1370.0 - Measuring Australia's Progress, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/2002   
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Contents >> The supplementary commentaries >> Communication and transport

Access to the Internet among Australian households grew rapidly between 1996 and 2000, and 37% of households were using the Internet at home by November 2000. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1) However, there are substantial differences in levels of access between different groups of the population.

Access to motor vehicles also increased through the 1990s, and in 2001 there was about one passenger vehicle for every two Australians. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)


The communication of information, ideas and knowledge is important to many aspects of Australian progress, such as education and economic efficiency. Many aspects of communication - including the freedom and quality of Australia's press, television and radio, and how much we communicate and with whom - are important. This commentary focusses on the Internet, a new and increasingly important form of communication. Those who have access are able to take advantage of an increasingly diverse range of activities and they communicate with a broad range of people. Many companies, organisations, universities, political parties and individuals have Web sites. On-line services include education, banking and shopping, while the Internet helps people to work from home or communicate with others, including friends and family.

The number of households connected to the Internet grew rapidly between 1996 (when data were first collected) and 2000. In February 1996, about 260,000 households (fewer than 4%) had access to the Internet. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3) By November 2000 this figure had risen to 2.7 million (37% of households). The growth in the number of households connected to the Internet is, as would be expected, reflected in the number of adults accessing the Internet at home. In 2000, adults were more likely to access the Internet at home than at any other place. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

Between 1996 and 2000, 99% of households connected to the Internet used a computer for access. Households' ownership of computers increased over the period, though not as strongly as their use of the Internet. In February 1996 just under 2.2 million households owned a computer (34% of households); one in nine of these households was connected to the Internet. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3) By November 2000 some 4 million households owned a computer (56%), and more than two-thirds of these households were connected to the Internet. About 45% of households with access to the Internet used it daily, while a very high proportion (93%) accessed the Internet at least once a week. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

Computer ownership and Internet access, households

Graph - Computer ownership and Internet access, households


In November 2000, access to the Internet at home differed according to the characteristics of households, such as income, location and family structure. Households with incomes of $50,000 or more were nearly three times as likely to have access to the Internet at home than those with incomes under $50,000 (57% compared to 21%). Households with children under 18 years old were more likely to have access than those without children (48% compared to 32%). Metropolitan households with different incomes or family structures were more likely than their counterparts outside the cities to access the Internet at home (some 40% of households in metropolitan areas used the Internet at home, compared to 32% of those living outside these areas). (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

Among the States and Territories, the ACT had the highest proportion of households connected (48%) in 2000, possibly because of the ACT's relatively high average incomes and young age profile. Other States with a relatively high proportion connected were the NT (36%), Victoria and Western Australia (both 34%) and New South Wales (33%). Tasmania had the smallest proportion connected, just 26%. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)


Telephones remained one of the major communication tools throughout the 1990s. According to the OECD, the number of fixed phone lines in Australia rose by over a third between 1990 and 1999, from 7.8 million to almost 10.5 million. (SEE FOOTNOTE 8) There was also a very significant rise in mobile phone ownership during the decade. Data from the International Telecommunications Union show that in 1990 there was about one mobile phone for every hundred Australians. (SEE FOOTNOTE 9) By 1995 this figure had increased to 13 mobile phones per hundred people. In 1999 the OECD put the figure at almost 40 mobile phones per hundred Australians. (SEE FOOTNOTES 8, 9)


The term 'digital divide' is used to describe unequal access to information and communications technology among some parts of the community. Although Internet use increased rapidly between 1998 and 2001, data show that people on low incomes, without tertiary education, living outside metropolitan areas or aged over 55, are less likely to use the Internet. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1) And as the Internet becomes more widespread, groups without access may not to have the full opportunities to participate in social, economic and political life.


One can also consider the characteristics of the individuals - rather than the households - that use the Internet. In the 12 months to November 2000, half of the adults in Australia accessed the Internet at home or elsewhere. Almost a third of all adults accessed the Internet at home, while a quarter used it at work. A further 24% of adults accessed the Internet at other sites, such as the home of a friend or relative, a tertiary institution or a library. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

The likelihood that an adult was an Internet user fell as age increased. Some 74% of adults aged 18-24 years were Internet users, but only 19% of those aged 55 years or over used the Net. Adult men were slightly more likely than women to have been Internet users (53% to 47%). Those in employment were also much more likely to have used the Internet than other adults. Some 63% of employed adults used the Internet in the 12 months up to November 2000, compared to 25% of other adults. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

The proportion of adults using the Internet in Australia is high by world standards, and in 2000 Australia was ranked joint fifth by an OECD study of selected countries (behind several Scandinavian countries and Canada, and alongside the US). (SEE FOOTNOTE 4) Comparing information from different countries can be problematic, and these figures should be treated with caution.


Information is not available on changes over time in the number of children accessing the Internet, but figures are available for the twelve months to April 2000. Almost half (47%) of children aged 5-14 years accessed the Internet in this period, with just over a quarter of all children accessing from home and almost a third using the Internet at school. There was no difference in the proportions of children accessing the Internet in regional and metropolitan areas (both 47%). (SEE FOOTNOTE 5)


Many factors affect whether people decide to connect to the Internet at home. Cost and interest in the Internet are two, as is ownership of a computer (most of the people who access the Internet from home use a personal computer).

Although the Internet can be accessed without using a home computer (such as through a mobile phone or a set-top box), 99% of households accessing the Internet used only a computer to access it in November 2000. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)
Well over half of the 3.3 million households without a computer reported either that they had no need for a computer or no interest in having one at home. A little less than a quarter reported high costs as the main reason for being without a home computer. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)

Half of the 4.8 million households without access to the Internet at November 2000, reported that the household either had no need for the Internet or had no interest in having access. And another fifth said that high costs were the main reason the household did not have home Internet access. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)

Although the ABS has little information about the changing cost of Internet access, the price of home computers has fallen steadily during the 1990s, while the capability of those computers has improved dramatically. (SEE FOOTNOTE 6)

Interest in the Internet is likely to rise as the breadth of on-line services increases and people become more accustomed to using them. For example, the proportion of adults using the Internet for financial transactions is on the increase. Between 1999 and 2000 the proportion of adults performing a transaction via the Internet rose from 3% to 9%. Internet shopping is becoming more common too. In 2000, 15% of adult Internet users were Internet shoppers compared to only 12% in 1999. In that year, almost 1.3 million adults accessed government services, primarily for paying bills or accessing taxation information and, to a lesser extent, employment information. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3)

Other factors believed to influence Internet use include lack of skills and training and concerns over security. The use of the Internet in the workplace is also thought to stimulate people to become connected at home, while children who use the Internet at school or a friend's house are likely to provide a push to their own households to become connected.


Using the Internet at home can affect the way people work. In 2000 some 430,000 adults had an ongoing agreement with their employers to work from home some or all of the time. (SEE FOOTNOTE 3) Around 35% of these employees accessed their employer's computer system using a modem. (SEE FOOTNOTE 1)

The Internet can be used for education; it is a powerful research tool and many education institutions are developing distance learning courses over the Net. But education also plays a part in driving change: people's knowledge of and ability to use the Internet help determine whether they choose to connect at home.

The Internet can be used for cultural or recreational pursuits, and can save time (through activities such as Internet banking) which can be spent on other things. The growth of Internet use might also act as a catalyst for greater social attachment: it can provide better links across a local community while also offering access to national and international resources.

The flow of knowledge and information over the Net can stimulate innovation. It also allows consumers a way of comparing the prices of, and even purchasing, goods and services from outside their local area, or outside Australia. Economic theory suggests that this might make Australian industry more competitive, both domestically and internationally.

Passenger vehicles per 1,000 people
Graph - Passenger vehicles per 1,000 people


Many aspects of transport have a bearing on Australia's progress. The movement of people and goods (from home to work, from producers to consumers, etc.) depends on the availability of efficient and affordable transport.

It is difficult to conceive of an indicator reflecting national progress in the transport dimension. An ideal indicator might focus on whether people have access to efficient and affordable transport. Within some of our major cities, an indicator might measure whether people have access to acceptable public transport networks or uncongested roads. In remote parts of Australia, an indicator might measure whether the roads are in good repair or whether those who need a car can afford to own and use one. But whether transport is decent or affordable is a matter of personal opinion and is hard to measure. Even if data were available, there is no obvious way in which these aspects could be combined into one number.

Environmental concerns associated with motor vehicle use, primarily some types of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, are measured here by indicators relating directly to those concerns (see box). This commentary focusses on access, and access to the motor car remains important to many Australians. Statistics on motor vehicle registrations can tell us how access to cars might be changing over time.

On 31 March 2001 there were over 9.8 million registered passenger vehicles in Australia, up from around 7.8 million in 1991. In 2001, passenger vehicles accounted for over 80% of the vehicle fleet, with trucks, buses, motor cycles and light commercial vehicles comprising the rest (another 2.6 million vehicles). The motor vehicle fleet grew more quickly than the population in the 1990s. By 2001 there were 509 passenger vehicles for every 1,000 people in Australia, up from 453 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1991. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)

Each passenger vehicle travelled an average 14,800 kms in the year to 31 October 2000, about the same distance as in the year to 30 September 1991. (SEE FOOTNOTE 7)


Access to vehicles is important to many Australians, but the combustion of fossil fuels by motor vehicles is an important source of air pollution and greenhouse gases. In 2001, an estimated 90% of registered vehicles used petrol. The proportion of the entire fleet using diesel fuel rose between 1991 and 2001, from 6% to almost 9%, and there was particularly strong growth in the proportion of passenger vehicles using diesel, which almost doubled from 1.3% to 2.5%. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2) But although Australians were using more fuel per capita, vehicles were more fuel efficient in 2001 than in 1991. Passenger vehicles used an average 12.3 litres per 100 km in 1991. By 2001 this had fallen to 11.7 litres per 100km. (SEE FOOTNOTE 7)

Government policy aimed at reducing lead emissions from car exhausts provoked a strong shift away from leaded petrol over the decade 1991-2001. In the 12 months to September 1991 unleaded petrol accounted for less than 40% of petrol sold in Australia. In the twelve months to March 2001 it accounted for almost 85%. There was also a shift towards the use of LPG/CNG/dual fuel by passenger vehicles between 1991 and 2001. The amount of such fuel used increased from 840,000 litres in 1991 to 1.3 million litres in 2001, and gas's share of total fuel consumed by passenger vehicles increased from 6% to 8%. (SEE FOOTNOTE 7)


The highest levels of passenger vehicle registrations were in South Australia, with 568 vehicles per 1,000 resident population, up from about 502 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1991. The Northern Territory had the lowest rate with about 345 vehicles per 1,000 resident population in 2001, up from about 331 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1991. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)These data are influenced by the level of ownership within each State as well by the numbers of vehicles, such as hire cars, that might be registered within a State but used elsewhere.

In 2001, some 3.1 million passenger vehicles (30% of all vehicles) were registered in New South Wales, more than any other State or Territory. Between 1991 and 2001 there was a strong rise in the proportion of registrations in Queensland, where the fleet grew by almost 40% in the ten years to March 2001. Population growth in Queensland was 21% over that period. By contrast, growth in the Tasmanian fleet was slowest (up by 9% over the period), with a slight growth in the population (0.5%). (SEE FOOTNOTE 2) In 2000, passenger vehicles registered in the ACT travelled most, on average 16,200 kms a year, while South Australia-registered vehicles recorded the lowest average distance travelled, of 12,600 kms. (SEE FOOTNOTE 2)


Levels of car ownership are affected by many factors including incomes, interest rates, car prices and demographic trends. Improved roads have probably also played a part. As cars are often shared by a household, a trend to more single person households is likely to boost car numbers.

Whether and when people use their cars depends in part on the availability of alternative transport, anticipated levels of congestion and the price of fuel. A growing trend of working from home, using the Internet and other 'dial-up' facilities, might help to decrease car use in Australia.


Access to transport helps to determine where people work and what goods and services they can purchase. But motor vehicles remain the largest single source of air pollution in Australia, and also an important source of greenhouse emissions.

See also the commentaries National income, Education and training, Knowledge and innovation, Work, Social attachment, Air quality, and Greenhouse gases.


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Use of the Internet by Householders, Cat. no. 8147.0, ABS, Canberra.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1991-2001, Motor Vehicle Census, Cat. no. 9309.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996-2000, Household Use of Information Technology, Cat. no. 8146.0, ABS, Canberra.

4 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001, OECD Science Technology and Industry Scorecard 2001 - Towards a knowledge-based economy, OECD, Paris.

5 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Cat. no. 4901.0, ABS, Canberra.

6 Landefeld, S and Grimm, B.T. 2000, ''Note on the Impact of Hedonics and Computers on Real GDP", Survey of Current Business, vol. 80, no.12, pp. 17.22.

7 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1991.2000, Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, Cat. no. 9208.0, ABS, Canberra.

8 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001, OECD Communications Outlook 2001, OECD, Paris.

9 International Telecommunications Union, 1996, Year Book of Statistics; Telecom Services 1986-1995, ITU, Geneva.

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