Do NOT Boycott the Census

Crikey today published an article calling for Australians to boycott the census to be held on 9 August this year (Bernard Keane: ‘The 2016 Census is a high threat to your privacy – boycott it’,, behind a paywall).  I submitted a response to the article, and reproduce it below for non-Crikey subscribers.  I urge people: DO NOT boycott the census.  Instead, take this opportunity to be counted as a citizen, and to be part of the common legacy we bequest to future generations.

Dear Crikey,

I am saddened to read your ‘boycott the census’ call.

Every citizen and resident has a right and a responsibility to be counted in the census.  We had a constitutional referendum in 1967, after a long campaign, to finally stop the exclusion of Aboriginal people from being counted.  In doing so we finally began treating Indigenous people as fellow citizens and equals.

Every same-sex couple has been able to exercise a right to have their relationship recognised since the 2011 census provided for our relationships to be officially recorded.  Despite the obstructionism of Christianists, the existence of our relationships can no longer be denied, thanks to the census, and our named census forms will one day be a monument to our relationships.

I have, since the 2001 census, always agreed to my named census form being retained and archived for access by researchers 99 years later, especially family historians.  It is one of the few bequests I can make.  I have also come to know many of my ancestors in ways otherwise impossible through the named census forms that were retained in the past, and I am thankful for that legacy.

By the way, such named forms are only available in Australia for the early colonial period.  Your claim that that citizens “provide copious, highly personal detail of themselves for indefinite retention and use by governments … is longstanding tradition in Australia” is nonsense, as any understanding of the history of censuses and their destruction in Australia will show.  The campaigns by historians for retaining named census forms in the 1980s and 90s was constantly attacked by officious ‘we know what’s good for you’ types, and unfortunately your crusade seems to adopt the same tone and language.


Named census form, York District, Western Australia 1859 – should such historical records be destroyed for ‘privacy’? Source: 

I have enjoyed being a Crikey reader for some years now, but the semi-hysterical nature of the article smacks of a personal crusade rather than the informed opinion that has been one of Crikey’s strengths.  Claims of “sinister uses” and “targets” and “every Australian will be tracked down” and “forced to upload extensive personal information” is too melodramatic for me to take seriously.  Should I expect Keanu Reeves/Neo to come knocking?

Your claim that the census form contains “copious, highly personal detail” sounds like a claim made by someone who has never actually filled-in a census form.  For ‘copious, highly personal detail’, try filling in an income protection insurance application, especially the questions about your sex life.  The amount of personal information collected and misused by private corporations outweighs the alleged abuses you claim of census data.  I don’t remember you ever calling for a boycott of the incessant gathering and trading in other people’s personal data by private corporations, with their ever-increasing surveillance of us all for their own private commercial gain.  Indeed, in this article you seem to regard them and their “higher standards” as exemplars to be emulated.  I don’t even recall you ever calling for a boycott of Commonwealth agencies such as Centrelink or the ATO because of the vast amounts of personal data they amass – far more than any census form will ever record.

A whole collection of named census or muster forms, published for all to see.  Source:

A whole collection of named census or muster forms, published for all to see. Should this be banned?  Source:

As a citizen I chose to participate in the census.  As a consumer I choose to emulate your example, but to boycott the census-haters.  Sadly, that means boycotting Crikey by the only means I know how, returning each daily edition to sender, un-opened, and eventually not renewing my subscription.  It pains me to do this, and I will certainly miss my daily read, but I cannot support boycotting the census and in doing so surrendering my own citizenship, because that is all your boycott really achieves.  As a citizen I have a responsibility to be counted, and a right to have my named census form retained and archived as a permanent historical record of my continuing citizenship.  That is the right I chose to exercise.