Friday, September 17, 2010

Australian statistics are top notch. Not.

But the ABS is about to tell us they are. It's conducted a survey. No joke.

The man appointed to push state governments to improve their hospitals, schools and disability services says he is for much of the time he is flying blind.

Paul McClintock, a former head of John Howard's Cabinet Policy Unit has been asked to get the states to lift their game in six key areas as chair of the Council of Australian Government's Reform Council.

But yesterday he told a national statistical conference the entire process was in danger of breaking down paving the way for a Commonwealth takeover of state responsibilities, in part because he couldn't get the information he needed to do his job.

"Of the nine national health care benchmarks, data is not available to measure three," he said. "We can't report on indicators related to the quality and safety of hospital care and we can't measure progress against the agreed benchmark of reducing type 2 diabetes. Hospitals data is routinely one year late."

"Our data on disability comes from an ABS survey conducted once every six years. Our report released this year relied on data from 2003. We are unable to measure progress."

While the council is required to monitor the proportion of young people who have obtained a Year 12 of equivalent qualification in each state it is forced to rely on an annual Bureau of Statistics field survey.

"It's a survey of 20 to 24 year olds, and there's a time lag... For our 2010 report we used data from the 2008 survey based on answers to questions from people who completed Year 12 between three and seven years ago," he told the conference.

"There is an alternative source of data for Year 12 attainment that is actually well-suited to the task. It is fairly obvious. It's the data collected by the schools themselves. But each state does it differently. We can't compare it across jurisdictions."

"Without political, cultural and structural support there is a real risk this bold experiment will be put aside and the states will face, in the words of the head of the Prime Minister's Department, a less amenable Commonwealth."

"The future of the federation will change. I can assure you from my experience politicians will not allow indefinte time for this to work."

Treasury head Ken Henry told the Sydney conference there was a risk of decision makers using the wrong data simply because it was all they had, in the same way as a drunk was said to look for keys under a lamp post because it was where the light was.

"We know that there are limitations on data. But we should take care not to allow these limitations to become barriers to developing policy," he said.

The media helped dumb down data.

"While there are some exceptions, much of television and newspaper reporting on economic news contains little more than a passing reference containing no detail apart from a one-word summary that the news was 'good' or 'bad' - or that whilst Joe Bloggs claimed the data were good news, Fred Smith claimed they were bad news," he said.

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten pledged at the conference to rely on "evidence-based policy" in the new parliament saying it would be needed to guide legislation through the House and the Senate.

Published in today's SMH

Related Posts

. Found: 112,000 missing jobs

. So you think you trust the Consumer Price Index?

. Why so much economic and financial 'news' is crap

4430.0 6227.0 COAG