Census for newbies: lack of motivation from first-time participants


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Young student completes the 2016 census.Source: Kelsie Iorio.

It’s census time again, and tonight Australia will pause to ‘play a role in Australia’s future’.

The census of population and housing is designed to count every Australian and collect data on their living arrangements, occupations and personal details like age and religion.

Conducted every five years, census is the survey of all surveys, and on paper it appears as the data that quite literally defines Australia.

For young people who have never completed a census form before, this government form has got them a little nervous, a little angry and a lot disinterested.

Allegations surrounding privacy violations and Australia becoming a Muslim country depending on the results of the religion section have sparked discussion around the nation regarding what is really done with census information.

Law and Criminology and Criminal Justice student Tabatha McDouall, 20, is completing her first census tonight, and has concerns on rumours surrounding results of the religion section.

“Why does it matter what religion I am? I’m not religious and never have been, however, I worry due to what I have been told, if I don’t put down that I am a Christian, somehow, this may disadvantage Australia,” Ms McDouall said.

The ‘no religion’ option increased significantly from the 2006 census to the 2011 census, indicating that practicing religion is becoming less prominent in Australia.

“It has nothing to do with racism, but a desire to keep Australia as it is.”

Head of the Census Program, Duncan Young, said the 2016 census is the safest ever and the data being gathered is extremely important for Australia’s future.

“The information that will be given tonight will help estimate our population, which will be used to distribute government funds and plan for services for your community,” Mr Young said.

While it is illegal for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to release the information provided via the census to government agencies or anyone else, the option to complete online has heightened fears of breaches of privacy.

Aside from privacy fears, the combination of time consuming forms with the high chance of the ABS website crashing due to high activity for those who choose to complete their forms online means many Australians, young and old, don’t plan to complete the census as accurately as possible.

2016 is the first year the census form has been available online, and many are sceptical the servers will simply not be able to handle the load.

In the recent federal election, voting numbers in the 18-24 age category were significantly low; and with donkey voting considered, young Australians may not be taking advantage of the power they have.

As a compulsory form, the likelihood of a disappointing lack of effective participation by young Aussies in the census is high.

If you’re thinking of ignoring the census problem until it goes away, $180 fines are set to be issued for every day late the census is received, and up to $1800 fines could be issued for misleading information.

The due date falls on September 23, leaving plenty of time to play your role in Australia’s future.

Not bored with surveys yet? Tell us about your census experience here.

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