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Local government statistics

Review of local government statistical arrangements

In early 2001 the Australian Bureau of Statistics carried out a review of local government statistical arrangements. It found there is continuing demand from local government authorities for unit record statistical information on a wde range of financial and non-financial issues. This includes data required for determination of Commonwealth funding under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995, for presentation of performance and other comparative indicators and other decision-making purposes.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics consulted a range of local governments (including one Indigenous Community Government Council), Commonwealth, State and Territory Government agencies responsible for local government; local government grants commissions and Australian and Local Government Associations.

The Bureau found that local government in Australia is significant in terms of its role in three areas, that is, as a:

  • provider of data to the Bureau and other official bodies;
  • user of services provided by the Bureau; and
  • potential source of additional data - particularly at the regional level.

In addition, as a result of this review, the Bureau found that many councils also perform an additional significant role, as intermediaries in servicing the statistical information needs of the local community. This role included providing data to residents, ratepayers, local businesses, community groups, service delivery organisations and local offices/officers of state government agencies as well as prospective tourists and other visitors, investors, funding agencies, developers and new businesses looking to establish in the council's area.

Australian Bureau of Statistics review of local government statistics findings

The report on the review made several recommendations. They included recommending that the Bureau examine options for coordinating and/or reducing data collections from local government and, in consultation with councils, determine a package of data and services (possibly including relevant training) to be provided on a whole-of-local-government-sector basis.

In addition, the Bureau found that currently there are no detailed national standards for presenting and reporting local government financial statements. The Bureau found the current Australian Accounting Standard for Local Authorities (AAS27) only meets general requirements and not the data requirements for the Bureau and most local government grants commissions. The Bureau identified shortcomings in the important areas of local roads revenue and expenditure, environmental expenditure and expenditure on a wide range of local government specific functions. The report recommended that a national standard for reporting local government finance statistics consistent with international and Australian user requirements be developed with the support of all jurisdictions.

The Bureau found that National Competition Policy and outsourcing of council functions raises some confidentiality issues for the release of local government unit record information for the Bureau.

The Bureau also found that the Government Purpose Classification used in the Local Government Finance Statistics collection could be reviewed and revised to more clearly reflect the primary functions and activities of local government. The Bureau found there is, in particular, scope to enhance the classification in terms of environmental reporting categories.

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Statistics for local government

Local government has a high demand for statistical information to meet the needs of local community. Data is required for residents, ratepayers, local businesses, community groups, service delivery organisations and local offices/officers of state government agencies as well as prospective tourists and other visitors, investors, funding agencies, developers and new businesses. Statistical information that can assist councils make better informed decisions include:

  • 'Your Place' database
  • State of the Regions Report
  • Rural and Regional Statistics National Centre

'Your Place' database

'Your Place' is one database that councils can use as a diagnostic tool to plan their future. The National Institute of Economic and Industry Research developed 'Your Place' in partnership with the Australian Local Government Association. The data can help councils and communities identify specific locations and assess performance against areas with similar characteristics. The local government areas are ranked according to their performance and capabilities. Indicators are built around the dimensions of household characteristics, industry, regional infrastructure and local attributes that underpin development. Councils can compare their local government area with their neighbours, with local government areas with a similar growth rate or with other local government areas that have a similar industrial base. For example, the household dimension has sub-indices measuring demography, wealth, income and labour force status.

State of the Regions Report

The State of the Regions Report has been prepared for the Australian Local Government Association for the past three years by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research. It details the major trends and challenges for Australian urban and rural regions.

The report divides Australia into 57 regions and examines factors influencing the performance, like population, growth, aging, income and debt. It concludes good Australian economic performance has been of most benefit to cities and large provincial centres. In the 2000 State of the Regions Report, a number of new indicators were introduced, which included: corrected unemployment rates; gross regional product; regional labour productivity; regional household savings ratios; and indicators for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of industry supply chains. The 2000 Report addressed the implications of e-commerce and financial flows in the economy, while regional development policy design focused on how to build world best practice with a case study of the Republic of Ireland. In terms of business-to-household e-commerce, the report showed a direct reduction of employment in Australia by 1 per cent to 2 per cent in the rural and provincial regions, and around 3 per cent in the Metro Core regions.

Rural and Regional Statistics National Centre

The Rural and Regional Statistics National Centre (the Centre) was established under the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its Adelaide Office, and has been operational since 1 July 2001. The Centre produces and disseminates data that will help policy analysts and researchers study the underlying causes of change across rural, regional and remote areas of Australia. The Centre will be seeking access to relevant datasets administered by Commonwealth Government agencies and coordinating Australian Bureau of Statistics small area data initiatives to help develop new economic, environmental and social indicators relevant to regional studies and analyses.

The Centre's activities include:

  • Producing short report series, to provide an overview of a topic of particular relevance to regional issues together with some analysis of data (both Australian Bureau of Statistics and non-Australian Bureau of Statistics). The reports will promote the range of statistical data already available and show how these data can be used for regional analyses.
  • Developing comparable information on the characteristics of regional and remote communities across Australia - a minimum dataset of key variables will be developed which will allow valid comparisons to be made between any regions of Australia.
  • Collecting new administrative data through investigation of the suitability of Commonwealth Government agency datasets for use in generating regional statistics is a high priority.
  • Regional data dissemination - the Centre will work toward increasing the breadth and quality of data available on the Integrated Regional Database (the Australian Bureau of Statistics' primary vehicle for disseminating regional Australian Bureau of Statistics and non-Australian Bureau of Statistics data).

Already, in each Australian Bureau of Statistics Office, the Regional Statistics Units have been collecting regional data. The focus of the Units has been to develop regional indicators at sub-State level in their respective States particularly through the use of government administrative data sources. The Units also service the needs of local users of regional statistics. They will continue to disseminate new information via their well-established annual compendium publications and regional profiles series.

The Rural and Regional Statistics National Centre and the Regional Statistics Units will undertake collaborative projects where appropriate.

Regional data collected within States provide information on key social and economic variables for specific regions. These include demographic status and economic indicators and social indicators. Currently data are available for 1999 and 2000, and are collected in statistical division, statistical subdivision and statistical local area. The statistical divisions are intended to represent regions, which are characterised by discernible social and/or economic links between the inhabitants and the economic units within them under one or more major cities/ towns. Statistical local area is based on the administrative areas of local government. This area is equivalent to a whole government area except where there is statistical imperative to split the local government area into smaller areas. To date, South Australia is the only State, which provides a time series assessment of trends over time and area comparison indicators with other regions.

Some Australian Bureau of Statistics regional statistics products that may be of assistance to councils include the Integrated Regional Data Base; the Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage; and the Access/Remoteness Index for Australia.

Integrated Regional Data Base

The Australian Bureau of Statistics developed the Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB) which provides a wide range of social, economic and environmental data for regional areas of Australia dating back to 1986. In particular, this database provides data at the Statistical Local Area (based on administrative areas of local government). Councils are able to use this data for a range of research applications, such as urban planning infrastructure needs; policy and planning proposals; employment trends analysis; comparative analysis between councils; developing regional business profiles; providing information for broad or specific regional demographic analysis; and identifying trends in regional agricultural production. IRDB also provides information on local government finance. For more details on IRDB, visit the website www.abs.gov.au under 'products and services'.

Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has developed various indexes to describe the socioeconomic status of populations living in different geographic areas. The Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage is one measure, which incorporates a wide range of information from the 1996 census. In particular, the 1996 census was used to identify areas with relatively high proportions of people, which have characteristics associated with low socioeconomic status. The index was constructed for census collection districts, which are usually clusters of approximately 200-250 dwellings. This is an area that one census collector can cover for the distribution and collection of census forms. Districts with the greatest relative disadvantage typically have high proportions of low-income families, unemployed people, people without educational qualifications, household renting from public housing and people in unskilled or semiskilled occupations. Conversely, the least disadvantaged areas tend to have higher proportions of high-income earners, professional workers and more highly qualified people, as well as low unemployment rates.

Access/Remoteness Index for Australia

The Access/Remoteness Index for Australia (ARIA) measures remoteness in terms of access along a road network from 11,340 populated localities to four categories of service centres. The Federal Department of Health and Aged Care, in conjunction with the National Key Centre for Social Applications of GIS, developed ARIA for social applications of geographical information systems.

ARIA interprets remoteness as access to a range of services, some of which are available in smaller centres and some only in larger centres. The remoteness of a location was measured in terms of how far people must travel by road to reach a service centre. Localities that are more remote have less access to service centres; those that are less remote have greater access to service centres. The Index was designed to be comprehensive, sufficiently detailed, simple, transparent, defensible and stable over time. Specifically it was designed to geographically map remoteness, not socioeconomic factors. For each locality, distances are converted to ratios to the mean, a threshold of 3.0 is applied, and they are then summed. This produces a continuous variable from zero (high accessibility) to 15 (high remoteness).

Two hundred and one service centres were identified in Australia. Centres were analysed by population size as this was found to have a strong relationship to the availability of services, such as health and education, where government has a role in provision, funding or planning. The study also found a link, although it was less robust, between population and the availability of many commercial services. The analysis resulted in the classification of all centres with a population greater than 5,000 people into four categories:

  • more than 250,000 people;
  • 48,000 - 249,999 people;
  • 18,000 - 47,999 people; or
  • 5,000 - 17,999 people.

The accessibility was then calculated for every populated locality in Australia based on the road distance from the nearest centre (with due weighting for islands).

The maps in the pocket at the back of this report show the relative remoteness of all parts of Australia to the nearest kilometre with local government boundaries overlaid. These can be compared with maps in previous editions of the National Report indicating an average level of remoteness for councils. The most significant variations are for those councils that comprise a wide range of remoteness.

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