3228.0.55.001 - Population Estimates: Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2009  
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Contents >> Overview >> Use of population estimates


1.23 Population estimates are used for a wide variety of purposes, including:

  • the distribution of Australian Government funds to state, territory and local governments
  • the apportionment of the number of seats in the House of Representatives
  • the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of government policy
  • market research
  • academic research
  • the denominator in per capita rates
  • informing on issues such as:
      • population ageing
      • fertility (the ability of a population to replace itself)
      • international migration.

1.24 There are a number of different dimensions or ways of looking at a population which can inform on social issues. Of particular interest are:
  • population size and trends
  • population distribution (various geographic levels)
  • population composition (age and sex)
  • population size and distribution of sub-population groups such as:
      • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population
      • Australian born population
      • overseas born population.

Legislative requirements

1.25 There are several legislative requirements for the Statistician to provide population estimates (as opposed to Census counts) - some important examples are shown in the following paragraphs. Other Acts may also reference official population estimates, without specifically referring to the Statistician.

1.26 Sub-section 9(2) of the Census and Statistics Act requires the quarterly estimation of the population for each state:

"The Statistician shall collect such information as is necessary for the compilation and analysis... of statistics of the number of the people of each State as on the last day of March, June, September and December in each year..."

1.27 Section 7 of the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 requires the Statistician to provide estimates of the populations of each state as at 31 December of a year before 31 August in the following year.

"The estimated population of a State on 31 December in a payment year is the population of the State on that date as determined by the Australian Statistician after that date and before 31 August in the following payment year."

1.28 Under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995, funds are allocated by the Australian Government for local governments. This again requires the provision by the Statistician of estimates of the population. See Section 4A of the act for more information.

1.29 The Commonwealth Electoral Act (sections 46 to 48) requires the Statistician to supply all such population statistics as requested by the Australian Electoral Commission for the regular review of the number of seats each state is entitled to have in the House of Representatives. An amendment in 1989 to the Commonwealth Electoral Act requires the Statistician to supply on request the 'latest statistics' for territorial as well as state populations. In addition to the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory, population figures are required for Jervis Bay Territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Heard and McDonald Islands, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Coral Sea Islands Territory.

1.30 Section 48 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act was also amended in 2004 such that (in addition to other changes), in certain circumstances, two standard errors of the measure of net undercount at the previous Census will be added to the populations of the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory in determining the seat entitlement in the House of Representatives. Further information may be found in the Information Paper: Determining Seats in the House of Representatives - Legislative Requirements for Provision of ABS Statistics, 2005 (cat. no. 3107.0.55.002).

Policy requirements

1.31 There are few government programs at any level of government which do not use population estimates in some form. Population estimates are used in the formulation of most policies, particularly those involving service delivery and are also needed to monitor existing government programs. The major requirements are for annual estimates of the population by age and sex at the state/territory and/or SLA level. Some policy purposes also require estimates by other characteristics in addition to age and sex (e.g. country of birth, or Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Australia).

Other requirements

1.32 Applications for population estimates in private enterprise and other non-government activities are too numerous to describe in detail, although they may be broadly described as 'market research' and 'academic/demographic research'. Requirements for these applications vary a great deal between individual clients, although the main needs are for estimates by composition and distribution. The demand for population data for very small geographic areas is generally satisfied by the five-yearly population Census.

1.33 Population estimates form the basis of benchmarks used to weight results from surveys conducted by ABS and other organisations. They are also used by the ABS and various Australian and state government agencies in the production of population projections. For further information on population projections, refer to the forthcoming publication Population Projections: Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 3228.0.55.002).

1.34 Finally, many statistical indices and rates have a population estimate as their denominator. These indices and rates range from per capita gross domestic product and labour force participation rates to fertility rates, life tables and educational participation rates. Most indices and rates are based on total populations by age and sex for states/territories, although in some cases disaggregation of the population by other characteristics is also required. For example, divorce rates calculated as a proportion of the estimated number of married people (that is, the at risk population) are more appropriate than as a proportion of estimated total persons.

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