Measuring a nation's progress - providing information about whether life is getting better - is one of the most important tasks that a national statistical agency can take on. For almost 100 years, the ABS has been measuring Australia's progress through the multitude of statistics we publish relating to Australia's economy, society and environment. However, for the most part, our statistical publications have tended to focus on each of these three broad areas in isolation.
Recent years have seen growing public interest in the interrelationships between economic, social and environmental aspects of life. There have been, for example, debates about the sustainability of economic growth and a recognition that the environment is neither an inexhaustible source of raw materials nor capable of absorbing an unlimited amount of waste. Similarly, progress relates to social concerns - health, education and crime - and whether and how economic growth benefits those areas.
In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) called for the development of new ways to measure and assess progress towards sustainable development (often defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'). The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was a further catalyst for discussion, as were calls from organisations such as the United Nations for better measures of social concerns to supplement the System of National Accounts (SNA). There is a great deal of interest as well in developing a broader set of economic statistics that give values to things hitherto left outside the traditional economic system. Around the world a consensus is growing that countries and governments need to develop a more comprehensive view of progress, rather than focussing mainly on economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Australia a number of projects are underway to tackle these issues, such as the State of the Environment reports, and the Commonwealth Government's set of headline sustainability indicators.
The ABS invites your comment on this new publication, Measuring Australia's Progress (MAP), which we hope will enhance discussion. MAP considers some of the key aspects of progress side-by-side and discusses how they are linked with one another.
This publication does not purport to measure every aspect of progress that is important. Nor does it consider all of the many different ways that parts of Australia and groups of Australians are progressing. But it does provide a national summary of many of the most important areas of progress, presenting them in a way which can be quickly understood. MAP will, I hope, inform and stimulate public debate and encourage all Australians to assess the bigger picture when contemplating progress in all its forms.
Many people have contributed to the development of this publication. I would like to express special thanks for the contributions from our group of expert external advisors - Mr Ian Castles, Mr Richard Eckersley, Dr Clive Hamilton, Prof. Ann Harding, Ms Betty Hounslow, Ms Eleri Morgan-Thomas, Dr Mike Salvaris, Dr Denis Saunders and the late Prof. Max Neutze. Many other people and organisations reviewed sections of the publication, and a full list of acknowledgements is at Appendix II. Statisticians from right across the ABS have worked on this project and I would particularly like to thank those most directly involved, namely: Jon Hall who led the project and was, with Ken Tallis and Horst Posselt, a principal author; and other authors, especially Aarthi Ayyar, Cristy Williams and Nick Biddle.
This is, of course, an ambitious project. It is also one that will develop over time, and we are looking to your feedback to help us improve future issues of the publication. Should you wish to contribute, please contact Ken Tallis at the address below.
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Locked Bag 10
Belconnen, ACT 2616