Population numbers reflect the reality (Northern Territory News, 27/3/03)

To: The Editor
Northern Territory News
Printer's Place
Darwin NT 0800

27 March, 2003

Dear Sir


Your editorial today has once again chosen to omit important facts about the population figures for the Northern Territory. These facts are available in detail on the ABS web site for those readers who want a balanced picture.

The ABS understands how important population numbers are for governments and the wider community. It is for that very reason we strive to ensure our estimates for all states and territories are as accurate as possible at any point in time.

While it is true that some residences may be missed by the census for various reasons, more often than not, our investigations into claims of 'missing forms' or 'missed people' have revealed those claims to be incorrect.

Importantly, however, the ABS adjusts final census numbers to take account of the real misses. Households where forms have been provided but not collected are included in the counts through an imputation based on information obtained when the form was left.

Missed people, either within counted households, or in missed households, are taken into account through a specific adjustment. In the case of the Northern Territory the census counts were adjusted upwards by 7,500 people.

In relation to Indigenous counts, ABS does not accept that many, possibly thousands, did not fill in their forms. In fact, in Indigenous communities, an interviewer based enumeration strategy is used. This does not involve dropping off forms for self completion, but uses local Indigenous people with a good understanding of their communities, as interviewers.

The interviewers are provided with training and support, and the resulting counts are compared with other available data, and differences investigated. While no enumeration will be perfect, we are confident that the count for NT Indigenous communities was of a very high quality.

Our experience over 14 censuses has taught us that many communities and community leaders have quite different perceptions as to who is part of the community from the strict definitions applied by the ABS to arrive at the estimated resident population. For example children away at school or family away for extended periods are still considered part of the community when, for population statistics purposes, they are considered part of the community in which they are currently usually resident.

As a result, in many cases community leaders will believe that the population for their community is higher than the official estimated resident population.

The ABS, as an independent and objective statistical agency, performs to an extremely high standard in its field. 'Shooting the messenger' will not help readers understand why the NT population is failing to grow or how to address the implications of that.

Robyn Elliott
Regional Director
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Northern Territory