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2016 Australian Census: why your answers count

9 August 2016 Wesley Mission news

Tonight, Australians in more than nine million households around the country will ‘pause’ their regular Tuesday night routine to take part in the 2016 Australian Census, and the information collected will tell us much more than the size of our population. It will provide valuable information that can have implications for how community services are funded and delivered.

The Australian census is held every five years and unlike other surveys, which collect information from only a sample of people, the census captures population-wide data that is used by everyone from demographers, to social scientists, to governments and policy makers, to community services organisations like Wesley Mission. The information you provide tonight is an important source of data for us, as we plan how best to continue delivering vital community services, care and support.

Here are four reasons why the 2016 census matters:

1. Census data helps us identify the most in need

Wesley Marketing, Fundraising & Volunteering Executive Manager, Fran Avon, said community level data, like that collected in the census, helps Wesley Mission determine who in our communities are most in need, and how Wesley Mission can best serve them.

“We can use census data to understand what a community looks like, and to determine if it is a good use of our funds to be present in that community.

“We’re not a corporate organisation. Our work is not always about finding the big pockets of ‘customers’ but instead, the smaller clusters of people who are most in need, who are in danger of being overlooked and struggling to access services, support and care.

“The data can have implications for where we decide to operate from. For example, the location of our psychiatric hospitals, aged care facilities or where we deliver different community programs.”

2. Census data impacts funding for health, education, aged care and other services

The census is a rare source of data that represents the whole population—including all age groups, genders and socio economic classes—and can reach right down to the local community level. That makes it vital for governments, not for profit, public and private organisations alike who are planning services and policies and assessing their outcomes.

Information collected in the census paints a picture of where our population is growing and declining, which is important information for governments when deciding how to allocate funding to education, childcare, aged care, health and other community services.

3. Census data helps us track Australia’s progress on social and community issues

Australian census data reaches back to 1961, giving us the ability to recognise trends and to track changes on a range of issues including Indigenous policy, health outcomes across different socioeconomic groups, and impacts of population growth. By comparing data from different censuses we can better understand the movement of our population, how different socioeconomic and cultural groups are distributed, and how these factors change over time.

The last census was held in 2011 and Fran Avon points out that we can expect to see a lot of change in this year’s data.

“People don’t own houses for as long. More young families are renting. We have a more transient population and I’m expecting to see that reflected in the [2016 data].”

4. Census data can help us shape the future

The way you answer census questions can impact the future direction of government policy or provision of services. 

For example, you will be asked about any unpaid work you have completed. The data collected by these questions helps us understand the type and amount of unpaid work people do, including caring for family and loved ones, and volunteering. This can have important implications for our understanding of the contribution of unpaid work to Australian society and to the economy, and for the support that carers need.

The 2011 census showed that around 5.8 million people over the age of 15 (about a quarter of the population) were participating in voluntary work, and it will be interesting to see if that has increased over the past five years.

“[Research presented to Wesley Mission] shows a huge potential for people to engage in volunteering. Especially among youth and older Australians.

“People in these older age groups are still healthy and active in their outlook and volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and value.

“Young people also seem to have a stronger sense of duty and purpose than we have seen in the past. They want careers where they can make a difference, and volunteering is another opportunity to find meaning and purpose.”

“It will be very interesting to see if the census data shows these sentiments in action.”