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Better data the key to improving Indigenous disadvantage: Professor Ian Anderson

2 April 2018

News and media


Professor Ian Anderson

Better data, and giving Indigenous communities better access to it, can be part of the solution for Indigenous disadvantage, Professor Ian Anderson says.

Professor Anderson was speaking at ANZSOG and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Breaking the data silos conference in Canberra last week, as part of a panel on Indigenous health and welfare.


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He said that Australia had one of the world’s best data collection systems, but that we are still working out how best to put it to use to benefit Indigenous communities.

“We can uncover new insights and make data work for us. To do this we need to focus on accountability to the people being affected, and an openness and commitment to change.”

He said that while maintaining privacy was important, we needeto look at how data which could shape or improve policy could be made more widely available.

“Indigenous Australians need to be able to have access to the data that is routinely collected about them. This is our challenge and our way forward,” he said.

“If we want to influence policy we need to look at timeliness, and how close can we get to real time.”

He said that, historically, Indigenous people had little control over how data was collected, and this meant that data is not always presented in a way that is accessible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or that reflects the reality of their lives.

Professor Anderson is heading a refresh of the Closing the Gap targets, which is due to be presented to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) later this year. He has said that the new targets will be broader and will focus more on the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

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He said that localising data was crucial to making it practical for Indigenous communities.

“Aggregated national data doesn’t help local indigenous communities engage with exactly what they need to do to close the gap,” he said.

“A lot of the issues that communities face can be addressed by data that is cross-jurisdictional or cross-agency, and we need to provide it to them.

“If regional decision-making is going to be at the core of the COAG model, we need to provide regional data to support it. So those communities can hold their schools, their government service agencies to account.”

As an example of the value of accurate, local data, he cited the data contained in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework. This data played a pivotal role in the COAG decision to allocate resources in 2008 to address Indigenous disadvantage, and also determined where the resources would be allocated.

Professor Anderson said that with more Indigenous people graduating from universities, there was a growing capacity in public services to work with Indigenous communities.

“Globally Australia is well-positioned to consider how data can capitalise outcomes for Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“We need to put Indigenous Australians at the forefront of the system rather than at the back of the system.”