1370.0 - Measuring Australia's Progress, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/2002   
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Contents >> Appendix 3: Other initiatives

Many different approaches are used to measure progress and kindred concepts. Some are outlined here, together with some of the more significant measurement projects underway in Australia and overseas.


Some analysts categorise their indicator sets according to the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) model. This model is often referred to in the environmental literature. It was developed primarily for considering sustainable development and the interactions between the environment and the economy - so it is less suited to Measuring Australia's Progress which focuses on progress in the economic, social and environmental domains, rather than on environmental sustainability.

Under this approach, indicators are classified according to whether they signal:

  • a pressure on the natural environment;
  • the state or condition of the environment; or
  • the extent of society's response.

The United Nations (UN) has replaced the term 'pressure' with 'driving force', though the UN's model is essentially the same.

The PSR framework implies causality: a pressure modifies the state of the environment and this triggers a response from society. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warns that a PSR framework:
    "tends to suggest linear relationships in the human activity - environment interaction. This should not obstruct the view of more complex relationships in ecosystems and in environment-economy interactions."


Aggregated indicators seek to combine disparate measures of progress into just one number.

For example, to measure the quality of life in a nation, the United Nations Development Program started compiling a Human Development Index (HDI). It is presented as an alternative to national accounting measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for measuring the relative socioeconomic progress of nations. The HDI is aimed primarily at measuring change in developing countries. A country's HDI is composed of life expectancy, educational standards and average incomes. Each of the components is given equal weight.

Other approaches, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), attempt to adjust traditional measures of economic activity, such as GDP, to account for changes to environmental and social capital. For example, a GPI might begin with GDP, then make allowances such as:
  • spending to offset social and environmental costs ('defensive expenditure') is taken out;
  • longer term environmental damage and the depreciation of natural capital are accounted for;
  • changes in income distribution are included (reflecting the view that an additional dollar means more to the poor than to the rich);
  • estimates of the costs (financial, social and psychological) of unemployment, underemployment and overwork might be included; and
  • a value for household labour is included.

There is not yet a consensus on how many of these things should be valued in dollar terms.

The Australia Institute has calculated a Genuine Progress Indicator for Australia. Details are at:


The System of National Accounts (1993) provides an international framework for economic accounting. Australia's national accounts record the essential elements of the Australian economy: production; income; consumption; accumulation of assets and liabilities; and wealth.

Some countries, including Australia, are beginning to explore ways of incorporating environmental and social effects into a national accounting framework.

The Dutch Government has also made progress in compiling a System of Economic and Social Accounting Matrices and Extensions (SESAME). This system is an extension to the standard national accounts framework. For each variable, it permits analysis of both the national total value and its distribution among socioeconomic groups (categories of employed persons etc.) Key features in a system of accounting matrices are data integration and multiple classifications, which provide links (both conceptual and numerical) between monetary and non-monetary units. Such a system can be used to analyse the links between the structure of an economy, people and the environment.


The Ecological Footprint measures the land area and other resources affected by a population - both the land occupied directly by housing and the like, and the land and other resources used to produce goods and services, to take in the waste generated, and so on.


Are We Sustaining Australia: A Report Against Headline Sustainability Indicators for Australia is Australia's first report against a set of 24 headline sustainability indicators. The indicators have been selected to collectively measure national performance against the core objectives of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD).

The report, and the indicators against which it reports, have been developed in consultation with all Commonwealth agencies, other jurisdictions, key stakeholders and the general public. The report is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to give a broad view, reflecting on a wide range of issues with a relatively small amount of information.

The first report does not set out to assess whether or not our way of life is sustainable, but rather, to provide a base line for the measurement of future trends. Several of the indicators, especially for ecological wellbeing and natural resource management, have been developed very recently. There are therefore, at this stage, limited time series data on which to assess overall trends.

More information should shortly be available on
    <URL: www.ea.gov.au>


In November 2001, the Hon. Steve Bracks M.P., Premier of Victoria, launched Growing Victoria Together, a document that expresses a broad vision for the future of Victoria through a list of goals and priority actions. This Victorian State Government document also lists indicators or targets that will be used to demonstrate progress towards the articulated goals.

The ABS has been assisting the Victorian State Government with identifying priorities for indicator production through the Indicators of Wellbeing in Regional and Rural Communities project, which began in 2000. This consultancy had a particular focus on wellbeing indicators at the sub-State level and culminated in the delivery to the State Government of a Victorian Framework for Indicators of Regional Wellbeing in March 2002.

Some indicators identified in these two projects are already published by the ABS. The ABS expects to publish more of the indicators throughout 2002, as data sources are evaluated and appropriate methodologies for producing reliable indicators are finalised.

More information on Growing Victoria Together can be accessed on
    <URL: www.growingvictoria.gov.au>


Tasmania Together is a 20-year plan for achieving the vision of a group of Tasmanian community leaders appointed by the Government of Tasmania. The vision is that:
    "Together Tasmanians will make Tasmania an icon for the rest of the world by creating a proud and confident society where people live in harmony and prosperity."

The vision - and a draft set of goals which gave a framework to the vision - was the subject of extensive consultations within the Tasmanian community during the year 2000. Based on issues raised during those consultations, benchmarking standards were adopted by expert committees. Twenty-four goals were benchmarked in the areas of Community, Economy, Environment, Democracy, and Culture. A total of 212 benchmarks were identified, and targets have been established for 104 of them.

For example, Goal 2 in the area of Community is that by the year 2020 Tasmania will "have a community where people feel safe and are safe in all aspects of their lives".

During the community consultations on this goal, a key issue was the greater risk of harm borne by younger people. As a result, one of the benchmark standards for this goal is to 'support young people who have challenging behaviour or who are at risk'. A benchmarking committee identified two key indicators of progress. One of these indicators is the number of deaths of people aged 0.29 years due to external causes. For this indicator, a target has been set for a 15% annually compounding reduction up until the year 2020.

More information on Tasmania Together is available at
During 2001, by an Act of the Tasmanian Parliament, a Tasmania Together Progress Board was established to report progress, and to review and upgrade progress benchmarks.


The Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998 requires the Treasurer to publish an Intergenerational Report (IGR) at least once every five years, assessing the sustainability of current government policies for the following 40 years, including taking into account the financial implications of demographic change. The first IGR is due by April 2003. The IGR is to be published on a five-year cycle, reflecting its focus on long-run issues.


There are countless initiatives at the international, national and sub-national level around the world. A selection is mentioned below.
  • The United Kingdom Government's Indicators of Sustainable Development, at
    <URL: www.sustainable-developmentgov.uk/indicators/index.htm>
  • The Danish government reports entitled International Benchmarking of Denmark, comparing Denmark's performance on a wide range of social, economic and environmental criteria with a number of countries, can be found at
    <URL: http://www.fm.dk/uk/pubuk/benchmark00_uk/>
  • The Australian Collaboration (a group of major national non-governmental organisation peak bodies including: Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Social Services, Australian Consumers Association, Australian Council for Overseas Aid, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, and National Council of Churches) produced a report Where are we going: comprehensive social, cultural and environmental reporting. It can be found at
    <URL: www.tya.org.au/australiancollaboration>
  • The OECD's report (2001) The Well-being of Nations: the Role of Human and Social Capital covers the integration of societal wellbeing measures with economic and environmental ones. It can be found at
    <URL: http://www.SourceOECD.org>

Other useful references are provided at the International Institute of Sustainable Development's website

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