources, for medical, for schools, for education, for rail, for road and all those sorts of projects that Governments do. They absolutely need the data – and the ABS needs the data – to enable that to be shared out equitably.

It’s important to note, just a few minutes ago, before the briefing I had with the ABS, I had a conversation with a Mayor in my own Riverina and Central West electorate – Mark Liebich from Weddin Shire Council around Grenfell – and he said to me how important it is that people in his Shire fill it out. And he was encouraging people to take part. The reason why, he said, is we need those numbers. Perhaps even more than the ABS, he said, because we need the health, the roads, the rail, the infrastructure and we need to get it right. When we get those proper numbers, he said, we can use those to get the kinds of services, the kinds of infrastructure, that we need and want. And if people don’t fill out the Census properly it can create difficulty for places such as Weddin Shire, for regional, rural and remote communities, and also in the capital cities. And that’s why it is absolutely critical.

Now I know that Senator Nick Xenophon has today made some concerns known about privacy issues again. I want to clearly reiterate again that the ABS has never had a privacy breach, a security breach, from the ABS Census. Never. They keep the information in different computers. Even Courts, Prime Ministers and Ministers cannot get the names and addresses and that sort of information from the ABS. It is kept sacrosanct. It is kept safe by the ABS. It is critical to note that in the last Census there were only less than 100 people who were fined for not filling out their Census. And those were people who deliberately flouted the law, those people who absolutely said they were not going to provide all the information.

I would encourage people to make sure they fill out all the information. I would encourage the Senator, also, to make sure he fills out his information. Names and addresses have always been collected by the ABS, right back to 1911, that sort of information was kept. It is being retained for longer this time – and the reason it is being kept for longer – from 18 months to four years – is so the ABS can better track population flows, can better get an arrangement on life expectancy, and I will say that for a clear reason. When the Councils of Australian Governments – the CoAG – wanted to ensure the Closing The Gap life expectancy needed to absolutely happen by 2031, the first thing they said was they needed reliable and accurate information. Now that reliable and accurate information can only really come from the ABS. It can only come from people supplying their names and addresses and for the ABS to be able to track those people and, of course, others too, for longer.

Now, that’s not to say that information isn’t secure. It absolutely is. The ABS has assured me, has assured the Government, that the security systems they have in place here at Belconnen, here at the headquarters, are absolutely sacrosanct. Absolutely. We need to make sure that is made very clear to people.  

Participation is critical – 98.2 per cent of people, in 2011, filled out the Census. And I would like to encourage people to take part in this year’s event. We need a 100 per cent participation rate – if not certainly as high as 98.2 per cent. Because it is critical for Governments to make sure they have the data available. Names and addresses, as I say, have always been collected. Health, infrastructure, road, rail, education, they are all reliant on the ABS having the right information. It’s accurate information they can keep for four years to enable Governments to be able to roll out that infrastructure.

I might hand it over to David to make a few comments and then I would be happy to take any questions.


Thank you very much, Minister.

Today I have also had the opportunity to speak with Senator Xenophon and provide him with some more information and insight into the statistics the ABS uses this information for. It was to provide him with a sense, I suppose, the key policy issues that Governments are confronting that this data will actually help inform.

So issues such as what happens to migrants when they come to the country, what is their employment, income and residential experience, what happens to people who have been in the automotive industry some time ago? Where are they now working? Are they still working in the auto industry or in another industry? Or are they not working at all, is probably the outcome for a number of them. The other aspect I was able to share with him, I suppose, was the way in which Census data can help inform outcomes from different programmes and policies.

So I will just give you some examples. We have provided some insight to the Queensland and Tasmanian Governments about kids who have had poorer or worse or better NAPLAN scores. I know NAPLAN was a big issue last week. Generally, what Education Departments don’t know is what are the family characteristics of those students and the Census data can actually provide those insights and we have for a number of those jurisdictions. The other aspect we have also done is work with people who have provided the VET in schools service to teenagers. And with Census data we can actually track the employment outcomes, the income outcomes, and so to provide some real insights to the policymakers about those services.

Thank you.

The Minister and the Statistician then took questions.