How would you ask the questions that frame Australia’s future?

Would you ask how somebody got to work today? Or how long it took them to get there? Would you ask whether someone needs regular care or is a carer, or would you ask explicitly about disability? Wouldn’t you want to know whether there’s work, schools, childcare and hospitals in their town, or whether future planning would need to consider access? How could you come to understand what an essential service is, and how this differs for regions?

Would you ask about gender as though it were a closed binary? Or would you plan for a future of considerate understanding? Would you ask about “Age and sex”, as though “sex” were something permanently constituted and irrevocably assigned at birth, or would you ask about gender, understanding the impact of its social construction as determined by the kinds of power relations articulated in this very form?

Would you ask a woman how many babies she’s given birth to? Would you risk triggering and then failing to record histories of conception planning, miscarriage and stillbirth? Wouldn’t you instead ask how many children a person has? Or if you wanted to understand and address a set of experiences that are highly concentrated on women, would you perhaps instead ask a woman when she was last sexually harassed, whether she reported it, whether the attacker was known to her, how long it took her to recover, and how it affects her daily life? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to inform yourself on what continues to constrain the participation of women in the workforce, in society and in public life?

Would you ask about employment and volunteering as though people primarily create the Australian culture only in one way? Would you avoid altogether Australia’s creative and cultural life? Wouldn’t you ask how often people make, experience and share art? Wouldn’t you want to understand that people don’t necessarily define their identity according to one paid role? Wouldn’t you want to know how people inform themselves about social and political issues, how they access daily news, and how they contribute to the public discussion?

Would you ask about relationships purely as they relate to marriage? The help files advise: “If the person is divorced and has not remarried, mark ‘Divorced’, even if the person lives in a de facto relationship.” Wouldn’t you want to know how many Australians no longer see the institution of marriage as relevant to their lives? Wouldn’t you want to know how many Australians confidently call themselves married, despite the government not yet recognising their relationship with their partner?

Would you market the census as a one-night-only completion thing, announcing to the hackers and attackers of the world that your entire nation’s population were about to expose their personal data, even crowing about your capacity to support a million uploads an hour? Or, having established a world-leading national broadband network in the five preceding years, would you instead offer a fortnight to consider how best to engage with the technology, presenting the form in various accessible formats with an integrated translation service?

In five years’ time, how would you reflect on this experience?

If your role were to gather the data that best informs our future planning, what would you ask?


IMAGE: The Housing Project by Sue McCauley Keith Deverell’s, Greyspace, with ceramicist Ann Ferguson, sound designer Chris Knowles, and industrial designers Angus Durkin and Gordon Tait, with additional sound recordings by Dave Lane. Photo by Tobias Titz