Minister under fire after LGBTIQ census questions dropped by ABS


michael sukkar federal assistant treasurer australian bureau of statistics health national lgbti health alliance
Photos: Australian Bureau of Statistics/ABC News

LGBTIQ health advocates have questioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ move to exclude gender and sexuality questions from a test of the 2021 Census following feedback from a government minister.

Australian Bureau of Statistics chief David Kalisch told Senate estimates that of 40,000 printed forms, the ABS destroyed 20,000 of them containing the two questions on sexuality and gender identity ahead of an October 15 test of the 2021 Census.

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Kalisch told Senate Estimates Michael Sukkar’s office did not “provide any guidance” on the inclusion of the questions but did “express a preference,” according to The Guardian.

“I have had some conversations with the minister’s office about helping them understand the nature of the consideration around the decision,” Kalisch said.

“They put a view to me but ultimately it was my decision.”

Asked what the preference was, Kalisch said: “They were contemplating what response they would make around census topics, and didn’t want the census test to pre-empt that decision.”

A spokesperson for Sukkar previously told The Guardian that “at no stage was a decision sought or provided by the minister in relation to the operation of the census test” on October 15.

Labor’s Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones labelled the revelations “deeply concerning” and accused Sukkar’s office of “interfering” with the Census process.

“The minister’s objection to a community or their sexual orientation is no reason to refuse to collect important information to help guide government service delivery,” Jones said.

Michael Sukkar was a very vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and ultimately abstained from voting for the final bill after the “yes” vote in the postal survey.

Sensitivities around the Census questions

However Kalisch also spoke of “some sensitivities” around the questions. The one on gender identity could “challenge” some in the community who may not understand what it means alongside the existing sex question, he said.

Kalisch said “sensitivity” also surrounds asking about sexual orientation. He told Estimates he had considered making the question optional.

The two questions on sexuality and gender were suggested to gather vital data on Australia’s queer populations. The questions were developed through a community consultation process last year.

But when the ABS tested the census on 40,000 households in Wagga Wagga, NSW, and Logan in Queensland on October 15, the questions weren’t included.

LGBTIQ health advocates frustrated by decision

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Peak body the National LGBTI Health Alliance expressed frustration at the new developments.

The Alliance had long campaigned for the questions, which they say would produce urgently needed data on the LGBTIQ community to improve health service delivery.

“It is disappointing that the decision to exclude the questions [in the Census test] seems to have not been based on good process,” Alliance chair Philippa Moss said.

Nor was the decision “informed by the evidence presented during the public consultation processes and community testing,” she said.

“It appears that the decision has come down to personal opinions of individuals who have negated the huge need for this data.

“This need that has been voiced by a significant number of health experts, academics and community organisations.”

Alliance executive director Nicky Bath said the next opportunity for the Census questions would be 2026, too far into the future.

“We desperately need to gain the insights that the Census will provide to us,” Bath said.

“Health and social services need to be able to better respond to the significant health disparities LGBTI people experience.

“[Without the questions], vital data indicators will remain excluded from important data sets that are used across community, primary and tertiary health care services and programs.

“Currently, there are no other alternative data sources or solutions that could meet these needs.”

Read more: Here’s why we need to count LGBTIQ communities in the next Census