Every dollar spent on the Australian census in 2016 returned $6 to the economy, with a new report also saying the data collected provided untold benefits to public life.
An independent report from Lateral Economics has put the value returned from the census at $4.1 billion over five years.
The 2016 census cost $500 million to administer, but the report also estimated it cost the Australian Bureau of Statistics a further $100 million in other costs, and the Australian people $70 million worth of time to fill out.
"The Australian census plays a critical role in building evidence and decision making to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and integrity of Australia's economic and social infrastructure," report author Nicholas Gruen said on Monday.
For that $670 million investment over five years, the census returned $832 million a year, by having already gathered vital information for government departments, that would otherwise have to be collected separately.
That meant $137 million a year in value for health services and infrastructure, $129 million a year to transport infrastructure and $40 million a year to education.
Demographer Peter McDonald said the value of the census included the way Australians understand themselves.
"In a world of social media, it is easy for untruths about the nature of Australian society to spread rapidly. The census enables untruths to be revealed for what they are," Professor McDonald said.
The ABS commissioned the report following similar studies overseas.
"We understand that the census is widely used, and we are pleased to see the range and diversity of use of census data across all sectors of government, business and society," ABS census general manager Chris Libreri said.
The report says future options for the next census in 2021 include reducing costs around collecting data and potentially collecting them more regularly than every five years.
It also said the potential value from linking census data to administrative data sets is only beginning to be realised.
Australian Associated Press