1383.0.55.001 - Measures of Australia's Progress: Summary Indicators, 2009
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/04/2009
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Major MAP reports were released in 2002, 2004 and 2006. These contained detailed commentary on each dimension of progress, background information on how the ABS chose to measure progress and feature articles on topics of special interest. By and large, this paper discusses the way that the progress indicators are presented in the major MAP reports. It is also designed to be of interest to people who may be considering developing their own progress indicators, say at community level, or for those engaged in international projects to measure progress (see 'National and international initiatives').
The paper is also relevant to people reading this web-based issue of MAP which has been updated each year since 2005. The electronic version of MAP includes up-to-date statistics on each of the headline indicators together with selected supplementary information. Links are provided to detailed commentary on each indicator from the most recent major report. MAP on-line also includes background commentary on the development of MAP and easy access to all the feature articles from the main reports.
Readers can use the major MAP publication and the electronic version in three ways to assess progress:
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:
The indicators have been chosen to reflect recent progress (primarily over the past 10 years) at the national (or whole-of-Australia) level.
Sub-national data. Although an aspect of life, such as employment, 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. 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. MAP 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. However, 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. Where possible we draw some international comparisons of headline indicators for those dimensions of progress for which comparable international data are available. A feature article comparing information from member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) across a range of areas of progress was published in 2006 ('Some international comparisons of progress'). Australian Social Trends (cat. no. 4102.0) publishes spreadsheets that provide an international comparison of several of the indicators discussed in MAP such as life expectancy and unemployment.
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.
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).
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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.
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. A feature article discussing 'Relationships between the dimensions of progress' was published in 2008.
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.
This publication tends not to enter into any direct discussion of sustainability into the future. 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. Our indicators measure progress in dimensions that relate directly to, or are intimately linked with, Australia's assets.
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