The Australian Bureau of Statistics will for the first time open up to 400 information hubs across the country in a bid to curb census hesitancy amid rising misinformation and scepticism during the pandemic.
It comes as the agency launches its new advertising campaign on Sunday to help promote understanding and participation ahead of the August survey, the Sunday Canberra Times can reveal.
The campaign will target people hesitant to fill out responses after pre-Covid market research revealed there was a knowledge gap over the benefits the census data provided the nation.
Experts have also voiced concerns the rise in misinformation and scare campaigns in recent years, along with changing perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, could also negatively impact response rates.
The campaign, which begins more than a month ahead of the August 10 census launch date, will include case studies to highlight how community organisations use census data along with "fill in the form" sessions.
Up to 400 census information hubs will also be opened and operated across the country to promote the census and assist with participation, the ABS confirmed.
A spokesperson for the agency said it was hoping the measures would allow it to achieve the same participation rate as the previous census.
"The Australian public has always strongly supported the census," a spokesperson said.
"For example, the 2016 census had a response rate of 95 per cent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is aiming for the same response rate in 2021."
The statistics agency came under fire over the last census it conducted in 2016 after failures with IT system caused website crashes, while others had concerns over how the data was collected and used.
Social demographer at the Australian National University Dr Liz Allen said many concerns came from confusion over its purpose, adding there were laws to protect privacy and limit government intervention into the data.
"I think a great deal of the misinformation and misunderstandings around census at present come from a place of fear," Dr Allen said.
"It's not surprising that we've seen so much concern over census in more recent time because mainstream and social media have included, and almost promoted, false information."
While it was important to note concerns, the census provided the government with crucial information to help it allocate and improve services, Dr Allen said.
"The reality is that without the census, Australia would be poorer," she said.
"COVID has proven a major challenge to Australians. But Australians have embraced data and evidence in a way that I suspect people will get behind the census to ensure an accurate reflection of all of us."
The census is set to include new questions on long term health conditions and on service in the Australian Defence Force.
Dr Allen said it was encouraging to see the additions but she'd like to see this expanded further in subsequent censuses.
"I would like to see census 2026 enable the diversity of Australia be better reflected," she said.
"From gender, sexuality, ethnicity and family structures, Australia is not the same as it was when the census form was put together.
"In fact, the 2021 census form is the first time we've seen changes to the questionnaire in around 20 years - an entire generation - due to government funding cuts.
"I can't wait to see the latest data improvements in the information it provides about the nation."
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