4700.0 - ABS Directions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics, Jun 2007  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/06/2007   
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2.1 Since the ABS published Directions in Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics in 2000, there have been a number of changes in the administration of Indigenous affairs at the Commonwealth level including:

  • Changes to the portfolio administration of Indigenous Affairs.
  • The abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
  • Creation of the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) and Indigenous Coordination Centres (ICCs) to facilitate a 'whole of government' approach to design and delivery of services to Indigenous communities.
  • Emergence of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) processes for monitoring Indigenous disadvantage and progress.

These changes also reflect increased efforts by State and Territory governments to avoid duplication and gaps in service delivery of relevant government programs.

2.2 Through initiatives of COAG there has been renewed focus on jurisdictional reporting on the effectiveness with which government programs meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This reporting is conducted under the auspices of the Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth and State Service Provision and is presented in the biennial Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report (first published in 2003). The OID report has quickly become a key report quantifying the level of disadvantage of Indigenous people and the frameworks behind the report allow for measurement of the impacts of programs to address and reduce disadvantage in future years.

2.3 The range of national and jurisdictional reporting arrangements has expanded in recent years placing increased demand on the ABS, and other agencies, to produce reliable, consistent data for effective development and monitoring of policies and programs. The major reporting mechanisms are summarised in Appendix 1. In addition to the OID report these include:
2.4 Driving and/or supporting the data reporting initiatives are a range of data development forums with specific focus on Indigenous data issues. Externally, the ABS and other agencies support information development through information advisory structures in a number of fields, such as health, housing, education, crime and justice, and Indigenous affairs. These are outlined in more detail in Appendix 2.

2.5 In addition, the ABS is engaged with stakeholders in some of these fields through the development and management of Information Development Plans (IDPs). These are agreements among the key stakeholders on the statistical development work required in a particular subject field, to better inform and support the key policy and research issues facing governments and researchers. IDPs have been published by the ABS for Education, Crime and Justice, Children and Youth, and Rural and Regional statistics and others are being developed (e.g. for Housing and Ageing). Similarly, information plans are also developed and agreed to by national groups, such as the Health Statistical Information Management Committee (SIMC) which reports to the National Health Information Ministerial Principal Committee (NHIMPC). The ABS contributes to the development of these plans through its membership of various committees. In most of the IDPs published by the ABS, and other agreed plans, priorities have been identified relating to improving the information base on the social circumstances of Indigenous people. Stakeholders in the particular fields (including the ABS) continue to work together to address gaps in the availability of statistical information (see detail in Appendix 3).

2.6 The mechanisms described above assist the ABS to better understand the requirements of data users for Indigenous data and these same mechanisms allow the ABS to inform the community and to work with relevant agencies to develop information. In these discussions the ABS contributes to the development of data standards, and improved approaches to data collection, analysis and dissemination, all of which lead to improved data quality.

2.7 The ABS has a well-established, regular program of Indigenous statistical activity, including:
  • Production of Indigenous population estimates and projections.
  • Implementation of the Census Indigenous Enumeration Strategy.
  • Conducting regular Indigenous household surveys (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS)).
  • Conducting other surveys commissioned by external agencies e.g. the 1999, 2001 and 2005 Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Surveys (CHINS).
  • Publication of experimental Indigenous labour force estimates from the Labour Force Survey.
  • Publication of Indigenous data in major ABS collections e.g. schools, births, deaths, corrective services etc.
  • Providing input to improve the quality of Indigenous identification in administrative collections (e.g. births, deaths, education and training, law and justice).
  • Contributing to understanding of the social conditions of Indigenous people through its analytical work program.

Further details of the current ABS Indigenous statistics program are provided in Appendix 4.

2.8 Building on the sound basis of the existing statistical program, this paper outlines areas where the ABS could extend and enhance the suite of statistics for understanding the social conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Our ongoing work program will continue to include work to understand and improve the quality of population estimates and projections, Indigenous mortality and life expectancy estimates, and measures of Indigenous labour force characteristics. The ABS program of household surveys is under review during 2007. While the final program is yet to be decided, there is demand to continue our Indigenous surveys program and to further expand it if feasible. Collaborative efforts with other agencies, and national committees and forums, will be directed at promoting the appropriate use of Indigenous statistics, and working together to develop and improve identification in important administrative collections, such as births and deaths, and courts and police systems.

2.9 The ABS has established an Advisory Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics (AGATSIS). The group provides advice to the ABS on advancing the directions set by the mechanisms described above, and in setting further strategic directions for the ABS's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics work program. Special purpose, technical sub-groups will also be formed to work on specific issues as needed. The advice provided by AGATSIS will enhance the continued relevance of the ABS's work to whole-of-government policy directions, Indigenous stakeholders and the research community.

2.10 The ABS Corporate Plan promotes responsiveness to changing client needs, whilst maintaining a high level of integrity, objectiveness and quality of service. In progressing ABS directions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics, a key concern will be to balance responsiveness to emerging issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy, while ensuring longer-term consistency and quality within the ABS Indigenous collections.