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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 720

Question No. 166

Mr Wells asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 18 May 1983:

(1) Is it a fact that the last Australian census for which records have been kept is dated 1828.

(2) Is it also a fact that this census still provides valuable material for genealogical societies and other Australians interested in tracing their origins .

(3) Can he say if many other countries, such as the United Kingdom, retain census information, or more specifically that part of it which does enable people to trace their ancestors, but keep that information secret for 100 years.

(4) Has his attention been drawn to the civil liberties argument that census information should not be publicly available; if so, will he be prepared to accommodate this argument to the extent of keeping census information intact but not available to the public until 100 years after its collection.

Mr Keating —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) No. I understand that records survive, in whole or in part, in States other than Queensland, for some pre-Frederation censuses held subsequent to 1828.

(2) I have no information at my disposal which would enable me to answer this part of the question.

(3) In the United Kingdom, census information is made available for historical, genealogical, sociological and other research after a lapse of 100 years. The United States makes census returns available to the public after 72 years. In New Zealand, commencing with the 1966 Census, schedules collected in every second census will be retained and made available for research purposes after 100 years. Information on retention practices in other comparable countries in not readily available.

(4) I am aware of the civil liberties argument against the retention of census schedules and support it. I concur with the decision announced by the then Treasurer in November 1979 that the practice of destroying all records of names and addresses and of not entering into the computer record such names and addresses should be continued.

The legal obligation on people to answer census questions is accompanied by strict measures to ensure confidentiality of the information provided. It would be inconsistent with the purpose of the census, and the guarantee of confidentiality, to retain information on identified persons and households, even if public access were denied for 100 years after collection of the information.