Statement of regret by the ABS

Statement of regret by the ABS

I cried when I was on my way to work when I heard the story on the radio. Finally, a story of courage, with a moment of joy and relief. No longer invisible.

In the 2021 census, parents and families were only counted when there was a mother and a father. Families like mine, where are there are two dads or two mums, were simply not counted. I had to say who my daughter’s mother and father were and what country they were born in. There was no recognition that a child could have two mums or two dads – even though the law has long allowed for these – and they exist.

April Long was not only annoyed like I was, but she was determined to do something about it. April, who identifies as non-binary, has a female partner and a child- and felt similarly excluded, as I did. With the support of Equality Australia, April made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission that the Australian Bureau of Statistics as to a breach of human rights. That complaint has been in the system for two years – and has now been resolved – with the ABS issuing a statement of regret and promising to do better next time:

“The ABS recognises the importance of these issues and regrets any distress experienced by members of the LGBTIQ+ community when responding to the 2021 Census and earlier Censuses. The ABS recognises that some members of the LGBTIQ+ community experienced hurt, stress, anguish and other negative reactions to some Census questions.”

Yes, we did.

“The ABS is aware that for some respondents, the absence of questions on their gender identity, variations of sex characteristics or sexual orientation meant that they felt invisible and excluded when completing the Census and in the Census results produced.”

Yes, we did.

“The ABS is also aware that the framing of some 2021 Census questions and certain language used in those questions, and across the history of Australian Censuses, was also seen or experienced by some as hurtful, confusing, demeaning and discriminatory.

Yes, it was.

“The ABS would like to acknowledge that April Long and Equality Australia have shared their experiences and the experiences of those they represent with the 2021 Census and worked constructively with the ABS in the spirit of improving the Census going forward.

The ABS has worked and will continue to work, closely with the LGBTIQ+ community in the development of the Census, surveys and the design of statistical standards and classifications. The ABS is committed to processes and approaches for the 2026 Census to minimise the risk of further harm. This includes both steps already taken, and further steps planned.

Since the finalisation of the 2021 Census approach, the ABS has:

  • Reviewed and updated the ABS Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables in partnership with LGBTIQ+ community representatives.
  • Introduced the collection of all elements of the Standard to a number of ABS household surveys.
  • Expanded the Census consultation process to a two-phase process to maximise community participation and ensure the breadth and transparency of the process.
  • Implemented processes to make sure that all feedback received by the ABS on Census topics and questions were fed directly into the 2026 review process, and not required organisations or members of the community to resubmit this information.

In addition to these actions, the ABS is committing to:

  • Establishing a LGBTIQ+ Expert Advisory Committee for the 2026 Census to provide guidance and input into the Census topic review and framing of Census questions, and the way that Census data is processed and disseminated.
  • Invest in the support of the LGBTIQ+ community and broader community to participate fully in the 2026 Census through the development of educational, promotional and support materials, with advice of the LGBTIQ+ Expert Advisory Committee.

The Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP has agreed to meet with the expert advisory committee in relation to his responsibilities with topics for the 2026 Census.”

Finally. Hopefully, there will be equality next time.

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