4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 1997  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/04/1997   
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April 2, 1997
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEST)

Speech by Deputy Australian Statistician Tim Skinner on the launch of The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 1997 (Darwin, 2 April 1997)

1 Sir William and Lady Deane, Mr Djerrkura, Senator Herron, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

2 National statistics are sometimes seen as at best 'interesting' (and then the word 'interesting' is usually in quotation marks) and at worst they are seen as a bit dull and boring and perhaps even a waste of resources, when action is seen as what is needed. It is good for statisticians and for national statistics to celebrate from time to time the significant contribution both make to Australian society. I see the launch of 'The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' as such an event.

3 This report, with its clear statistical messages, will do much to objectively inform the Australian community on the well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As Sir William put it, it will "help dispel some myths and settle a few arguments".

4 I would like to thank His Excellency, Sir William Deane, for his kind words about the work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Welfare Information Unit, of which the ABS is, I believe, justifiably proud. Your interest in Indigenous health and welfare is quite apparent from your comments today and elsewhere. Your willingness to travel to Darwin and to launch this publication is most appreciated and will do much to draw attention to this important work. Also, I know that your comments on the report and the work of the Unit will be most valued by the staff involved. Your recognition of the importance of high quality statistical information and analysis will also be well appreciated by statisticians everywhere.

5 My thanks also to Mr Gatjil Djerrkura, Chairman, ATSIC, for his attendance today. Recent statements by Ministers at both Commonwealth and State level emphasise the increasing importance governments are placing on measuring outcomes and performance in Indigenous affairs. It is good to hear from Mr Djerrkura's comments today that this publication will be useful to ATSIC in its monitoring and reporting to Government and will be useful more generally in informing Indigenous people. It means the report fits in well with the ABS mission of assisting and encouraging informed decision-making, research and discussion within governments and in the community.

6 As the national statistics agency, the role of the ABS includes the collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination of statistics and related information. This report is a good example of all of those roles coming together. The report includes:
  • ABS data from the first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey and from the Census of Population and Housing
  • data from surveys conducted by other agencies (eg ATSIC's Housing and Community Infrastructure Needs Survey, and surveys conducted by the National Drug Strategy), and
  • data from the administrative systems of the States and Territories

The report takes these data and then adds value to them through analysis, turning the statistical data into digestible information.

7 This report is indeed a good example of what can be achieved through effective cooperation between various agencies. As Professor Reid indicated, the publication is a joint activity of the ABS and the AIHW. I would like to take this opportunity to thank AIHW for its professional and expert contribution to the report. Some credit should also go to the members of the Advisory Committee to the ABS Unit who give a users' perspective to its work program, and also to the panel of external experts in Indigenous health and welfare who reviewed the various draft chapters. Their suggestions and insights enhanced the final product. Finally, I would be remiss not to use this opportunity to also thank the team of ABS staff involved, led by Dr Tony Barnes and Dr Joan Cunningham - the report is a tribute to their skill, commitment and professional expertise.

8 The drawing together and analysis of statistics for any area of social concern inevitably exposes a number of gaps in the information that is available. This report has been no different. With this in mind I thought I would mention some of the areas where further work is planned to improve data availability in the area of health and welfare statistics for Indigenous peoples.
  • Increasing emphasis is to be given to the work of assessing and improving the quality of administrative data collections, in collaboration with AIHW and State and Territory agencies. Central to this is improving the identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in those data collections. It is important that the potential richness of information from these sources be tapped.
  • Much more work is required on welfare-related collections and statistics. Work already underway by AIHW to improve the quality of administrative data in this area should begin to bear fruit over the next two years.
  • Some ABS specific activities will include

- delivering the data from the 1996 Population Census

- planning for a future NATSIS

- continuing work on Indigenous population projections

- investigating ways of estimating mortality and morbidity rates when collections are incomplete or where population estimates are uncertain

- developing statistical standards and collection guidelines to improve administrative data, and evaluating and reporting on the quality of existing administrative data.

9 My thanks again to Sir William and Lady Deane, Mr Djerkurra and indeed all of you who have shown, by your attendance today, support for the work of the ABS and AIHW in the area of Indigenous statistics. I look forward to this report, and future reports, playing their part in improving decision making, research and community discussion in this important area of social concern.