The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would like to wish a happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone who identified as Jewish in the most recent census.
The agency’s holiday greeting caught some attention for its unnerving specificity of 99,960 Australian Jews. (The official count in 2021 was actually 99,956, but ABS likely rounded the figure to account for small random changes made to its data for privacy.) Nobody enjoys a reminder that the government maintains detailed records of each household by knocking on their door every so often.
The tweet and its skeptical reception—“At least it was the Australian Bureau of Statistics and not the Austrian,” joked one person—was just another example of often-clunky attempts at social-media engagement by government agencies. But it also highlighted and a recent turn in public sentiment toward the once-uncontroversial census.
Like in the US, Australia’s census faced intense public skepticism over the privacy and potential misuse of personal data during the 2016 count, leading to the creation of an independent auditor. It was a surprising turn for the once-every-five-years tally used to apportion tax revenues and government representation.
Mostly, it just seems nice that the government deigns to recognize a holiday celebrated by a slim minority, 0.4% of Australia’s population. ABS has made a fun tradition of marking holidays with demographic figures, from 570,000 Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains celebrating Diwali to 712 zoologists on World Wildlife Day. The occasion of Lunar Year inspired a bar chart of East Asian roots.
Nearly all of the holiday tweets, which also appear on the ABS’s Instagram account, seem like a savvy, innocuous, social-media strategy for an important agency that wouldn’t otherwise get much attention—in the grand tradition of quirky bureaucracies ranging from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which marks holidays with increasingly bizarre memes, to Sweden, which famously turned over its Twitter account to citizens.
In that context, even the greeting for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is just harmless engagement. But the ABS ought to reconsider this one, a common pie-chart meme, wishing too much of the country a Merry Christmas. (ABS didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
If the agency wants to educate the public about Australia’s religious tapestry, it should also highlight that the most common religious affiliation, listed by 9,767,448 Australians in last year’s census, is no religion at all. That’s more than the 5,075,907 Catholics and 2,496,273 Anglicans who once dominated the country but, in the latest count, are now a minority.