1216.0.55.001 - Review of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification, 2007  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/08/2007  First Issue
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Background to the Review

This paper gives the background to the review of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) and outlines a proposal to replace the current ASGC. The aim of the review is to create a new Australian statistical geography that better meets the contemporary needs of users and addresses some of the shortcomings of the ASGC.

To better meet these needs a new statistical geography must reflect the real world in more useful ways for the presentation and analysis of statistics. There are many aspects of the real world that could be of interest and no single boundary set will suit every purpose. It is therefore necessary to create a suite of such boundary sets.

The real world changes; there is therefore a tension between having a geography that reflects these changes versus one that remains stable, facilitating analysis over long periods of time. The resolution of this tension depends on which aspects of the real world are of interest and need to be measured.

Not only does the real world change, but so do the concerns of society. For example, concerns surrounding global warming and resource depletion have increased the demand for statistics presented on an environmental basis relative to other information. These changes must also be considered in the development of a new statistical geography.

The current ASGC concepts are based on the work of Professor G.J.R. Linge undertaken in the mid 1960s. The urban/rural concepts were applied for the first time to the results of the 1966 Census. The concept of a capital city statistical division (SD) was implemented for the 1971 Census. A complete restructure of the statistical geographical classification for the whole of Australia based on the work of Professor Linge was implemented for the 1976 Census. These concepts and classification rules were formalised to create the ASGC in 1984.

Major problems with the current ASGC include:

  1. It is not stable due to the need to align boundaries with Local Government Area (LGA) boundaries.
  2. The definition of urban and rural does not reflect recent developments in communications and social interactions.
  3. The population range of the ASGC units at each level is too great.
  4. Collection Districts (CDs) are compromised by the requirement to be the basis for both collecting and publishing statistics.
  5. It is difficult to relate to other geographies (e.g. postcodes, electoral divisions).
  6. It is not based on sufficiently objective criteria.

These criticisms were addressed in a review of the ASGC in 1996-1997 led by Professor Graeme Hugo. The review created considerable expectations amongst ABS clients, but ultimately few of its major recommendations were implemented, largely because of cost.

Since 1997 there have been several developments that have changed the economics of any likely outcome of a similar review, these include: the development of Geocoded National Address File (G–NAF); improvements in geographic information system (GIS) technology; and greater ability through the use of Intelligent Character Recognition and Automatic Coding to capture and cost-effectively code large volumes of addresses.

In response to these developments the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed mesh blocks. Mesh blocks are a spatial unit containing a relatively small number (between thirty and sixty) of households. They can be used as a building block for, or to approximate, larger geographic areas. Mesh block boundaries are designed to remain stable over time. In areas of growth, mesh blocks will be split.

Thus mesh blocks greatly improve the ability to create, disseminate and analyse geographically referenced data both spatially and over time. They provide a stable basis from which to build boundaries and provide the ability to recast data on different geographies.

Progress of the Review

In late 2006, the ABS convened the ASGC Review Committee, a panel of internal and external experts to guide the review and to generate ideas that could be taken to consultation. In early 2007 there was a round of consultation with key ABS stakeholders. This was followed by a later round of consultation with external stakeholders, including presentations and visits to all the States and Territories. This information paper is a product of these consultations and the Committee's advice and suggestions.

There will be a further period of consultation based on this Information Paper.

Later in the year, the Committee will again to consider a final proposal and a final report will be prepared for consideration by the ABS.

Scope of the Review

The review includes all units and structures of the ASGC with three exceptions, these being the Remoteness Structure and the two structures defining Urban and Rural (Urban Centres and Localities, and Section of State). The definition of Rural and Urban will be the subject of a further review in 2008.

The review of the ASGC will develop concepts and criteria to build a new Australian statistical geography. The review will not finalise the specific boundaries, labels and codes of units within the new statistical geography – these will be developed should the recommendations of the review be accepted by the ABS.

The statistical geography that emerges from the review must be able to present data across a broad range of statistical subject matter; be conceptually rigorous, not overly complex and structurally simple and the ABS must be able to develop boundaries, codes and labels within a reasonable time frame.