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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/04/2004   
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Contents >> Foreword

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 Australian Bureau of Statistics 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. 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 focusing mainly on economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product. 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.

In April 2002 the ABS published the first issue of Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP), then called Measuring Australia's Progress, as a contribution to this discussion. It was an intentionally experimental publication - I noted in the foreword that the project was ambitious, and one that would develop over time - and so we sought comments on the project. I'm very grateful to the many people that responded to that request. Much of the response to the publication was favourable, and I'm particularly pleased to see that this work is influencing similar initiatives around the world, in places like the United States and Ireland. There were some criticisms, mostly constructive, and we have made some adjustments to the publication in light of those criticisms. It was always our intention that the publication would evolve. This second edition of MAP incorporates a number of changes that strengthen the publication, including:

    • A strengthened discussion of governance, democracy and citizenship, that uses a range of information to illustrate aspects of Australian life in this dimension, but does not assess overall progress.

    • New material that paints a picture of the nation's families and communities and how they relate to social cohesion. This material goes beyond the information presented in MAP 2002, although, once again, we do not attempt to assess overall progress here.

    • Replacing the headline progress dimension Economic disadvantage and inequality with Financial hardship, that covers material better suited to discussions of progress in this area.

    • Combining several environmental progress dimensions into a new overarching dimension, The natural landscape, to better highlight the links between aspects of the Australian landscape.

    • Elevating the Productivity dimension to headline status, to reflect its very important influence on Australia's economic performance, now and in the future.

    • Including special articles that relate to, rather than measure, progress. Material about multiple disadvantage, and levels of progress in Australia and other OECD countries is included.

Many other changes have been made, including the title: the publication is now called Measures of - rather than 'measuring' - Australia's Progress, to ensure readers realise immediately that we are not claiming to have included everything that is important to progress in this country. A number of people assisted by reviewing material and I would like to acknowledge their valuable contribution to this issue.

Measures of Australia's Progress will be produced ever year from now on. It will continue to evolve and so we continue to seek your feedback to help us improve future issues of the publication. Your suggestions and comments would be very welcome. They should be sent to Jon Hall at the address below.

Dennis Trewin
Australian Statistician
April 2004
Jon Hall
Analysis Branch, Australian Bureau of Statistics
Locked Bag 10, Belconnen, ACT 2616. Email: jon.hall@abs.gov.au

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