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Planning for the 2021 Census 1.1 MB

The 2016 Census was the first to be ‘digital first’, whereby the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) sought to obtain 65 per cent of responses through an online eCensus form. On Census night on 9 August 2016, there was a failure of multiple information technology (IT) controls, particularly for the online eCensus form, which resulted in the closure of the Census webpage for two days.

The failure of multiple IT controls during the 2016 Census reinforced the need for the ABS to implement robust planning arrangements for the 2021 Census including for cyber security, procurement, and review recommendations. An audit of the ABS’ preparedness for the 2021 Census would provide assurance on whether the ABS is on track to delivering its objectives for the Census.

In assessing this objective, the following three high-level criteria were adopted:

  1. Has the ABS established appropriate oversight frameworks for the Census?
  2. Is the ABS taking appropriate steps in developing IT systems for the Census?
  3. Is the ABS addressing key Census risks and implementing Census recommendations?

Main conclusions:

  • The ABS’ planning for the 2021 Census is partly effective.
  • The ABS has established largely appropriate planning and governance arrangements for the Census. The risk framework is compromised by weaknesses in the assurance arrangements.
  • The ABS is partly effective in its development of IT systems for the 2021 Census. Generally appropriate frameworks have been established covering the Census IT systems and data handling, and the procurement of IT suppliers. The ABS has not put in place arrangements to ensure that improvements to its architecture framework, change management processes and cyber security measures will be implemented ahead of the 2021 Census.
  • The ABS has been partly effective in addressing key Census risks, implementing past Census recommendations and ensuring timely delivery of the 2021 Census. Further management attention is required on the implementation and assessment of risk controls.


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Auditor-General Report No.16 2020–21