4733.0 - Information Paper: Review of the Indigenous Status Standard, 2014  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 08/10/2014  First Issue
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Commonwealth and state and territory government agencies expressed concern towards any change to the SIQ at the current time. Government stakeholders emphasised that changing the SIQ would complicate what was noted as an already complex data reporting environment.

While there was acknowledgement from some agencies that the wording of the current SIQ is not optimal, agencies specifically noted that changing the measurement concept would equate to a break in time series. A continuum in comparable estimates over time was emphasised as necessary for government reporting (such as the National Indigenous Reform Agenda, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report and Health Performance Framework Report), upon which policy departments and service agencies rely.

The amount of time and resources required to adopt the ABS SIQ and recording categories on data collection forms and information systems, and additional costs in implementing any change to the SIQ was a significant concern raised by stakeholders. However, there was some acknowledgement that an amended question has the potential to provide more accurate information on the population identifying as being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person.


Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consulted during the Review preferred a SIQ that omits the concept of ‘origin’. This view was expressed during the Review, and is a view that has been raised with the ABS in a range of forums over the past decade.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders noted that having an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander ancestor is not the same as being, and identifying, as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. While an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person will always have one or more ancestors who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, it is cultural identity that was noted as central to being an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person.

Although cultural identify was seen as being fluid and capable of change over the course of a lifetime and within specific situations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders emphasised the need to recognise and measure people’s changing propensity to identify over time.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders were asked their views on how the SIQ should be asked to better measure the concept of ‘cultural identity’. Some stakeholders indicated that people do not understand the question, particularly the use of the term ‘origin’, and recommended simplifying the wording and including supplementary material to assist people in answering the question.

The form of Question most strongly supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was:

'Are you an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person?'


'Is the person an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?'

Some stakeholders noted that non-Indigenous Australians who are considered Indigenous to other countries, may answer ‘YES’ to the SIQ. Therefore, it was also suggested that the word ‘Australian’ be added to the SIQ.


Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and some government agencies requested the Standard include an additional (optional) question that further identifies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by sub-population groups.

Many stakeholders considered that respondents should have the option to identify their language group, clan, tribe, nation or mob, as the current SIQ does not reflect the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While some agencies had no need for this information, others indicated a strong demand to inform better service delivery and program evaluation. At the same time there was acknowledgement that not everyone who identifies as being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person can name a language group, clan, tribe, nation or mob to which they belong.

Whilst this information is not currently collected in official statistics in Australia, national statistical organisations of New Zealand, Canada and USA do collect information about a person's tribe or clan group. For those with a Maori ancestor, the New Zealand Census asks the name and home region of the person's Iwi (their tribe or tribes). Canada's 2011 National Household Survey, consistent with their previous Census long form, derived Aboriginal identity from several questions covering Aboriginal group and membership in a First Nation or Indian band. The 2010 US Census asked for the name of a person's "enrolled or principal tribe" if they identified in the Census as "American Indian or Alaska Native". The ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey asks whether a person identifies with a clan, tribe or speaks an Indigenous language, but does not collect the name of the clan, tribe or Indigenous language spoken.

Consideration could be given to the inclusion of additional questions in upcoming ABS surveys, and in future Censuses (from 2021 onwards). However, determining the wording of such questions needs considerable further research, since the diversity of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples means there is no national consensus as to how sub-population groups should be described. For example, in Tasmania, Aboriginal people use the term 'band' and sometimes 'tribe’, whereas in parts of New South Wales 'band' is not recognised and 'nation' and 'clan' are used.

A geographic location may also be given by respondents as equating with their sub-population group. The broader terms 'country', 'homeland' and 'mob' are almost universally recognised but may not elicit a response that is as specific as required. Indigenous language groups may or may not equate with a person's 'mob', but have the advantage of being defined by the Australian Standard Classification of Languages. However, individuals may identify with more than one language group (e.g. mother's language group and father's language group).

Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, government agencies and other interested groups would be critical to progressing any work in this regard. Consideration of the statistical impacts of an additional question/s, and data quality aspects such as coherence over time would be important, as well as acceptance by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In addition, consideration would need to be given to the purpose of the information collected in terms of how it would be used as well as other issues such as increased respondent burden and cost of data collection.


The Review found strong support from stakeholders to change the coding procedures for multiple unclear responses to the SIQ.

For the purposes of the Review, a multiple unclear response is one where all SIQ responses are ticked i.e. 'No’ is ticked and either or both ‘Yes, Aboriginal’, and ‘Yes, Torres Strait Islander’ are ticked. The current Standard ignores the 'No' and codes to 'Aboriginal' and/or 'Torres Strait Islander' as indicated by the respondent.

It was recommended and agreed that multiple unclear responses to the SIQ should be coded to 'Not stated' if the response cannot be clarified with the respondent, since the respondent has not clearly indicated their Indigenous Status. No other changes to the coding procedures were suggested.

It should be noted that the current Standard was developed when paper forms were the normal mode of collection. It is expected that, moving forward, properly designed electronic forms and computer assisted interviews will eliminate multiple conflicting responses, since those answering 'No' need not see the further categories of response.


The ABS and other organisations have worked for over a decade to promote consistent use of the SIQ and the Standard among data collectors and this effort needs to continue.

The Standard is a foundation resource for the ABS and other organisations which collect Indigenous Status. However, the use of the SIQ is not universal, nor is there always a strong understanding in organisations collecting Indigenous Status of the implications of altering the SIQ or of diverging from a standardised approach to data processing and reporting.

In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consulted during the Review stressed that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not understand why the Question is asked, or what the data is used for. This can lead to unwillingness to answer the Question. Understanding why the data is collected strongly correlates with higher levels of compliance and improved data quality. (Endnote 1)

1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2012, Information Paper: Perspectives on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identification in Selected Data Collection Contexts. ABS Cat. No. 4726.0.