1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2003-04  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/10/2004   
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Contents >> Section 1 - Summary of Operations >> Chapter 1 - Executive Summary - Population Estimates

Last year's annual report presented a special article 'Population Estimates: Importance, Complexity and Controversy' which provided background to the process and data sources for compiling the population estimates for states and territories. It also explained the limitations of those estimates in terms of potential sources of error.

The article was timely as it was written at the time the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters was beginning its Inquiry into Representation of the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in the House of Representatives. The Inquiry arose from the fact that based on the most recent ABS population estimates, the Northern Territory was 295 persons short of a second quota for the House of Representatives, and as a result would have their representation reduced in that House from two members to one member for the next election.

The ABS made two submissions to the Inquiry and appeared twice before the Committee. Throughout the process the ABS message regarding the population estimates for the Northern Territory was consistent i.e. they are the best available estimates given existing data sources, however, they are subject to a range of possible sources of error.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report Territory Representation - Report of the Inquiry into Increasing the Minimum Representation for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives presented two recommendations for consideration by the government:

Recommendation 1

      That in order to make the process of determining the representation of the Territories in the House of Representatives more transparent and certain, the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended:

      to require the Australian Statistician:

      to include in the quarterly Estimates of Resident Population published in Australian Demographic Statistics, in addition to the estimated populations of the States, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, estimates of the populations of the Territories of Jervis Bay, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island;

      to require the Australian Electoral Commissioner:

      on a date twelve months after the first sitting of a new House of Representatives, to take note of the latest statistics of the population of the Commonwealth, including separate statistics of the populations of each of the States and Territories of the Commonwealth, that have been published as Estimates of Resident Population in Australian Demographic Statistics; and

      to require the Australian Electoral Commissioner:

      to make to those statistics whatever adjustments are required by other sections of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 for the purposes of making the determination, for example the Norfolk Island statistics, and to make and publish the determination including details of the adjustments and calculations involved within one month after the end of the twelfth month after the first sitting of a new House of Representatives.

Recommendation 2
      The Committee recommends that in future, the Australian Statistician advise the Electoral Commissioner of the margin of error for the Territories at the time of supplying the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, and that the margin of error for the ACT and the NT be incorporated into the determination of seats for the Territories when a Territory falls short of quota. If the shortfall is within the margin of error acknowledged by the ABS, the Australian Electoral Commissioner is to use the ERP figure at the top of the margin of error to determine the Territory's entitlement.
The recommendations were accepted by the government and subsequently incorporated into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Representation in the House of Representatives) Bill 2004 which received Royal Assent on 20 April 2004.

The recommendations are welcomed by the ABS in that they bring greater certainty as to the role of the ABS in preparing population estimates for electoral purposes. At the same time, Recommendation 2 gives the Statistician considerable discretion insomuch that the size of the margin of error is dependent on a number of factors over which the Statistician has control. For this reason the ABS will ensure complete transparency in the process of determining the margin of error and will issue a discussion paper for comment prior to implementation.

The ABS will also continue its efforts to further improve the quality of its population estimates. Integral to that process has been the establishment of a Census Indigenous Enumeration Strategy Working Group to assist the ABS in developing appropriate strategies to improve the accuracy of Indigenous enumeration for the 2006 census. In addition, the ABS has established a Demographic Methods Unit to investigate improved demographic methods and data sources for population estimates and projections.

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