Australian Census 2021: Anger over one question missing

·5-min read

With the 2021 Census taking place on Tuesday, many Australian's are fuming over the survey neglecting to include questions about sexuality, gender or variations in sexual characteristics — saying they are not being represented in the nation's five-yearly snapshot. 

There will now be a non-binary option, as well and male and female when asked for sex on the form, but members of the LGBTIQ+ community say it's not enough.

Activists in the LGBTIQ+ community have taken to TikTok, furious over the lack of questions relating to intersex people and calling for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the survey questions for the 2026 Australian Census.

LGBTIQ+ say they are being left out of the 2021 Census. Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
LGBTIQ+ say they are being left out of the 2021 Census. Source: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

In 2016, when it came to options for gender, 'other' was added, and in 2021 that will be replaced with 'non-binary'. However, many people say that anyone who doesn't identify as non-binary, male or female won't be counted. 

"This year there are — questions asking about gender identity sexual orientation, or variations in sex characteristics, which means there are 0 ways to determine how many LGBT+ people are living in Australia," one TikTok user Jay said, arguing it makes it difficult to make sure policies and laws are fair to the LGBT+ community when they don't know how big the community is.

"How can we make sure that LGBT+ healthcare is being delivered properly when we don't know how many people need access to it?"

Australian drag queen Shane Gilberto Jenek, who is known for her stage name Courtney Act, slammed the Government for “counting out” people in the LGBTQI+ community.

“Census data is used to allocate resources appropriately across Australia, so for gender and sexuality to not be included in this census is just a bit peculiar," Act told The Project on Thursday.

“I know the UK and New Zealand [have] questions in there about gender and sexuality but still Australia does not.”

Equality Australia says it's a 'missed opportunity'

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia said that despite recommendations from organisations, and the Commonwealth departments of health and social services to include more LGBTIQ+ questions in the census, the ABS decided not to proceed.

“Without these questions, the once-in-five-year snapshot of the population won’t capture the full diversity of our community. It’s a missed opportunity to inform crucial decisions about what services are provided to our communities, and where," Ms Brown said in a statement.

“Once again, lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and queer people won’t be properly counted in this year’s census."

The Equality Australia website says the national census should reflect the diversity of the community, and accurate data would mean no one gets left behind when planning healthcare, education, housing, aged care and other essential services.

Equality Australia, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia and Courtney Act have launched a petition, calling on Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar to ensure the questions are included in the 2026 Census.

The religious question on the Australian census causing controversy

Another question about religious beliefs is also causing controversy among Australians' who argue that the structure of the question is misleading and confusing, saying the question is phrased to assume the person answering it has a religion.

The 1991 census was the first to add “no religion” as an official option and it was moved to the top in 2016 and set apart from the others.

Social media campaigns have urged people to choose "no religion" in response to the question, warning that choosing "other" as a religion is a “trick” to undermine the “no religion” response. However, an ABS spokesperson told The Sydney Morning Herald that these would be added to the “no religion” tally.

The ABS says the 2021 Census will collect information on sex but not gender

According to the ABS, they define a person’s sex as being based on their sex characteristics, such as their chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.

"The sex question is one of the most important in the Census, along with age and location, it directly feeds into the official estimates of Australia’s population.

"People who wish to report their sex as other than male or female will have the option of a ‘non-binary sex’ response category.

"Gender is about social and cultural differences in identity, expression and experience as a man, woman or non-binary person. A person’s gender may differ from their sex and may also differ from what is indicated on their legal documents."

Changes to the 2021 census in Australia

Although the question about religion is still on the survey, the ABS have added in two new questions for the census this time around — the first time new questions have been added since 2006.

The 2021 census will ask respondents if they have any long-term health conditions, choosing from a list including asthma, cancer, depression, anxiety and dementia.

There will also be a question about whether someone has ever served in the Australian Defence Force, including the reserves.

What is the Census?

The Census takes place every five years and is the largest gathering of data in the country, counting every person in the nation and providing detailed information about Australian households.

The aim of the Census is to provide a snapshot of where the nation is at and likely to be within the next five years, in terms of age, wealth and lifestyle.

This data is used to create government policy and plan for the services we all need, such as schools, hospitals and roads.

As of Wednesday, August 8 the ABS estimated it has received 1,023,561 Census forms.

“It’s a great reminder that people can complete their Census as soon as they receive their instructions if they know where they’ll be on 10 August," Andrew Henderson, Census Executive Director and National Spokesperson said.

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