1370.0.00.002 - Measures of Australia's Progress - Aspirations for our Nation: A Conversation with Australians about Progress , 2011-12  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/05/2013   
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Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)

All Australians can maintain an enriching work life and fulfilling family life

FaHCSIA supports the Commonwealth Government to deliver social policy outcomes. Their 2011-2014 strategic framework identifies their aims as being to:

  • Increase social and economic participation;
  • Improve social cohesion;
  • Close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage;
  • Support basic living standards; and
  • Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity.
The department pursues these aims with a focus on particular population groups such as families and children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women, and people with disabilities. In keeping with this, FaHCSIA’s submission identified aspirations specific to groups of people in particular situations or facing particular difficulties.

In their submission, FaHCSIA emphasised economic inclusion for people with a disability, safety for women and children, work/life balance for families, and social and economic participation for older Australians. They put forward aspirations associated with reducing homelessness and the affordability of services of all kinds, ranging from housing to legal aid and healthcare services. FaHCSIA proposed an overarching goal of ensuring inequality of wealth and/or income ‘does not continue to grow, or does so at a slower rate than previously’.

For the economic domain in MAP, FaHCSIA noted the inclusion of older Australians in the prosperity of the nation, economic security for people with disability, and supporting greater participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the workforce and business. The latter was aimed at both addressing employment and income disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians, as well as strengthening the national economy and helping meet labour shortages in key industries. FaHCSIA highlighted two aspects of this: growing a prosperous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business sector; and financial security and independence.

For the domain of governance, FaHCSIA focused on rights, protection, justice, services and programs for people with disability, and emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability across all governments.

Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance)

A government cannot be truly effective unless it has an ongoing capacity to effectively manage changing circumstances – including both structural changes (for example, demographic change...) and economic shocks (for example, the Global Financial Crisis)’.

The Department of Finance and Deregulation is responsible for government financial management and expenditure, deregulation reforms, and for supporting the delivery of the Federal Budget. The department manages Commonwealth Government agencies’ overall financial framework and (non-defence) assets. It provides insurance services for government and advises on improving financial risk management and applying technology to government operations.

The department’s submission to MAP discussed good governance, in both the institutional and market arenas, as ‘an important foundation for national progress’.Governance was associated with the ability of a nation to manage economic shocks and structural change such as population ageing, and therefore, with the sustainability of government financing and service delivery. In particular, the submission discussed the value of ensuring the quality of regulation improves over time, and of balancing the costs and benefits of regulation.

Sustaining government finances and service delivery was a strong theme in the department’s submission which discussed the effects of the Global Financial Crisis on some countries. In this context, the department highlighted the value of retaining a strong balance sheet and credit rating, and of vigorous private and banking sectors and systems that regulate markets while remaining ‘market friendly’.

The department’s submission emphasised that measures of progress must be able to provide information on the fiscal sustainability of government.

Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services is responsible for developing policy on service delivery and delivers its services through Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support Programs. These programs aim to provide a portal where people can interact face-to-face with the government. With their close connections to Australians requiring services and service providers, and as a nexus between government and the public, they provide a valuable perspective on progress. In their submission to MAP, the department focused on social policy service delivery, and articulated three key aspirations for national progress.

Society – ‘Australians have the ability to access services and information regardless of where they live.

The department’s submission discussed the importance of an inclusive society where people can ‘access the support they need, when they need it’. For example, their service delivery reform agenda focuses on providing services that are ‘easy, high quality and works for you’.The department saw technology, information and convenient physical locations as critical to accessibility, and were interested in progress measures that provided feedback on satisfaction with service delivery.

Governance – ‘Australians have the ability or are provided the mechanisms to contribute to decisions that directly affect them.

This aspiration was set in the context of people being able to influence the design of services and to ensure the relevance of these services to their needs and circumstances. The department said that people’s ability to contribute to their local service delivery supports early intervention, better connections between services, better informed delivery and stronger outcomes overall.

Progress overall – ‘Australia is considerate of future generations.

With this cross-cutting aspiration, the Department of Human Services focused on ‘our collective interest in leaving a sustainable legacy for future generations’, noting the value we place as a society on current generations leading ‘lives they value without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same’.The department suggested this would apply, for example, to sustaining service delivery in the face of inter-generational issues such as the ageing population.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)

DEEWR provides national policy direction in education, workplace training, transition to work, and conditions and values in the workplace. The department’s vision is for ‘a productive and inclusive Australia’, and it aims to make a difference at the various stages of an individual’s life, including through supporting early childhood care and development, quality education at all levels, a skilled workforce with greater participation, safe workplaces, and an inclusive society. With its interest in education, DEEWR has a forward looking perspective, aiming to help ‘shape Australia now and into the future’.The DEEWR submission to MAP proposed four aspirations focused on the society, economy and governance domains.

Society – ‘A society where people develop the capabilities to meet their full potential.

This excerpt illustrates that capability and development are understood as underpinning improvements in national economic performance, health, civic and social engagement, and as building social capital and an inclusive society. DEEWR noted that quality early education and support equip children for life, and that the experiences and social skills provided by schooling support their transition to further education and broader life success. DEEWR underlined the value of the wider learning environment – parents, teachers and the community – in developing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. They noted that access to quality education involves supporting parents to balance work and family commitments, and focusing on disadvantaged Australians.

Society – ‘A more participative and inclusive society.

This aspiration centred on supporting people who face barriers to full participation in society, or who may be experiencing difficult times. DEEWR noted that this support is crucially linked with breaking inter-generational cycles of poverty, and with work, which can move people out of poverty and increase engagement. The submission noted the particular importance of addressing areas and groups where there is greater disadvantage. It supported steps to reconciliation and to closing the gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

Economy – ‘A safe, fair, productive and successful workplace.

This aspiration centred on high quality workplaces supporting both well-being and business productivity, which were seen as linked. It covered such areas as health and safety, employee engagement, job satisfaction and management practices, but also the ability to balance work and family responsibilities. In an increasingly competitive and globalised world, DEEWR aspired to more flexible and innovative ways for employers and employees to work together. DEEWR linked a healthy working environment – that provides financial security, a sense of purpose and is free from discrimination and harassment – with benefits to society such as reduced injury, improved mental health, and social cohesion.

Governance – ‘Better service delivery: our aspiration for governance.

DEEWR endorsed focusing on governance in MAP as an area crucial for national progress and quality of life. The submission noted high quality government services are an important aspiration, and that the experience people have while receiving a service impacts on well-being and social cohesion. DEEWR aspired to services that treat clients with respect and courtesy. They said programs should be carried out in a ‘fair, diligent and transparent manner’ and be flexible enough to meet individual needs.

The Attorney-General’s Department

‘The Attorney-General’s Department plays a central role in delivering the Government’s commitment to build an Australia which is stronger and fairer.’

The Attorney-General’s Department submission focused on society, governance and the environment. Aspirations within the society domain related to whether people feel, and are, safe from crime, communities can plan and protect themselves from the consequences of serious disasters, and Australians have the opportunity to improve their situation in life, personally and through functional communities.

Governance – ‘The governance system is appropriate for and recognises all Australians, that people respect the structure and agencies of government and... feel the structures represent them.’

The governance aspirations involved having: appropriate governance structures (including the legal system) that represent the public and which people understand and can easily access, especially those people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged; appropriate government regulations; and a governance environment in which citizens can engage, participate and influence the policy-making process. While these were aspirations for all Australians, the submission emphasised the importance of better justice and safety outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – ‘Justice and safety outcomes for Indigenous Australians are improved. It is important to measure the success of laws which impact Indigenous Australians when considering progress.’

The submission also provided an environment aspiration focusing on the importance of continued and resilient critical infrastructure, and linking this with national security, economic prosperity and social well-being.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) – Housing and Homelessness Group

‘People can rent or buy accommodation that suits their needs.’

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia’s health and welfare. This submission focused on the importance of housing, noting that improvements in Australia’s long-term housing situation contribute not just to progress in the social domain, but also in the other domains; ‘for example, energy efficient homes benefit the environment and home ownership benefits individuals and the economy’.They noted the implicit aspiration underlying MAP housing measures is that people have access to the shelter, security, privacy and assets provided by adequate housing, and suggested the following aspiration:

‘All Australians have access to adequate and affordable housing.’

AIHW outlined adequate housing as not being homeless or living in an overcrowded situation, and having a reasonable standard of energy efficiency, stability (e.g. tenure length) and comfort, as determined by community expectations rather than in terms of minimum requirements. They noted people should be able to rent or buy a home that meets their needs, especially in terms of proximity to work, services and social networks, and suitability to their life stage. AIHW said housing costs should not mean people had to forego access to other life essentials, such as nutritious food, health care and transport (e.g. no more than 30% of income for low income Australians), and highlighted in particular that these costs need to suit the circumstances of older Australians and people who need to move.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)

‘Being able to make sound money decisions is a core skill in today’s world ... It affects quality of life, the opportunities we can pursue, our sense of security and well-being, and the overall economic health of our society.’

ASIC is Australia’s corporate, markets and financial services regulator. It contributes to Australia’s economic reputation and well-being by ensuring that Australia’s financial markets are fair and transparent, supported by confident and informed investors and consumers. The ASIC submission focused on the importance of financial literacy or capability in terms of understanding money and finances, and being able to confidently apply that knowledge to making effective financial decisions. The effects of financial literacy were seen as multidimensional – ‘an important personal, economic and ultimately social goal’.The submission discussed the importance of schooling in developing foundational financial literacy, achieving long term change and building human capital. The submission also identified a number of principles underpinning financial literacy:
  • Inclusiveness – reaching all Australians, particularly those in need and future generations of consumers and investors;
  • Engagement – helping all Australians appreciate the importance of financial literacy and that small things done regularly make a difference;
  • Diversity – delivering learning that recognises the different ways people learn and allows all Australians to participate;
  • Knowledge and empowerment – giving all Australians access to information, tools and ongoing support systems;
  • Improving outcomes – recognising that information alone is not always enough and using additional mechanisms to achieve better outcomes;
  • Partnerships – mapping and building on existing foundations to fill gaps and ensure all sectors and agencies work cooperatively; and
  • Measurement – evaluating our work to know what is and is not effective, and learning from and sharing these evaluations.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

DFAT’s core responsibility is to protect and advance the interests of Australia and Australians internationally. Their work involves preserving national security and protecting Australians abroad, and advancing Australia’s economic prosperity and interests, including contributing to the economy’s international competitiveness. They saw the issues of national security and prosperity as being of fundamental concern to all Australians. Their submission also discussed the value of national identity and image, quoting the then Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd, who said the government wanted ‘Australia to be seen around the world as a good country and Australians as good people.’ The submission also proposed Australians have a ‘broad wish for an effective and efficient government that delivers high quality programs and services tailored to legitimate need’.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is responsible for immigration arrangements, border control, citizenship, ethnic and multicultural affairs. DIAC did not make a formal submission to the MAP consultation but suggested it would be valuable to consider the important areas of access and equity, especially in the context of the cultural and linguistic diversity of Australia, and endorsed measures that inform on social inclusion. The department said their ‘understanding of the aspirations and goals of our diverse society reveals that, in general, Australians share similar goals for themselves and their families, irrespective of their cultural, linguistic or national background’.

Department of Infrastructure and Transport

‘Transport services and infrastructure facilitate an efficient and productive economy… Transport enables Australians to get where they need to go in a timely manner, whether that be for the purposes of accessing employment, education, services, social connections or leisure activities.’

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport assists the Government to promote, evaluate, plan and invest in infrastructure and by fostering an efficient, sustainable, competitive, safe and secure transport system. The ABS met with the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, which endorsed MAP as providing a valuable overarching approach to progress measurement. The department noted that transport and infrastructure are essential facilitators for economic activity and population well-being, underpinning the efficient and smooth operation of industry and impacting quality of life. They saw value in understanding factors such as the amount of time people spend travelling to work and the costs of transport congestion.

The department noted that transport and infrastructure are issues that cut across the MAP domains, and that another cross-cutting area of strong interest to the community was liveability, which is addressed in their ‘State of Australian Capital Cities’ report (Infrastructure Australia 2010).The lens of liveability was suggested as a useful way of understanding quality of life (e.g. the ‘State of Australian Capital Cities’ report covers areas such as housing, health, transport, the built environment, safety and social inclusion). Issues of distribution and equity were also highlighted as important, particularly regional differences, and the department endorsed the ABS reporting progress measures for a range of geographical regions where data permits.

Department of Defence

‘This report to the Government reflects the ongoing interest of many Australians in the maintenance of a capable, self-reliant defence force that can safeguard and protect Australia and our interests.’

The Department of Defence forms part of the Australian Defence Organisation, along with the Australian Defence Force. The department’s role is to support the Australian Defence Organisation’s mission to defend Australia and its national interests. The Department of Defence emphasised the value Australians place on national and regional security. They provided MAP with a copy of their ‘Looking over the Horizon: Australia’s Consider Defence’ report (Department of Defence 2008).This report was the product of public consultations reviewing the Defence White Paper Public Discussion Paper, and provides valuable insight into the community’s perception of Australia’s defence forces and operations, informing the future directions of Australia’s defence strategy.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC)

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities develops and implements national policy, programs and legislation to protect, conserve and advance a sustainable Australia in the areas of the environment, water, heritage and communities. DSEWPaC pointed to the key outcomes and priorities for the department over the next five years, including:
  • Biodiversity and ecosystems: The conservation and protection of Australia’s terrestrial and marine biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Sustainable population and communities: Improved sustainability of Australia’s population, communities and environment; and reduction and regulation of waste, pollutants and hazardous substances.
  • Sustainable water: Adaptation to climate change, wise water use, secure water supplies, and improved health of rivers, waterways and freshwater ecosystems.
  • Environmental protection and heritage conservation: Increased protection, awareness and appreciation of Australia’s environment and heritage.
DSEWPaC undertakes several programs related to the MAP work, including the ‘State of the Environment Report’, the ‘Sustainable Population Strategy’, and the ‘Measuring Sustainability’ program. These initiatives are outlined below along with a number other relevant federal government initiatives.