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Australia Focuses on Indigenous Communities as Census Approaches


FILE - Protesters arrange signs in a social distanced crowd during an Aboriginal-lead Invasion Day rally on Australia Day in Sydney, Jan. 26, 2021.

As Australia prepares for a census, administrators are trying to address significant undercounting of Indigenous communities.

Australia holds a census every five years, giving the government a crucial snapshot of the population to help state and federal authorities direct billions of dollars in public funding, including health care spending.

Aboriginal Australians, though, have historically been underrepresented. At the last census, in 2016, officials estimated Indigenous people were undercounted by more than 17%. Some have refused to complete the survey, while others were not aware of the census or could not be contacted.

John Hill, a remote area team manager at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, described the problem to the Australian Broadcasting Corp, saying, “That is really nearly one in every five Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people were missed out, so that is not that good. If government bodies and service providers do not have accurate figures on what is out there, then there is very little chance people will get the services that they need.”

This year, radio advertising about the census will be translated into 19 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

In 2016, it was estimated that there were almost 800,000 people from the two main Indigenous groups in Australia, representing 3.3% of the total population.

A 1967 referendum changed the Australian constitution to include all Indigenous people in the census for the first time. Prior to that vote, some Aboriginal Australians were counted in separate surveys but not included in the national population count.

This year's census will not include specific questions related to the coronavirus pandemic but is still expected to provide data on how people have been affected.

There are concerns that Australians from non-English-speaking backgrounds may have trouble filling in the form because of restrictions on assistance at libraries and from volunteers because of COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney and surrounding regions.

The census is compulsory and will take place Aug. 10. People who fail to complete the form could be fined up to $160 per day.

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