Latest release

Indigenous Status Standard

The standard enables the provision of consistent information about people who identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin

Reference period
2014, Version 1.5
Released
8/10/2014
Next release Unknown
First release

Introduction

Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people occupy a unique place in Australian society and culture. Accurate and time comparable statistics in this area are needed in order to understand and measure wellbeing of Australia's Indigenous peoples to help formulate policies to plan, promote, deliver and evaluate essential services to achieve positive social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [Endnote 1].

In Australia, the method for collecting information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is through self-identification questions. The ABS Standard Indigenous Question (SIQ) is used in all ABS data collections, and is also used across a wide range of government agencies and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations [Endnote 2].

The statistical variable 'Indigenous Status' is endorsed by the Ministerial Council of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs as one of the four Minimum Core Indicators of the standard set of indicators for use in measuring cultural and linguistic diversity [Endnote 3]. The standard is also supported by the Council of Australia Governments in schedule F of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement which states that “all jurisdictions will adopt the standard ABS Indigenous question and recording categories on data collection forms and information systems for key data sets” [Endnote 4].

Endnotes

  1. Productivity Commission, 2011. Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. Key Indicators 2011. Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. Petry, B, and Potts, E, 2014. 'Measuring indigenous populations across nations: Challenges for methodological alignment'. Statistical Journal of the IAOS. V30, pp. 55-63.
  3. Commonwealth Interdepartmental Committee on Multicultural Affairs, 2001. The Guide: Implementing the Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
  4. Council of Australian Governments (COAG). National Indigenous Reform Agreement (Closing the gap).

Definition of variable

Nominal definition

In 1978, Federal Cabinet adopted a 3 part definition, widely accepted as the ''Commonwealth Definition', which states that: 'An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives' [Endnote 1].

The three components of the Commonwealth definition are:

1. descent
2. self-identification,
3. community acceptance.

Operational definition

The ABS Standard Indigenous Question is based upon the Commonwealth working definition but does not include the third element of the Commonwealth definition, namely that ‘an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person who is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives’. Collecting information on the basis of community acceptance is often impractical in a survey or administrative data collection setting and can lead to inaccuracies. For these reasons, it is not included in the ABS Standard [Endnote 2]. The definition of Indigenous Status is therefore operationalised as whether or not a person identifies as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin'.

The term 'origin', when used in the context of the operational definition, is considered to relate to a persons Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent and for some, but not all, their cultural identity.

Standard terminology

The standard term for this variable is 'Indigenous Status.' ‘Indigenous status’ is an acceptable term for use in data collection only, and only in terms of identifying a characteristic of a person. A person's Indigenous status is determined by their response to the ABS Standard Indigenous Question: "Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?" for which categories are:

No
Yes, Aboriginal
Yes, Torres Strait Islander

This question also allows respondents to report that they are both 'Aboriginal' and 'Torres Strait Islander' if that is how they identify.

The term 'Indigenous' is not a specific descriptor. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel the term diminishes their identity and/or fails to recognise the cultural diversity that exists within the collective population. Use of ‘Indigenous’ should therefore be avoided. The best collective descriptors are ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people[s]’ or 'the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population'.

Abbreviated forms of 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ when referring to people are offensive and should not be used. For example, A&TSI, ATSI, ATSIs, ATSI people, Islanders, TSIs and TI abbreviations are considered offensive. However, where it forms part of an acronym to describe such entities as organisations or groups, abbreviations are acceptable.

The terms 'Aboriginal[s]' and 'Torres Strait Islander[s]' should always be capitalised. The term 'aboriginal[s]' does not need capitalisation when used in a general sense to refer to the original inhabitants of other countries.

Endnotes

  1. Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1981. Report on a review of the administration of the working definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Department of the Parliamentary Library, 2003. Defining Aboriginality in Australia, Canberra. Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. Petry, B, and Potts, E, 2014. 'Measuring indigenous populations across nations: Challenges for methodological alignment'. Statistical Journal of the IAOS. V30, pp. 55-63.

Collection of variable data

Scope

Indigenous Status is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Standard question module

1. [Are you] [Is the person] [Is (name)] of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

(For persons of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, mark both 'Yes' boxes.)

It is recommended that this question be asked directly wherever possible. However, various articulations of the question can be used in circumstances where a close relative, friend, or another member of the household is answering on behalf of an absent person. Respondents who answer for an absent person must have a reasonable knowledge of the absent person and feel confident about identifying the person's Indigenous Status.

Supplementary codes such as 'Not stated/inadequately described' should not be available as valid responses but can be used in data collections for operational purposes. Refer to Supplementary Codes, within the section: Processing the data for more information.

It is not possible to determine a person's Indigenous Status on the basis of appearance, surname or birthplace. To achieve an acceptable quality of Indigenous Status data, it is imperative that interviewers endeavour to apply the standard question module to all respondents and to record every response regardless of the person's appearance, name, country of birth or other perceptions about the person's background. Interviewer instructions and training are recommended as a means of minimising inappropriate discretion in applying the Indigenous Status question.

While interviewers should endeavour to apply the standard question module to all respondents, it is recognised that there are situations where data are collected as the by-product of an interview or counselling session dealing with sensitive issues. In these cases, clients may be distressed or confused and the service provider may consider it inappropriate to ask certain questions. If the Standard Indigenous Question is not asked under these circumstances, the interviewer should leave all response categories blank and the non-response should be processed using the most appropriate supplementary code.

The terms 'Aboriginal' and 'Torres Strait Islander' are used in the question wording because they are generally accepted throughout Australia. These terms should not be replaced in the question with other terms such as 'Koori' as terms relating to particular Aboriginal groups do not cover Torres Strait Islander people and other Aboriginal groups. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who do not identify with alternative terms may resent having the terms applied to them or may respond 'No' to the question.

In circumstances where there is a need to collect data on particular Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander groups, such as Koori, Murri, or Meryam, the Standard Indigenous Question should continue to be asked first. It can be followed by an additional question that asks for the specific Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island group or groups with which the respondent identifies. Only those people who indicate they are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island origin should be asked any additional questions of this type. It is not the function of the Indigenous Status standard to collect data relating to particular Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander groups, and a standard question and set of response categories to collect this information have not been developed.

1. Self completed collections

Various articulations of the standard question are recommended to address the following circumstances in self-completed collections. In each circumstance, the standard response categories and instructions should be used. An additional 'Yes, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' response category may be used if a data capture system is used that is unable to deal with multiple marked boxes.

Question answered by the person

This question wording is recommended when it is known that the person filling in the form is the subject:

Q1. Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

Someone else who knows the person well answers

This question wording is recommended when another member of the household answers for the person. For example, a family member may complete a census form on behalf of his or her family.

Q1. Is the person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

Person is not present and someone else transcribes response from administrative data

This question wording is recommended when the form is being completed by a third person from information available on administrative databases such as criminal justice collections, hospital records and schools data:

Q1. Is the person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

2. Interviewer conducted collections

For interview conducted collections in which the Indigenous Status of one person is collected, the following question set is recommended:

Q1. Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

Q2. Are you of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

The first question is used to sequence out non-Indigenous persons. The second question is used to determine the specific Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin of the person. A benefit of this approach is that the interviewer is not required to prompt the respondent with response categories.

The 'Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' response category can be included or excluded in interviewer conducted collections depending on which option best suits the data collection practices of the agency concerned. Including the additional response category ensures that respondents are aware of the option to identify as being of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin.

Various articulations of the standard question are recommended to address the following circumstances:

Person is present and answers

This question wording is recommended where it is known that the person being interviewed is the subject:

Q1. Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Q2. Are you of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

Person is not present and someone else who knows the person well answers

The following question wording is recommended when another member of the household answers for the person. Examples of such incidents include: parents answering for children, or relatives answering in hospital situations.

Q1. Is [the person] [(name)] of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Q2. Is [the person] [(name)] of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

Person is deceased and someone else answers on their behalf (e.g. death information form)

In these circumstances a close relative or friend should answer. Only if a relative or friend is unavailable should the undertaker or other such person answer. The suggested question wording follows:

Q1. Was [the person] [(name)] of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Q2. Was [the person] [(name)] of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

Person is an infant and parents answer (e.g. perinatal information form)

In this circumstance it is recommended that parents are asked:

Q1. Is [the baby's] [(name)'s] mother of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Q2. Is [the baby's] [(name)'s] mother of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

and

Q1. Is [the baby's] [(name)'s] father of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
Q2. Is [the baby's] [(name)'s] father of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

For interview conducted collections in which the Indigenous Status of more than one person is collected from a household representative, the following question set is recommended:

Q1. Is anyone who (usually lives here) (or) (is visiting here) of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?

Q2. Who are they?

-------------------------------------------

Question 3 is asked of each person identified as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Q3. [Are you] [Is (name)] of Aboriginal origin, Torres Strait Islander origin, or both?

The first question is used to sequence out households in which no Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people usually live (or are visiting). The second question is used to identify those usual residents (and visitors) of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin. This approach eliminates the need to repeatedly ask the Standard Indigenous Question of each individual in a household when data are collected on a single household form. It is particularly advantageous when collecting from areas with a large proportion of non-Indigenous households.

Supporting variables

Indigenous Status does not require any supporting variables.

Processing the data

Code structure

The code structure follows the standard classification:

1 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

  • 11 Aboriginal but not Torres Strait Islander Origin
  • 12 Torres Strait Islander but not Aboriginal Origin
  • 13 Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Origin
     

2 Non-Indigenous

  • 24 Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander Origin
     

Supplementary codes

The supplementary categories are reserved for 'Not stated/Inadequately described' responses when coding data to the Indigenous Status classification.

  • 0 Not stated/Inadequately defined
  • 09 Not stated/Inadequately defined
     

Supplementary codes should not be available as valid responses. In particular, they should not appear as mark boxes on self enumeration forms and should not be used for prompting respondents in interviewer conducted collections. However, supplementary codes can be used for operational purposes in the following circumstances:

  • primarily when importing data from other data collections that do not contain mappable data;
  • where an answer was refused;
  • where the question was not able to be asked because the client was unable to communicate or a person who knows the client was not available.
     

Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) systems in particular may require supplementary codes for handling the circumstances identified above.

Coding procedures

Responses to the Indigenous Status question are self-coded to the appropriate category of the classification.

The Indigenous Status question allows for more than one response. The procedure for coding multiple responses is as follows:

Response to SIQABS Standard codes to
1'Yes, Aboriginal' is ticked but 'Yes, Torres Strait Islander' is not tickedAboriginal
2'Yes, Torres Strait Islander' is ticked but 'Yes, Aboriginal' is not tickedTorres Strait Islander
3'Yes, Aboriginal' is ticked and 'Yes, Torres Strait Islander' is also tickedBoth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin
4'No' is tickedNeither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander origin
5'No' is ticked and either or both 'Yes, Aboriginal', and 'Yes, Torres Strait Islander' are ticked'Not stated' if response cannot be clarified with the respondent


The multi-response approach may be problematical in some data collections. For example, when data are collected by interview or using screen based data capture systems. An additional response category 'Yes, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' may be included if this better suits the data collection practices of the agency concerned.

Presenting the data

In output, the name of this variable is 'Indigenous Status'. The output categories are the same as the categories of the standard classification and may include the supplementary category, if applicable:

  • Aboriginal but Not Torres Strait Islander Origin
  • Torres Strait Islander but not Aboriginal Origin
  • Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Origin
  • Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander Origin
  • Not stated/Inadequately described
     

The following output categories are also legitimate:

  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • Non-Indigenous
  • Not stated/Inadequately described
     

The following are standard shortened forms of the output categories, suitable for use in publications.

Publication labels for the detailed level of the classification:

Aboriginal
Torres Strait Islander
Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Non-Indigenous
Not stated

Publication labels for the broader level of the classification:

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
Non-Indigenous
Not stated

Abbreviated forms of 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ should not be used in column headings, spanner headings, stub labels and other text fields in tables (e.g. table titles and footnotes). While the detailed descriptor is long, it will generally only appear once in a table and the 'wrap text' option can be used if necessary. Here are some examples of acceptable use of terminology in tables.

Publication table labels

Column heading

 Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderNon-IndigenousTotal
Males   
Females   
Persons   
 

Spanner heading

 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Non-Indigenous Total
 15-4445 and overTotal 15-4445 and overTotal 15-4445 and overTotal
Males           
Females           
Persons           
 

Stub label

 MalesFemalesPersons
Aboriginal   
Torres Strait Islander   
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander total   
Non-Indigenous   
Total   
 

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 1200.0.55.008.