At midnight on Tuesday 9 August 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) wants to know where you are, what language you speak, and where you come from. The Census, which takes place every five years, is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the ABS. Its aim is to measure the number and key characteristics of people in Australia on Census night, and the dwellings in which they live.

The 2006 Census data revealed that the second most common language (other than English) spoken in Australian homes is Greek, at 1.3 per cent of the population, behind Italian (1.6 per cent), and above Cantonese at 1.2 per cent.On August 9, the shutter will open and close for this snapshot of the Australian people, which influences future policy making and funding decisions by Federal and State Government in relation to schools, hospitals, roads, health services and public transport. This time around the ABS is promoting the completion of the Census online and expects some 30 per cent of Australians to use the eCensus, compared to 10 per cent in 2006. As Census night falls at the beginning of August, many Greek Australians are likely to be on vacation, and the ABS has confirmed that even with the online process available, this cannot and must not be used by individuals who normally reside in Australia who will be overseas on August 9. Data gathering for the Census is reliant on recording information from individuals who are physically located in Australia on Census night.

Though there are questions on the form which ask for basic information on members of the household who are temporarily absent, ABS spokesman David McHugh told Neos Kosmos that this information was important “to get the family/household structure coding correct, and will not account for absent usual residents in the count.” The primary method used to account for Australian residents who are overseas on Census night will rely on information collected on incoming and outgoing passenger cards completed at Australian border controls (ports and airports).

These figures are then compiled to calculate the number of residents temporarily overseas (or RTOs) on Census night. “RTOs are Australian residents who were not in Australia on Census night, but who returned to Australia within 12 months after Census night, provided they were not away overseas for 12 months or more, says McHugh, “so Greek Australians who are overseas on Census night will be accounted for in official estimates of Australia’s population.”

Whilst the RTO process will provide data on the number of residents temporarliy overseas on Census night and their country of birth, Neos Kosmos points out, that the RTO calculation will not supply data beyond that basic information, as RTOs are not required to complete Census forms and therefore details of their ethnic heritage (a question on the Census form) remain unidentified.

Paul Lowe, Head of the ABS Population Census Program told Neos Kosmos that whilst the Census form is unchanged from 2006, to improve the quality of the data gathered, the ABS will focus on improving coverage, “especially for small geographic areas, small population groups and communities in remote areas. This time around there’s a big push on the Internet option – the ‘eCensus’ online form itself will still be in English, but there will be online help available via our website. People can also ring our enquiry service. We’ll be providing translators there that will guide people through the census form and answer any questions.”

For those concerned about the issue of confidentiality, the ABS executive stressed that no individual outside the ABS has access to the individual Census responses. “We are independent from government. That separation is crucial. No other government agencies including Centrelink and the ATO will see the responses,” says Lowe.

“We’ve got a one hundred year history of keeping people’s information private and confidential, we take it very seriously. If people are concerned about the Census collector seeing their information, they can do it online, and if they still want to do it on paper, they can always request a privacy envelope.”

For detailed information in English on how to complete the census go to or call the helpline 1300 338776. If you want to speak to someone in Greek about navigating the Census form, call the multilingual helpline on 1300 340120. You will hear various languages before the instructions in Greek. Press 9 to go directly to a Greek speaking agent.