Be counted in Australian Census

Paul Lowe, Head of the Australian Population Census program


By Neena Badhwar


Paul Lowe is the Head of the Australian Population Census program and is responsible for all aspects of the program from enumeration through to the dissemination of the results.  He has over 20 years experience in census taking in Australia and has worked in all areas of the program including the role of Executive Director of the Census Data Processing Centre.
He has also worked as a census technical advisor for the National Statistical Offices in PNG, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, and Thailand.  He is also a member of the International Technical Advisory Boards for both the Afghanistan and Iraq censuses.
He was the principle editor of the UN publication “Handbook on Census Management for Population and Housing Censuses” and has presented many training courses on census management in developing countries.

The Indian Down Under spoke to Paul Lowe about the upcoming Census on   August 9, 2011 and how the Indian community should go about furnishing Census information.


Census 2011 is upon us. It is the biggest number collecting exercise in Australia that employs 43,000 community workers, says Paul Lowe, the Head of Census, “We have to reach to 9 million homes across vast distances of this huge subcontinent.”

“It is a vital set of information which is helpful in planning Australia’s future. The people employed for this purpose know the value of Census information and are quite a community minded people coming from diverse background that makes up Australia. Since Australia is a large country it does pose challenges but we try to put together an accurate snapshot of Australia and Australians.”

When asked about the community Profile booklets that ABS used to publish, says Lowe, “We have stopped printing those profile booklets and the Census results in the form of community profile are available on the website of Australian Bureau of Statistics at nominal cost.”

Would it not be good to furnish these profiles or their links to the community, related academics and statisticians so that they have better access to the data and be able to use it for interpreting and asking help in areas of need by a specific community, answers Paul, “I am looking into that and will try to send the information through to community groups and media.”

According to Lowe about 97% of Australians responded and participated in the last Census and that it does not apply to foreign diplomats while everyone else present in Australian homes or anywhere in Australia on August 9, the night of Census 2011, must be counted. “That includes citizens of Australia, permanent residents, visitors, tourists, overseas students, temporary workers even refugees. Then we consult the immigration’s departure cards at the airports and add on to the Census data to figure out net results of the Australian population.” The drawback of counting the departures is that some of the Census data is not collected on those people overseas who according to Paul are a substantial number, says he, “In April of this year there were 693,000 short term resident departures from Australia. Its just that that they are counted in the population number.”

One can see that there has been a marked increase in the number of the Indian community having made Australia their permanent home yet the last Census showed only 234,000 people from Indian background, could that be an undercount and may be the community did not participate the way it should have, says Paul, “In the last census there was an undercount of net 2.7% and we encourage Indian community to participate in this Census on August 9 so that are counted properly for all sorts of reasons. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that the Indian undercount was 18 per cent.

Since Census information is used for a range of planning purposes by all levels of government and private institutions. It is used to determine such things as where infrastructure and community services are located, like hospitals, schools and roads its important that Indian community is counted properly which can only happened with their full participation on the night of the census. It is important for the Indian community that by creating an accurate profile of Australia, the Census gives us a snapshot of who we are as Australians.

Also the number of seats each state and territory has in the House of Representatives is also based on Census figures, as are federal funding arrangements to the states and territories. Census information is used as the basis for allocation of GST revenue to the states and territories too,” says Paul. .

And what about when one does not furnish the right information? Says Paul, “We rely on people’s honesty and mostly they are. The Census is compulsory for all and people who do not participate are liable for penalty. We only send a notice and the judge decides which can be up to $110 a day.”

About the language questions which are question numbers 16 and 17 in the Census form , TIDU asked Paul that since anyone from the Indian subcontinent region being multilingual and uses at least 4 spoken languages at home, what should they fill, answers Paul, “You’d have to choose the most spoken language at home. You may add other languages but only one language will be measured as far as Census goes.”

About helping out people who do not understand how to fill Census forms says Paul, “We have people who offer support to people from Non-English speaking backgrounds. One can either look up for help on our website and there’s also a helpline to guide people through.”

What about the privacy of information tendered in the Census, his answer is, “We have a proud history of keeping the data private and we destroy it straight away after processing the records. Your information is confidential and we do not give to government bodies or private organizations as it will be a severe breach of the information collected by Census.”

Paul adds that this years’ Census does not have any new questions than what was asked in the last Census though E-Census that is filling up of Census forms was available in 2006 only 10 per cent responded on the net whereas the Census this time round is pushing for a 30 per cent through the net.

“It is quite a simple and smart form that guides people through in easy steps. So do participate and fill E-Census forms to get quicker and faster results of the demographics of Australia and Australians in 2011.”

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