Promoting Representation Through Data: The Case For More Comprehensive Ethnicity Data In Australia

Liz Allen  
Demographer and lecturer at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods Australian National University, Canberra ACT, Australia


What if data used to inform knowledge is incomplete or false, leading to misunderstandings about the social world? In Australia, what is known about ethnic diversity is based on an outdated definition and inadequate measure of multiculturalism. This article explores how gaps in data can lead to and further entrench disempowerment. Using a sociodemographic approach, this paper examines the ways in which data can create and maintain poor representation; via collection, analysis and infrastructure. This paper demonstrates that what is counted matters for equality, and lays out what is necessary to help promote ethnic diversity through data collection.


  1. Allan, J. 2001. “Review of the Measurement of Ethnicity: Classifications and Issues.” Statistics New Zealand, September. Accessed 30/04/2021.
  2. Allen, L. 2020. The Future of Us: Demography Gets a Makeover. Sydney, Australia: NewSouth Publishing.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 1994. “Testing of Ethnic Origin Questions for the 1996 Census” ABS Working Paper 94/4 — Ancestry, 1996, 30 November.!OpenDocument Accessed 11/2/2021.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2002. “Ancestry” 2001 Census of Population and Housing — Fact Sheet: Ancestry, 2001. 3 June. Accessed 11/2/2021.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2020. 2021 Census topics and data release plan.16 November. Accessed 11/2/2021.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics. NDa. Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) Re-search Projects. Accessed 10/05/2021.
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics. NDb. ABS Media Statement on sexual orientation and gender identity questions and the 2021 Census. Accessed 28/02/2021.
  8. Australian Bureau of Statistics. NDc. Census. Accessed 5/11/2020.
  9. Australian Government, ND. Accessed 08/05/2021.
  10. Australian Government, Department of Social Services. ND. Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children. Accessed 08/05/2021.
  11. Australian Government, Office of the Data Com-missioner. 2020a. Office of the Data Commission-er: Background. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Accessed 05/11/2020.
  12. Australian Government, Office of the National Data Commissioner. 2020b. “Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020: Exposure Draft.” Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the National Data Commissioner, Con-sultation Paper September 2020. Accessed 05/11/2020.
  13. Australian Government, Office of the National Data Commissioner. 2020c. “Accreditation Framework.” Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office of the National Data Commissioner, Discussion Paper. Accessed 05/11/2020.
  14. Cormack, D. 2010. The Practice and Politics of Counting: Ethnicity Data in Official Statistics in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Wellington: Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare. Accessed on 10 February 2021.
  15. Dee, P. 1994. “General Equilibrium Models and Policy Advice in Australia.” Industry Commission Staff Information Paper: presented at IFAC Workshop on Computing in Economics and Fi-nance, Amsterdam, 8–10 June. Accessed 8/05/2021.
  16. Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia, 2020. “If We Don’t Count It…It Doesn’t Count: Towards a Consistent National Data Collection and Reporting on Cultural, Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity”. Accessed on 11 February 2021.
  17. Green, E., Sarrasin, O., and Fasel, N. 2015. “Immigration: social psychology aspects.” In J.D. Wright (ed) International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences, 2nd edition, volume 11. London: Elsevier.
  18. Growing up in Australia. ND. The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Accessed 08/05/2021.
  19. Guest, A. 2020. “Mental health of LGBTIQ four times worse than general population.” AM, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 13 November. Accessed 17 May 2021.
  20. Horn, R. 1987. “Ethnic origin in the Australian census.” Journal of the Australian Population Association, 4(1): 1–12.
  21. Howard, C. 2019. “The politics of numbers: explaining recent challenges at the Australian Bureau of Statistics”. Australian Journal of Political Science, 54:1, 65–81.
  22. Khoo, S-E. 1991. “Consistency of ancestry reporting between parents and children in the 1986 census.” Journal of the Australian Population Association, 8(2): 129–139.
  23. Lepenies, P. 2016. The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP. New York, US: Columbia University Press.
  24. McIlory, T. 2020. “2021 Census could be Australia’s Last Five-Yearly Population Snapshot.” Australian Financial Review, 8 December. Accessed 05/11/2020.
  25. McLachlan, R., Gilfillan, G., and Gordon, J. 2013. “Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia.” Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper, July. Accessed 8/05/2021.
  26. Melbourne Institute. ND. HILDA Survey. Accessed 08/05/2021.
  27. Morrissey, L. 2017. “Alternative Facts do Exist: Beliefs, Lies, and Politics.” The Conversation. 5 October. Accessed 19/11/2020.
  28. Nash, E. 2020. “Science, misinformation and dis-sent.” The Philosopher’s Zone, Australian Broad-casting Corporation, 22 November.,-misinformation-and-dissent/12901888
  29. Perkins, M. 2001. “Australian mixed race.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(2): 177–199.
  30. Rocha, L., Fozdar, F., Acedera. K., and Yeoh, B. 2018. “Mixing race, nation, and ethnicity in Asia and Australasia.” Social Identities 25(3): 289–293.
  31. Solof, C., Lawrence, D., and Johnstone, R. 2005. “Sample design.” LSAC Technical Paper No. 1. Australian Institute of Family Studies, May. Accessed 17 May 2021.
  32. Statistics Canada. 2020. “Ethnic or cultural origins: Technical report on changes for the 2021 Census” 20 July.
  33. Accessed 11 February 2021.
  34. Stevens, G., Ishizawa, H., and Grbic, D. 2015. “Measuring race and ethnicity in the censuses of Australia, Canada, and the United States: Paral-lels and paradoxes.” Canadian Studies in Population, 42(1–2): 13–34.
  35. Timperio, A., Salmon, J., Telford, A., and Craw-ford, D. 2005. “Perceptions of local neighborhood environments and their relationship to childhood overweight and obesity.” International Journal of Obesity, 29: 170–175.
  36. United Nations. 2017. “Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Census-es: Revision 3”. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division. Accessed 17 May 2021.
  37. Waring, M. 2003. “Counting for something! Recognising women’s contribution to the global economy through alternative accounting systems.” Gender and Development, 11:1, 35–43.
  38. Watson, N. 2011. “Methodology for the HILDA top-up sample”. HILDA Project Technical Paper Series, No. 1/11, September. Accessed 17 May 2021.
  39. Watson, N., and Wooden, M. 2004. “Sample attrition in the HILDA survey”. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 7 (3): 293-308.
  40. Yu, M. 2017. “'I Am Not Your Negro' Gives James Baldwin's Words New Relevance.” All Things Considered, NPR, Washington, 3 February.
How to Cite
Allen L. Promoting Representation Through Data: The Case For More Comprehensive Ethnicity Data In Australia. LiC [Internet]. 2021Aug.29 [cited 2022May24];37(2):54-1. Available from:

Send mail to Author

Send Cancel