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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3236

Question No. 578

Mr Porter asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 4 October 1983:

(1) Is he able to say whether the 1981 census figures provide an accurate account of the Aboriginal populations in each State.

(2) To what extent are these figures used in determining funding programs.

(3) Is there a need for more accurate demographic figures for Aborigines.

Mr Holding —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) While there are some shortcomings in counting Aboriginals in the population census there is no better measure at present to replace it. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has said that movements in the figures for Aboriginal population counts between censuses can be affected by a number of factors. The wording of the racial origin question was basically the same in the 1971 and 1976 censuses but was changed in that of 1981; even small changes in question design can affect the response. Further the question is based on self- identification and responses to questions of this nature at different points in time may be affected by changes in community attitudes. Improvements in field techniques and editing procedures increased the accuracy of the 1981 Census compared with previous censuses.

(2) Population figures obtained from the census play an important role in the distribution of funds. However, priority of need is the major factor considered and this is determined through extensive consultations with Aboriginal people and organisations. The National Aboriginal Conference plays a major role in this process as the principal adviser to the Australian Government in Aboriginal Affairs.

The Government must be able to respond to competing needs on a priority basis and, therefore, strict adherence to disbursement of funds on the basis of population is neither possible nor desirable.

(3) Yes, there is a need for more accurate demographic figures for Aboriginals. Improvement in statistical techniques for existing collections is a continuing process. The ABS has advised that it achieved a higher level of accuracy in the 1981 Census than previously attained through better field techniques and processing procedures and it is taking steps to further improve these procedures in the next census scheduled for 1986. The need for more accurate demographic figures is becoming more important as the comparative level of disadvantage between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals is reduced.