Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer
26 October 2004 - 3 December 2007
ABS 2006 Census Recruitment Campaign Launch
Monday 13th February 2006
Parliament House, Canberra
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The Australian Bureau of Statistics or ABS has embarked on one of the biggest peacetime recruiting operations in Australia's history.
By the time this recruitment drive is completed in a few months, 30,000 people across Australia will have been employed to help deliver and collect Census forms.
The Census will be held on 8 August this year. It is conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics every five years. The Census is of vital importance to communities across the nation. It tells us the size and nature of our population, and helps us define who we are as Australians.
Information from the Census is used as the basis for planning such things as where schools and hospitals will be built. It helps community organisations plan where best to direct their services and business decide where to set up shop.
Census information forms the basis for federal funding to the states and territories. It is central to our democratic system. Information from the Census is used to determine how many seats each state and territory has in the House of Representatives.
As Dennis mentioned, the first stage of this great national undertaking has already occurred. Sixty District Managers have been employed from local communities across the nation.
They have been thoroughly trained in their duties, and now they, in their turn, will select, train and manage about 3,500 Area Supervisors throughout Australia.
Then in April the Area Supervisors will recruit and train, then manage about 26,000 Collectors. There will also be some reserves. All these people will be recruited as officers of the Australian Bureau of Statistics on a temporary basis.
So you see that in the recruitment stages of the Census process, right through to the distribution and collection of forms, the ABS has developed a very community focused system.
Become an Area Supervisor or Collector and you will become part of a great national tradition and make an important contribution to the community. And you will be paid for making this contribution.
The ABS celebrated its centenary last year and produced a fine account of its history, Informing a Nation. Known before 1975 as the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, the ABS has been conducting national Censuses since 1911. Of course at the next Census in 2011 the ABS will celebrate 100 years of Census taking.
The Census this year will be the 15th since 1911. To begin with Censuses were to be held once every ten years, but Depression and war put things out of alignment. From 1961 Censuses were held every five years.
But whatever the changes over that period Australians have come to know and trust the ABS. They know that the information that they provide for the Census will be respected and kept confidential.
In the Census of 1911 many Collectors used horses. In fact a drought in Western Australia meant that some Collectors were unable to find feed for their horses. Flooding and bogs stranded some Collectors in Queensland. But still the job was done.
The Census of that year put the Australian population at 4.6 million. The last Census in 2001 put the population at about 19 million. And of course the population has since passed 20 million. The Census has grown up with Australia.
One of the Census questions asked in 1911 was about deaf-mutism. This question was also asked in the next two Censuses of 1921 and 1933.
In the 1911 Census deaf-mutism was found to be very high among 10-14 year-olds. The Statistician noted this in his report.
In the 1921 Census the same pattern existed among 20-24 year-olds, proving that the 1911 result was not a statistical anomaly. This time the Statistician's report suggested a medical reason for the figures and stated, " ... it is a reasonable assumption therefore that the abnormal number of deaf-mutes ... was the result of the extensive epidemic of infectious diseases which occurred soon after many in those age groups were born."
Several diseases were named as possible candidates, but not rubella. The Statistician's report for the Census of 1933 repeated these conclusions.
During World War II Australian doctor Sir Norman McAllister Gregg discovered that a significant number of congenital cataract cases occurred in children of around the same age. He overheard two mothers talking in his surgery about how they both had rubella during their pregnancies and began to investigate a possible link.
Prompted by his work Australian statistician Oliver Lancaster examined the Census figures of 1911, 1921 and 1933.
As stated in Informing a Nation,"Lancaster found that there was a peak in the level of deaf-mutism in the age cohort born in 1898 and 1899 and that this matched with a known outbreak of rubella in those years.
"This was the first time in the world that the link between rubella and congenital problems with unborn children was firmly established."
That happened in 1951. Lancaster, who died in 2001, is in fact an outstanding figure in world statistics. In 1956, using medical statistics, he also discovered that melanoma (black mole cancer) was associated with latitude, that is the intensity of sunlight. These days such a fact seems obvious, but it had to be discovered. And this largely forgotten Australian was the man who did it.
His work on rubella remains an outstanding example of how Census figures can be used. Every Collector who took part in those early Censuses are part of that story.
Without them it would not have been possible. And now the Area Supervisors and Collectors of today are direct inheritors of that proud tradition.
As Dennis has mentioned, people like Ruth McFadden in the audience today, who has worked on seven previous Censuses, is a fine example of that tradition of service.
It should be stressed that the Census aim is to count everyone in Australia on Census night. The only exception is diplomats and their families. So people like overseas students and short term visitors to the country are counted. If they are here on 8 August, they are part of the scope of the Census and should fill in a Census form. Counting people who might not realise they need to be counted is one of the challenges Census workers face.
It is also important to realise that the Census is arguably the most important source of statistical information in Australia. Without the statistical data based on the Census, planning and decision making that affects all Australians would be based on inadequate data. It is for these reasons that the Government has increased the funding available for the 2006 Census.
There will be an additional page on the Census form which will provide information about people with disabilities who require support and assistance, about volunteering and other forms of unpaid work, and household Internet access.
There will be a facility which will enable those who wish to do so to complete the Census over the Internet and Australians who wish to do so will be able to preserve their Census information securely in the national archives for 99 years. After that time it will be made available for genealogical and other research purposes.
While the ABS is calling today for Area Supervisors, it is Collectors who the public will deal directly with during the Census process. With their bright yellow bags, Collectors will become a familiar sight as they knock on doors.
In the lead-up to Census night they will deliver forms to every household in the nation. From the shores of the Pacific, to the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean, from the islands of the Torres Strait to the islands of Bass Strait. From Arnhem Land to Albany, from Mildura to Manjimup, from Toowoomba to Toongabbie, from Queenstown to Queanbeyan, from Gundaroo to Goondiwindi, from Wyndham to Whyalla, not to mention our big capital cities, Collectors will be there. They will be everywhere.
The landscape will vary from dried up creek beds to the banks of the mighty Murray; from crocodile country to southern timber towns; from snowy highlands to coastal hamlets, from inner city residential towers to city suburbs.
Their transport will vary from helicopters for more remote communities to four-wheel drives. But in the end, as daunting as the task seems, the job will be done as it has always been.
I am very pleased to launch this great recruitment drive and wish the ABS all the best in the coming months.