Measuring Australia’s Progress is deliberately experimental, and the Australian Statistician’s foreword invites readers to comment on it. Informing the discussion about national progress is one of the most important tasks that a statistical agency can take on. But it is also likely to provoke vigorous debate, because there is no universal agreement regarding what dimensions of progress are most important, or what indicators best encapsulate those dimensions.
Comments received so far have been predominantly favourable. Noted commentator Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 April 2002 observed that "the Bureau of Statistics, for instance, issues some new stats most days, many of which get a lot of media attention, but rarely does it issue anything as remotely important as Measuring Australia’s Progress".
However the comments have not all been favourable. Some commentators have argued that Measuring Australia’s Progress should be underpinned by a more overt conceptual framework. As explained earlier, the ABS choice of progress dimensions and indicators has been informed first by key indicators that appear in the ABS flagship economic, social and environmental statistics and second by views gathered during our wide ranging consultation. Nevertheless, the ABS will consider the possibility of setting out a framework for progress measurement per se and mapping the correspondences between our indicator framework and those developed by other analysts - developments in other national and international statistical agencies may inform this work, and we are keeping abreast of these developments.
As well, some commentators have expressed disappointment that the ABS has not presented indicators for some dimensions of progress (such as the quality of national, business and community governance), and have urged the need for statistical development work in these fields. The ABS will consider work in this area.
The most strident criticism of Measuring Australia’s Progress has been made by Professor Peter Saunders of the Centre for Independent Studies who amongst other things claimed that:
- the publication was biased heavily toward indicators of environmental sustainability;
- ABS selection of indicators was overly influenced by the members of the ‘left/green establishment’; and
In concluding, Professor Saunders alleged that "There is clearly a danger of the ABS compromising its political neutrality".
The ABS has responded, both publicly and privately, vigorously denying Professor Saunders’ allegations. The first two points are covered previously. With respect to income inequality we deliberately excluded it as a headline indicator because it did not satisfy the criteria ‘that movements in the indicator can be unambiguously associated with progress, other things being equal’. It was included in the analysis component of the publication because of the interest in the topic, but there was no suggestion that reduced income inequality implied social progress.
- the publication was biased toward egalitarian politics because it equates social progress with reduced income inequality.