The Australian Bureau of Statistics has asked me to complete a survey. Do I have to answer the questions in the survey?

In the first instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) always seeks your willing cooperation in answering the questions included in official surveys. If you don't provide the information requested, however, then legislation allows the Australian Statistician to direct you, in writing, to provide it. If this occurs, you are obliged to provide the information.

The ABS collects information from individuals across Australia under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 (Census Act), and does so in accordance with Australian Privacy Principle 3 (or APP 3) of the Privacy Act 1988. This is because the ABS is a Commonwealth agency that has been set up with the function of gathering data from the community about a range of aspects of Australian life.

The ABS must treat your information confidentially, because it must follow the secrecy provisions of the Census Act (section 19). There is a fine of up to $20,400, or a penalty of 2 years imprisonment, or both, for an unauthorised disclosure of information collected under the Census Act by an officer of the ABS.

The ABS has the power to direct an individual, in writing, to complete a form (section 10) or answer a question (section 11) of the Census Act. The individual is then legally obliged to do so. If an individual is prosecuted and convicted for not providing the information required, they can be fined up to $170 per day for each day they fail to provide the information, after the deadline specified in the written direction, until the required information is provided.

Requirements to provide information may arise from time to time with other Commonwealth or State/Territory agencies or authorities. There are different penalties for failing or refusing to give information depending on which law requires you to provide the information. Please see the Other privacy jurisdictions page for more information.

If you are unsure whether a request for your information by a government agency or authority is required by law, you should speak with one of the agency's officers. They must be able to explain to you which law requires you to meet the agency's request.

For more information on all the APPs, see the Australian Privacy Principles page and Privacy fact sheet 17: Australian Privacy Principles. You may also wish to look through the Privacy fact sheets and guides.

Share this page

Protecting information rights — advancing information policy