Counting Australia: An Approach to a More Inclusive 2026 Census

Posted by  D&M Research Team

POSTED ON  January 12, 2024

TAGS  ABS, Census


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has been engaging in an extensive review process for the 2026 Census. This review is not just a routine update; it’s a mission to ensure that the Census reflects the dynamic tapestry of Australian society.

The Review Process: A Structured Two-Phase Approach

The ABS’s review for the 2026 Census has been structured into two main phases:

  • Phase One: This phase was focused on gathering public input to understand what Australians expect from the Census. It involved the consideration of over 260 submissions, which helped identify potential new topics and areas for modification in existing ones.
  • Phase Two: Building on the first phase, this step involved refining the suggestions through a review of over 213 submissions, leading to the consideration of 5 new topics and modifications to 12 existing ones.

Assessment Criteria: Balancing Relevance and Practicality

Each topic proposed for the Census undergoes a comprehensive assessment, based on criteria such as:

  • National Importance: The topic must align with current and ongoing national interests.
  • Data Needs: It should address data requirements at both national and local levels or for specific groups.
  • Collection Feasibility: Assessing the ease of data collection and households’ ability to provide accurate responses is crucial.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: The benefits of collecting the data must justify the costs involved.
  • Data Consistency: Ensuring comparability with past Census data for continuity in long-term studies.

Proposed New Topics: Addressing Societal Changes

The ABS is considering the addition of several new topics to better capture the diverse spectrum of Australian society:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Identity

This topic aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of Indigenous cultural identities. It involves collaborating with Indigenous communities to develop an appropriate statistical framework.

Main Reason for Moving in Last 12 Months

This topic seeks to shed light on the factors influencing population mobility, which is increasingly relevant in areas such as urban planning and policy making.


Recognising the spectrum of gender identities, this proposed addition aims to reflect the diversity of the Australian population in a more comprehensive manner.

Sexual Orientation and Variations of Sex Characteristics

Including these topics is a step towards acknowledging and understanding the diversity in sexual orientations and biological characteristics within the population.

The Path Forward: Finalising the 2026 Census Content

The process leading to the finalisation of the 2026 Census involves several key steps:

  • Development and Testing: The ABS is carefully developing and testing each potential topic to ensure it is practical and meaningful.
  • Ongoing Consultations: Engagement with advisory groups such as the ABS Round Table on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics and the LGBTIQ+ Expert Advisory Committee are crucial for refining these topics.
  • Large-Scale Test in 2024: This test will involve deploying the proposed Census content in a real-world setting to evaluate its effectiveness, clarity, and the quality of data it produces. This exercise is pivotal in identifying any potential issues and making necessary adjustments before the official Census rollout.
  • Government Approval and Implementation: Following government approval, the ABS will make necessary amendments to the Census content.
  • Public Disclosure and Transparency: The finalised list of topics, along with detailed information, will be made available on the ABS website in late 2025.

Conclusion: A Step Towards a More Representative Census

The ongoing review process for the 2026 Census is a significant step in ensuring that it accurately reflects the changes in Australian society. By considering the addition of new topics such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity and gender diversity, the ABS is responding to the evolving needs of the nation. This approach, while practical, is an important move towards a more inclusive and comprehensive national Census. As the process unfolds, the ABS says it remains committed to engaging with the public and stakeholders to ensure that the Census continues to be a reliable and relevant resource for Australia.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (12 December 2023), 2026 Census topic review: Phase two directions, ABS Website, accessed 12 January 2024.

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