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Measuring Australia's Progress (MAP) portrays national progress using an array of indicators that measure change within different aspects of Australian life. The indicators provide the building blocks to which readers can apply their own evaluations to assess whether Australia is on balance progressing and at what rate.
CONSIDERING EACH INDICATOR IN TURN
The data are presented in a variety of ways and the comments made about the progress indicators also vary. But some common features are discussed for each:
NATIONAL AND OTHER INDICATORS
The indicators have been chosen to reflect recent progress (primarily over the past 10 years) at the national (or whole-of-Australia) level.
Disaggregated national data. Although an aspect of life for Australia as a whole may be progressing or regressing, the rate of change - or even its direction - may not be mirrored in every State and Territory, or in every industry in Australia. For example, between 1990-91 and 2000-01 the number of people employed in Australia rose by around 10%; some industries experienced much faster rises (for example in property and business services, employment grew by over 78%), while in other industries there was a fall (employment in electricity, water and gas supply fell by 36%). We cannot discuss every difference within Australia for every indicator in this publication. But we do discuss some of the more significant differences and provide signposts to the more detailed and disaggregated data sets underlying the indicators.
Similarly, rates of progress may differ between various subgroups of the Australian population. We do not draw attention to every difference, nor do we systematically compare progress between men and women, between Indigenous and other Australians, or between other groups of people. But the commentary draws attention to differences that are particularly noticeable.
International comparisons. Measuring Australia's Progress reflects on issues of importance to Australia and Australians, and no systematic or comprehensive attempt has been made to compare Australia's progress with that in other countries. Considering Australian progress side-by-side with progress in other countries can be informative. But if we were confined to presenting indicators for which comparable overseas data are available, the coverage here would be narrower and its focus would probably be less relevant to Australian concerns. However, we draw some comparisons when they are informative - for example, in the health dimension, where comparable international data on life expectancy are available.
DIRECTION AND RATE OF CHANGE
Both the direction and rate of change in a progress indicator are important. It is informative to see whether life expectancy is increasing or decreasing, but the rate of increase is also informative, particularly when compared with historical rates.
Just as the rates of progress or regress differ, so do the levels of economic, social or environmental wellbeing attained. We concentrate on progress and hence on change but, when assessing national progress, it is sometimes informative also to consider levels. For example, in 1999, life expectancy at birth for Australia's Indigenous population was about 60 years; it was about 80 years for all Australians.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Each indicator considers progress during the recent past, typically the past ten years. Where possible, though, reference has been made to progress over the longer term. Some indicators move only slowly, and so a longer time horizon is needed to perceive any appreciable change. For other indicators, the longer lasting trends that are of greatest interest are overlaid by cyclical and other short term variation (e.g. the business cycle or regular climatic patterns such as El Niño).
HOW THE INDICATORS RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER
Each aspect of progress is related, either directly or indirectly, to most of the others. Change in one dimension of progress is typically accompanied by change elsewhere. Therefore it is important to consider the full array of indicators together.
Broadly, we may think of two types of relationship between different areas of progress - trade-offs and reinforcements.
In reality, the overall effect of a change in any one dimension is much more complex. An intricate system of trade-offs and reinforcements comes into play when any dimension of progress changes. For example, suppose factory output increases. This generates more income, and so there is more money to pay for health care, for example. But increased factory output might also increase air pollution, which is harmful to people's health or might be detrimental to other economic activity such as agriculture.
Although within the indicator commentary we mention some of the more obvious links, we do not mention every relationship, and we hope that readers will bear in mind the many possible links between indicators. As an illustration, the box below discusses some of the relationships between progress in the health dimension and other headline indicators.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Australians are, of course, concerned not just with historical progress or with the current condition of the nation, but also with the future. One salient question is 'Will progress in any area lead only to short term gain and perhaps eventual loss, or is the progress sustainable in the longer term?' This is not an easy question to answer.
When trying to paint a statistical picture of the future, one must invoke many more assumptions and exercise much more judgment than when depicting the past. Many styles of forward-looking analysis are not within the ambit of official statistics.
Moreover, the term 'sustainable development' is still the subject of debate. This publication does not enter into any direct discussion of sustainability. Even in ecological studies, where the concept of sustainability most commonly arises, agreement has not yet been achieved regarding suitable summary measures of sustainability. Agreed measures are still more distant for such concepts as a sustainable distribution of income.
However, it is natural that people wish to consider the future, and the ABS believes that this publication has a role in facilitating this. One way of looking to the future is to consider whether Australia's stocks of assets (human, natural, produced and financial, and social) are being maintained. And, as the commentary Indicators of Australia's progress describes, our indicators measure progress in dimensions that relate directly to, or are intimately linked with, Australia's assets.