Retention of the Australian Census Campaign – Save the Census

In February 2002, AFFHO representatives met with senior management of the National Archives in Canberra to discuss progress with the transfer of the 2001 Census data to microfilm for 99 year Storage. AFFHO has long been lobbying for the retention of these forms in the archives.

The scanning of about 10 million census forms by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has been completed.

There was a very positive public response to the 2001 census survey and the four million-dollar ‘Want to be Famous’ ABS advertising campaign. There was very little negative comment in the news media about the plans for retention.

Australia’s 300,000 strong genealogical community and their many family members and friends did a mighty job in encouraging a strong positive retention vote and we are confident of a good result to the optional retention question (Q50).

We believe this will encourage future federal governments to retain all of Australia’s valuable census files in the future.

Planning for the 2006 census is already under way and the final results on Q50 will have a bearing on the wording of future retention questions. We understand these will also impact on government policy in relation to retention of the 2006 survey forms.

It is still AFFHO’s policy that microfilm copies of all original returns for the 2006 census and future surveys should be retained in the National Archives in Australia because they are an invaluable record of Australian family history. The census is the only government record that comes close to recording the name, address and occupation of every Australian. No other sources, such as electoral rolls and birth certificates come close to national coverage.

Although the Australian Government changed its census destruction policy and saved part of the 2001 survey (about 10 million names), it has not yet made a decision with respect to the 2006 census. This is now under review.

Full details of the Save the Census Campaign over the past 25 years can be found in an article called, pdfPublic Policy Revolt: Saving the 2001 Australian Census by Stephen Mutch, the former Federal member for Cook in NSW. This article appeared in the Nov 2002 isssue of the journal, Archives and Manuscripts, published by the Australian Society of Archivists, PO Box 83 O’Connor, ACT 2602.

Members of the AFFHO Census Working Party (CWP) CWP have met a number of times already this calendar year to discuss the retention of the next Australian Census (2006). The CWP members are Stephen Mutch, Don Jewell, Bruce Garner and Nick Vine Hall.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics advised AFFHO on 12 February 2002 that it intends to seek the views of stakeholders and the community at large on this forthcoming survey. In particular it will be seeking views on the aspects of collection operations, processing, output of results, privacy and confidentiality.

In June 2003 the ABS intends to publish a paper called 2006 Census of Population and Housing ABS Views on Content and Procedures (cat. no. 2007.0). This publication will outline ABS plans in the above areas. We understand there will be a period of six weeks for interested parties to make submissions. We urge all genealogical societies to do so in respect to the importance of the retention of identified census data in the National Archives. The first national census in Australia for which identified data has beeen retained since 1828 is the 2001 survey, of which only about 50 percent survives. Copies of the above-mentioned paper will be free of charge and it will be published on the ABS Website at Hard copies should be requested in advance by email at or by phone from David Nuenburg (02) 6252 5000. Those making submisssions are invited to contact the CWP for advice at Nick Vine Hall,

Chairman, AFFHO Census Working Party
10 March 2003
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