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2004 Year Book Australia Speech by Professor Sandra Harding
Address by Professor Sandra Harding
Chairperson, Australian Statistics Advisory Council
on the occasion of the launch of
the 2004 Year Book Australia
27th February, 2004 at
the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Professor Michael Dodson, Chair of the board of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and members of the AIATSIS board, Mr Steve Larkins, acting Principal of the Institute, Members of the Ngunnawal community, valued clients, friends and staff of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
As I was preparing for today's address I spent a considerable amount of time reading the Year Book. A considerable amount of time because it is packed with information about our nation and its people. At the very least, the Year Book is an important showcase of the statistical output of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It also provides a basis on which we can, in an informed way, focus on particular issues of great significance to the Australian nation.
My historical notes record that this is the 86th edition since the title was first published in May 1908. I asked why there were not 97 year books since then - and I was told that the absences reflected a periodic lack of money, people and/or paper. So some years are missing but still, for almost 100 years now, Year Books have recorded a changing Australia.
They have recorded many aspects of our population, our economy and our way of life. In doing that the Year Books have created a unique and powerful record of the way the Australian nation has progressed, milestone by milestone.
This year's edition has chosen Indigenous Australia as its theme, partly in recognition of this being the final year of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous People, but also because of a larger interest in bringing Indigenous Australia into the statistical spotlight.
For those in a position to make informed decisions about Australia's Indigenous community, the statistics in the 2004 Year Book present challenges for the future, while recording improvements in some areas.
Among it’s massive bank of facts, the 2004 Year Book tells us that:
Indigenous Australians have higher unemployment and lower levels of workforce participation than Australians overall.
A greater proportion of Indigenous Australians have incomes at the lower end of the income distribution, and their proportion at this level is approximately twice as high as that of non-Indigenous people.
Almost four and a half thousand Indigenous people made up 20 percent of Australia’s prisoner population on 30 June 2002.
The number of Indigenous students attending government schools declines gradually through the compulsory schooling years of Year 1 to year 9, and the decline accelerates during Years 10 to 12.
However, there has been notable growth in retention of Indigenous students throughout secondary schooling over the five years to 2002, rising 5.9 percentage points compared to 3.6 percentage points for non-Indigenous students in the same period.
Indigenous enrolments in higher education in 2002 were up 2.4 percent over 2001 figures - that sums to almost 9000 Indigenous students in higher education in 2002.
The Year Book also has a smorgasbord of other facts and figures about Australia.
The ACT and the Northern Territory had the highest labour force participation rates, both at 73 percent, and the lowest unemployment rates at 4 percent for the ACT and 6 percent for the Northern Territory.
And did you know that Australia's fertility rate has now reached the lowest point on record at 1.73 babies per woman in 2001? In 1961 - forty years ago - it was 3.5 babies per woman.
How about that Australians use around 6.9 billion plastic bags each year?
Or that there were almost 5.1 million subscribers to Internet services at March 2003, compared to 4.2 million a year earlier?
So the book itself is full of challenging and revealing facts.
But the Year Book is much more than that. It is also one expression of the work of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Have no doubt that the Bureau is a world-class organisation that provides more than a statistical view of the historical record. The ABS is firmly focussed on the future.
It is my privilege to serve as Chair of the Australian Statistical Advisory Council and, as a consequence, I have had the opportunity to better understand the Bureau’s forward focus and commitment to remain relevant to the statistical needs of contemporary Australia.
Two recent initiatives exemplify this.
I had the pleasure late last year to launch the Remote Data Access Laboratory. This on-line service is a device by which the ABS is facilitating greater access by researchers to detailed data, while at the same time preserving the privacy and confidentiality of respondents.
In a similar vein the ABS is presently taking the lead to create a National Statistical Service. This service, although still in its early stages, will support the improved professional collection and analysis of statistics across all Australian governments.
I would like to explain a bit more about the rationale for the National Statistical Service because it is an exciting development.
Over the last few years there has been an increase in the demand for high quality information which cannot be met by the ABS alone.
Agencies have reacted by drawing on their own administrative data or through undertaking surveys. However the output of that activity is not always ideal.
By joining the National Statistical Service members will affirm their commitment to following good statistical practice in assembling and publishing statistical data and having their statistics recognised as official statistics.
In so doing they will be contributing to the body of statistics needed to inform the nation.
As a spin-off, they will often be informing themselves as well, since statistics provide a basis for performance indicators and evaluating the effectiveness of policies and programs or assisting in the development of new policies.
It is a truism that good statistical information helps informed decision making. And the need for good statistical information has been recognised at the highest levels.
"One of the things you find in government is that no amount of goodwill is enough, no amount of good policy direction is enough, unless you have accurate information at your disposal. And the use of taxpayer resources to achieve particular goals can be very frustrating if in fact the database on which these policies are based and the objectives pursued are inadequate, or worse inaccurate."
So the Bureau’s work is really about the future.
When the formalities of this launch are over and you get to see the 2004 Year Book, you will notice that as part of the presentation of the Indigenous theme this year, the ABS publishers have used an Indigenous artwork on the cover of the book. This artwork is a collaborative effort of the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association from Yuendumu, 290 kilometres north west of Alice Springs.
The actual painting, which in English is called Native Possum Dreaming, is 11 metres long and hangs in ABS House at Belconnen. It was installed mid-last year, and at the installation - a wonderful occasion - a number of the artists, women, performed with great style, dignity and humour, lending a real significance to the celebration of the event. If you have not seen the painting at ABS House, I urge you to drive over there and have a look at this wonderful work. It is in a publicly accessible place for all to see and enjoy, in the main atrium just inside the entrance.
Here, over morning tea, we’ll be screening a short video that tells the story behind the painting, in the words of the Walpiri people.
I would like to conclude by acknowledging two groups.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that the 2004 Year Book, like other ABS publications, draws extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. The continued cooperation of all these groups and individuals is vital to the Bureau’s work and is very much appreciated.
Finally, I acknowledge once again the dedicated work of many people at the Australian Bureau of Statistics that the Year Book represents.
There are few Australian institutions that have maintained continuity through two world wars and a great depression.
So in many ways, this Year Book is a tribute to both those who freely provide information and to the small army of statisticians that has marched through the past 100 years measuring and surveying the way things have been, year-on-year, in our changing nation. Work well-done on both sides.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure now to formally launch the 2004 Year Book Australia.
It is also my honour and pleasure to present a copy of the Year Book to Professor Michael Dodson in his capacity as Chair of this fine institution, and as a representative of Indigenous Australia.
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