Misel Burford has friends who take the census as a bit of a joke. But she’s working on them.
“If you don’t share your views and if you don’t share your information with the government, how is the government supposed to know where to direct funding?” the 23-year-old said.
Ms Burford is one of many young Australians about to fill out her first census on August 9, but is also in the 20-24 age group historically most undercounted in the national survey held every five years.
While Ms Burford is in favour of the government having a better idea about young people, she said not everyone her age is interested.
Misel Burford: “How is the government supposed to know where to direct funding?”
Misel Burford: “How is the government supposed to know where to direct funding?” Photo: Peter Rae
“Across different friendship groups – the friends that have finished uni and in good paying jobs would be more inclined to [fill out the census],” she said.
“There are friends that do still take the census as a joke, or say ‘I’ll just give it back the way I found it’.”
Ms Burford believes people her age would take the survey more seriously if they knew were better informed about how it was used by government.
“If there was a little bit more information on what your input would actually be doing for the government and [the spending of] taxpayers’ money, I think young people would be more inclined to complete it,” she said.
It is compulsory to complete the census form on August 9. Individuals who do not can be fined.
The groups most likely to be under-represented in the count are generally under 30, a demographic that makes up around 40 per cent of the population – a problem when attempting to document an accurate reflection of Australians.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reached 98 per cent of households in 2011, but head of the 2016 census Duncan Young would like to see a more complete reflection of young Australians.
“It’s used in the development of policies and programs,” he said. “For young people, there’s obviously an interest in higher education, and educational investments, affordable housing projects, public transport.
“For all of those kind of decisions, having an accurate understanding of who your population are and their characteristics is critical in making sure that [projects and polices] are planned for and put in place with the right infrastructure and investments.”
Mr Young said despite the rhetoric that young people are less likely to take the census seriously, ABS research shows that young people are just as supportive as other demographics – it’s a lack of awareness that is the difference.
“A large proportion of [the 20-24] group have indicated to us that they didn’t know it was compulsory for them,” he said. “They didn’t get around to it – they’re busy people often balancing education and employment.”
With the 2016 edition marking the first time the census can be completed online, Mr Duncan notes it is “a more relevant approach for young people in Australia”, and hopes it will have an impact.
“Up to even the last census our approach was that the best way to contact people was to go and knock on their doors,” he said. “That is a method that – as people are working, studying, living in secure apartment buildings – becomes less and less effective.”