Every $1 spent on the Census brings $6 to the economy, report finds

By Shannon Jenkins

September 25, 2019

Picture: Getty Images

For every $1 invested in the Census, $6 of value was generated to the Australian economy, according to consultancy firm Lateral Economics.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics commissioned Lateral Economics to undertake an independent valuation of the Census. In their report, the firm estimated an annual benefit of $800 million from the Census, compared to a five year total cost of $670 million. 

Services planning and targeting, infrastructure planning and targeting, improved policy design, commercial uses and public goods were five areas of value for the Census, the report found.

Dr Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics said the study looked at value in terms of major and minor economic value and non-economic value to the Australian community.

“Our research and extensive consultation across the Australian public and private sectors led us to the clear conclusion that Australia’s Census generates far more economic benefits than costs,” he said.

“The Australian Census plays a critical role in building evidence and decision making to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and integrity of Australia’s economic and social infrastructure. We conclude that the Australian community’s collective effort every five years to undertake the Census is more than worth it.”

READ MORE: Valuing the Australian Census

The report stated that the cost of the Census would have to rise to six times its current cost (around $3 billion every five years) before it started to become cost ineffective.

“This is before accounting for unquantifiable benefits associated with improving the fairness and integrity of our democracy and government. However, we did encounter some evidence that the value of the Census can be increased further at minimal cost,” the report read.

The report concluded that the potential value from linking Census data to administrative data sets “holds immense potential”, and there may be ways to cut costs associated with the development of Census-equivalent statistics, such as relying less on the general public to answer questions every five years. It noted that some “experienced users” have argued there is room for the ABS to make data more widely available with “negligible” increase in privacy risks.

Census and Statistical Services Division General Manager Chris Libreri said the ABS was prompted to commission the valuation for the first time in Australia after similar international studies were conducted.

“We understand that the Census is widely used, and we are pleased to see the range and diversity of use of Census data across all sectors of government, business and society,” he said.

The next Australian Census will take place in 2021.


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