Launch of 2021 Census of Population and Housing data, Canberra

Australian Treasury

Good morning to you all and thank you Wally for the warm Welcome to Country. I too wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the region, and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

It is an honour to be here today to officially launch the 2021 Census of Population and Housing data as the Assistant Minister with responsibility for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I do so with enormous respect for the ABS, and for Census data, as it inspires deeper conversations about the social health of the nation.

Prior to joining politics, I was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. During this time, I learnt to appreciate how much Census data is relied upon by governments, businesses and community organisations to help understand what we as a country need now and into the future. I’ve used the cross‑tabulations, the microdata, and the community profiles to research everything from income inequality to whether child gender affects divorce.

Economists, researchers and stats nerds like me love the Census. It is a snapshot of Australia and gives Australians a detailed picture of their communities. Having spent part of my childhood in Malaysia and Indonesia, I am a passionate advocate of the importance of maintaining inclusive society. Census data is key to understanding the growth of emerging communities, informing where and how we engage.

The significance of the 2021 Census must be acknowledged as we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Census, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were fully included in Census results for the first time. In the words of Gough Whitlam, ‘Australia’s treatment of her Aboriginal people will be the thing which the world will judge Australia and Australians – not just now, but in the greater perspective of history’.

The 50th anniversary of the 1971 Census – the first Census after the 1967 Referendum – is an important milestone in the history of Australia.

Another historic achievement for the nation and the ABS has been the successful delivery of the Census during the pandemic. The ABS successfully navigated through COVID‑19 restrictions to conduct a safe and secure Census. This was an impressive feat during a challenging and evolving operating environment, and I commend them for this.

I also commend the many Australians who took the time to diligently fill in their Census forms while under COVID lockdown.

I am pleased to note that Dr Gruen and the ABS have engaged an independent advisory panel to review Census data and provide a report on its quality.

The ABS’s tagline for the 2021 Census has been that ‘Every stat tells a story’. Historically, the Australian Census has led to remarkable discoveries, surprises and stories about our nation. Interestingly, the results of the 1911, 1921, 1933 Censuses found a curious pattern in the data on deaf‑mutism (as it was known then) in a specific age cohort of young people. Research and analysis by ophthalmologist Norman McAllister Gregg, and statistician Oliver Lancaster, led to discovery of the link between rubella and congenital problems in unborn children.

On a different note, I recently learnt that the 1947 Census was the only Australian Census to ever ask if a dwelling had access to a flushing toilet. Fifty‑two percent of dwellings did, however three per cent of these dwellings actually shared a flushing toilet with another dwelling! How times have changed.

In more recent times, the 2016 Census showed how multicultural Australia had become with half of the population a first or second, generation migrant.

As ‘Every stat tells a story’ – every Census must tell a multitude of stories. What will be the big stories from the 2021 census? We’re about to find out.

It is a true honour to launch the 2021 Census data today alongside so many capable and talented people from the ABS and the broader Australian Public Service. Thank you to those who have worked hard to deliver the 2021 Census. There is much to be proud of today.

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