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Defence Census
putting the people into our planning

Defence Census

The 2019 Defence Census results are now available. This was the eighth census conducted by Defence since 1991. The census captures the demographic profile of the entire Defence workforce of around 100 000 people comprising the permanent (SERCAT 7 and 6) and reserve (SERCAT 5, 4 and 3) components of the ADF and the Defence APS.

The Defence Census is used extensively by ADF and Departmental staff involved in developing personnel, financial and non-financial conditions of service and family support policies and programs. The anonymous aggregated data has previously been used by external agencies such as the Defence Housing Authority and academic institutions involved in Defence and social research. Census data is also regularly used to support briefing Ministers, Parliamentary Committees and other elements of Government involved with Defence issues.

Defence appointed an independent research contractor, Roy Morgan Research, to conduct the Defence Census 2019.

The public report of the 2019 Defence Census is provided below.

Defence Census Public Reports:

APS Employee Census

The APS employee census is an opinion survey administered to all APS employees each year. It collects information on important workforce issues such as job satisfaction, employee engagement, leadership and general impressions of the APS. In 2019, the overall APS response rate was 77%, whilst Defence achieved a response rate of 54%.

Defence is one of four Extra Large Agencies (ELA) with more than 10,000 APS employees. ELAs face unique challenges due to their size and complex organisational structures. Therefore, it is most appropriate to compare the Defence results against the results of other ELAs.

APS Employee Census Public Reports


On 12 March 1991 the Australian Defence Force (ADF), in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, successfully conducted the first Census of permanent ADF members and their families. The aim in conducting the Census was to establish an authoritative and credible base-line profile of ADF members, with and without dependant family members, which would assist in developing appropriate policies for ADF conditions of service and family support.

Following the 1991 ADF Census, the then Defence Force Personnel Policy Committee decided that there was a need to conduct a Census at four yearly intervals to progressively develop credible, authoritative and up-to-date data consistent with the issues covered by the 1991 Census. The second Census, again for permanent ADF members only, was conducted in March 1995 and had a response rate of 81%. The third Census, in March 1999, was widened to include the Active Reserve. This census had a response rate of 70% for permanent members and 30% for Reservists. The fourth census in 2003 included Defence Australian Public Service (APS) employees, thereby truly becoming an all-inclusive Defence Census.

The last Defence Census was held in April 2019. For the first time in Census history, Defence APS personnel completed the Defence Census online within the APSC Employee Census. ADF permanent and reserve members had the choice of completing the census online or by hardcopy. As for previous censuses, participation in the Defence Census 2019 was voluntary.

Benefits of the Defence Census

Benefit to Members

Collection of demographic data is essential in developing Defence policies and employment conditions that meet the contemporary and emerging needs of the Defence workforce. The information from past Censuses has been used extensively to improve conditions of service and overall lifestyle of Defence personnel. This includes the procurement of housing and other accommodation in regional areas and providing evidence by which Defence can lobby governments for improved amenities in Defence population areas. By and large, the most important use of Census data is to inform and assist the development of personnel policies and conditions that keep pace with contemporary changes in Defence and society as a whole.

Workforce Planning

The Defence Census provides Defence with the data it needs to gain a better understanding of its workforce and the policies required to retain and develop the people it needs. Defence cannot adopt a ‘total workforce approach’ to workforce planning without the demographic profile of its people. In order to meet current and future capability requirements, it is essential for Defence to have an understanding of issues such as workforce streams/professions currently in Defence, education level and age profile of its employees, etc. for both the ADF and APS employees. Information obtained from Defence Censuses enables Defence to compare itself with the external environment and to determine whether it has the human capability needed to meet its current and future capability requirements.

Benefit to Defence

Government Reporting

Government reporting on Defence workforce structure and future personnel requirements is increasing, as is reporting on wider APS workforce composition. PMKeyS partially fills this need; however, not at the level or breadth required of contemporary reporting requirements. There is a Defence/national interest to having and reporting this information from the one source.

Ongoing Assessments and Discrete Research

Defence needs to continually review its placement of services and policy emphasis (e.g. quality of working life). As Censuses are conducted over time, Defence has the ability to monitor workforce changes and modify personnel services and policies to meet changing needs.

Benchmarking Defence Demographics against the External Environment

Provisions such as education, childcare, housing and health services, along with access to community facilities and spouse employment are under the jurisdiction of various Government agencies. It is therefore important that Defence has up-to-date and authoritative information on its workforce when negotiating with various Government agencies and commercial providers. Regular Defence wide censuses ensure that the data remains contemporary.

Credibility of Census Data

The credibility of Census data is reinforced by keeping it regularly updated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) national Population Census is conducted every five years while Defence conducts a Census every four years. Defence poses questions in a similar manner to the ABS to ensure comparability with Australian society.

Distribution & Recovery of Census Forms

From its inception in 1991 until 2015, the Defence Census based its delivery on the completion of paper questionnaires. In the past, paper-based questionnaires were favoured for use over alternate delivery methods, particularly electronic/web-based, for the several following reasons:

  1. Not all personnel have regular or easy access to a DPN or a personal computer terminal;
  2. Paper based surveys are tangible documents that can be tracked more readily than electronic/soft copy documents;
  3. Personnel are more likely to complete a hard copy document that has been handed to them or, in the case of reservists, is posted to their home address;
  4. Previous Defence experience with electronic surveys demonstrated lower response rates to electronic based surveys than were achieved with hard copy.

In 2015 Defence personnel were given the option to complete the Census electronically via the internet or by the traditional hard copy paper based questionnaire. Of the 51% of responses received for the 2015 Defence Census, 31% came from hard copy paper returns and 19% of responses were received online. The 2019 Census is likely to have incurred a similar response profile.

In 2019 Defence combined the APS component of the Defence Census with the APS Employee Census in order to reduce survey fatigue. The additional Defence Census questions were included in the online APS Employee Census question set with the Defence Census data then provided to Defence for inclusion with the Defence Census data. No specific identifying information is collected under this arrangement and the census contractor received a raw dataset to analyse with the ADF census data.

Australian Public Service (APS) Employee Census

The APS Employee Census is administered online to all APS employees (employed under the Australia Public Service Act 1999) each year. The aim of the Census is to capture the attitudes of all APS employees on workforce issues including strategic leadership, workforce capability and organisational effectiveness. The information collected is used by the APSC to better understand the views of APS employees across all participating Federal Government Agencies, identify strengths and areas for improvement. It also provides Agencies with a means of benchmarking their results against the APS as a whole and Agencies of similar size.

The APSC has a legislative requirement to report on ‘the state of the Service’ each year. The APS Employee Census provides key data for the annual State of the Service report which is presented to Parliament.

Unlike the Defence Census which measures demographic data, the APS Employee Census mostly measures attitudinal data. As such, the APS Employee Census is much more akin to the Defence's Your Say Workplace Experiences survey. The APS Employee Census does not survey ADF members and the findings of the APS Employee Census are not able to replace the Defence Census as a means of gaining the in-depth APS demographic information required by Defence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What a Census is?

A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. A census collects data from a whole population rather than just a sample of that population: it seeks to collect factual information concerning the characteristics and circumstances of the people who make up that population. The Defence Census gathers a variety of in-depth demographic, financial, educational and the like information from Defence members and their families that is not available together from any other Defence or Public sources of information. Unlike other Defence surveys, such as the Defence 'Your Say' Survey, the Census does not collect and measure attitudinal data. Demand for attitudinal data can be met via other existing (or new) personnel research projects.

What does the Defence Census Achieve?

Defence Census data is made available to, and is used by, external agencies such as the Defence Housing Authority and academic institutions involved in Defence and social research. Census information is also used frequently for briefing Ministers, Parliamentary Committees and other elements of Government involved with Defence personnel issues. For example, during development of the 'Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force' the Broderick Review Team made extensive use of Defence Census data gathered since the first Census in 1991. Without access to the Census data, the Review Team would have been unable to find detailed historical information on matters such as cultural and linguistic diversity, number of dependent children of specific age groups, education needs, childcare requirements, gender issues, divorce/separation rates and many other pertinent Defence demographic matters.

Although for comparison purposes most census questions asked are identical for each census, comprehensive reviews of census questions are conducted during the lead-up to each census. Outdated questions are removed and new questions are added to ensure contemporary issues are reflected. For instance, the 2011 Census had a much higher focus on operational service than previous questionnaires, reflecting the need for Defence to monitor tempo and its impacts on members and their families. There was also an increased focus on capturing qualifications, categories, trades, specialisations and musterings, place of recruitment for Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander members, and relationship history. A similar comprehensive review of potential census questions was conducted in the lead-up to the 2015 and 2019 Census. The 2019 Defence Census has included a range of questions about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) qualifications and use of by the Defence workforce.

Is the Census voluntary?

Yes, there is no obligation to complete the Census. However, by contributing Defence personnel are assisting Defence to plan personnel policies that will advantage both themselves and their families into the future.

Are your answers private?

Yes, answers to the census ARE private. Strict privacy rules apply to ensure that all respondents remain anonymous, ensuring that respondents can respond thoroughly and honestly. Privacy is guaranteed under the auspices of the Commonwealth Privacy Act of 1988, and anyone who breaches the principles in that Act is liable to prosecution. No Defence member has any access to your Census questionnaire, whether in hard copy or completed over the internet. All responses are dealt with by an independent research contractor to collate and analyse the information. Census Form serial numbers are used for processing purposes only - they are not connected to responses.

When the Census information is analysed the databases are constructed so that only grouped data can be accessed. An individual's responses cannot be obtained, ensuring your privacy is maintained. Contract employees do not know which Defence employees made which responses. Once processing is completed, the Contractor is required to destroy all Census questionnaires and Defence Census related material, including all data gathered via the electronic survey, and provide a certificate of their destruction to the Manager Defence Census.

Doesn't Defence already have this information?

Although some of the information that is sought in the Census may already be held elsewhere, it is necessary to re-collect this information in a manner that can be used in conjunction with the other vital data gathered by the Census. For example, PMKeyS holds a lot of personal information but it would not be possible to gather that information in any meaningful way that could be used to build the demographic profiles required of the Census.

Who should participate in the Census?

All Defence employees, i.e. Permanent ADF members (SERCAT 7 and 6), ADF Reserve members (SERCAT 5, 4, and 3 members who have completed one day of service since the previous July) and Defence APS employees are eligible to participate in the Defence Census.

In 2019 Defence APS completed the Defence Census online combined with the APS Employee Census held in May. This avoided the need for Defence APS to complete two census questionnaires in consecutive months. Defence APS only needed to complete the one census questionnaire which contained shared demographic questions. Responses to the Defence Census questions only and the shared demographic responses were provided to Defence for analysis with the ADF responses.

What is the information used for?

The data gathered in each Census are used to underpin a range of decisions concerning Defence personnel. This includes the dealings of Defence with other Government departments, education departments and other service providers. Sometimes outcomes from the Census can be directly seen, such as changes in allowances or changes to personnel policies. In other times the results are used in ways that are extremely useful but with less tangible outcomes and visibility that census data has contributed to the outcome.