7 myths about the Census you probably didn’t know

A family making food in the kitchen

Alice Piper

Posted August 10, 2021

With the Census happening across Australia tonight, here’s a few things that might trip you up.

If you’ve streamed every TV show on Netflix this lockdown, then you’re in for a treat, because this August 10 (tonight), comes a one-night-only entertainment extravaganza - the Census.

This night of nights only happens once every five years, when the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) requires every household to fill out the form at the same time, on the same day to give the most accurate snapshot of our nation.

In general terms, the Census is the most in-depth survey in the country, asking specific questions about the religious, cultural and financial circumstances of everyone inside your home on the night as a way of finding out what our households look like.

But given the first Census was conducted in 1911 (happy 110th birthday Census!), do you really know everything about it? Here’s eight myths you’re probably unaware of. 

Close up of a family of six smiling

Everyone who is in your home on Census night will need to be listed.  Photo: Getty Images.


Myth #1: The Census is voluntary.

Myth busted. The Census is certainly not voluntary, and in fact, for every day you don’t complete it, there could be a fine of $222.

Myth #2: You only need to complete the census if you’re an Australian citizen. 

Incorrect. Whether you’re a citizen or not, everyone must be included on a Census form. The only people exempt from taking part are foreign diplomats and their families. 

The ABS website says: “The Census is compulsory. Everyone who is staying in your household on Census night must be included. This includes visitors and babies.”

Myth #3: Your information is being read by everyone and sold to third party companies.

Not a chance. The ABS says it will "never release information that can identify you” and protecting Australians' privacy is its "highest priority".

Not even the website crashing during the 2016 Census resulted in any unauthorised information being leaked. The Census is like a vault – locked up with a ball and chain.

On that note, not even government departments can access your information, so if you're a data sceptic, there's no need with this one.

Myth #4: The Census doesn’t ask about your religion. 

Well, not exactly. In the 2001 census, more than 70,000 people (or 0.37% of the population) declared themselves members of the Jedi order. It then became a bit of a grassroots movement, and Star Wars fans all over the country were spreading the love and recording their religion as Jedi. 

The ABS even had to issue a formal release urging Australians not to make misleading claims in their census response and then launched an official review to find the exact number of Jedi-related claims!

A man and woman filling out a form

The Census helps us gain a better understanding of our community, and where money and resources can be allocated. Photo: Getty Images.


Myth #5: I live in a share house, so I don’t have to do it.

Yes, you do. Everyone in Australia needs to be counted on a Census form if the data is to provide the most precise appraisal of the country. Whether it’s a share house of three, four, even six people, you all need to be on it.

If we’re to help shape the future of the younger generations, the ABS and the Government need to be as informed as possible so decisions can be made - so don’t forget that couch surfer or any visitors in your house on the night.

Myth #6: The census is a relatively cheap exercise for our Government

Well here’s a myth if we ever heard one.

Because the Census is a five-year operation, requiring hours upon hours of planning, resources in the form of human labour, as well as things like paper for the forms, posties to deliver them and a number of other financial requirements, the Census bill is huge.

In fact, the 2016 Census cost around $500 million, and involved up to 38,000 field staff! This is just one reason Australians are urged to take the Census as seriously as possible.

Myth #7: Nothing really changes anyway – so there’s no real point in doing it. 

This is probably the biggest myth of them all. If you think about the 1996 census, barely five per cent of the population worked from home – which comprised mostly of farmers who physically had to work from home. 

Fast forward 25 years, and nearly the whole country is working from home! The number of at-home workers is set to come in north of 60 per cent. 

So there you have it, a few myths cleared up about the 2021 Census and why it’s important we all take part. Get the computers ready, the drinks on hand, and why not make Census night a lockdown activity where we can all get involved?