The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) arguing in favor of changing its census (H/T The Conversation). Currently taken every five years (like Canada used to do), there is interest in changing that to every 10 years. Unlike in Canada, where the head of Statistics Canada resigned over the change of the census from mandatory to voluntary, the ABS chief defended shifting the census. David Kalisch has argued that the current census was a modest input into national statistics.
Given the challenges Canada has faced since it went to a voluntary survey, I understand, and share, the caution some have expressed in making significant changes to a data tool. If the shift to every ten years is accompanied with more regular population surveys (much like in the United States), it is possible that Australia could strengthen its data gathering and analysis capabilities. But the caution encouraged by Canadians should be well considered. Cutting costs appears to be part of the motivation behind these changes. I have a hard time reconciling that interest with increasing the number of surveys taken over time (a less frequent census plus more regular population surveys). The people in Australia – policymakers, researchers, and other concerned citizens – need to hold the ABS to account and demand to see how the agency plans to maintain, if not increase, the value of the information it collects. The Save Our Census campaign indicates that some are.