An examination of last year’s Closing the Gap report has found unreliable data underpins findings that indigenous mortality rates declined 16 per cent in recent years.
Please note the next Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report will be available as a download from this service 10th February
Richard Madden, director of the Sydney Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Statistics, led an examination that says the next Closing the Gap report should aim to give a truer picture by disregarding figures from 1998 and should include mortality data only from Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. These states were far more reliable sources than Queensland and NSW in identifying Aboriginal people on death records.
Professor Madden, a former Australian Bureau of Statistics deputy statistician, said the problem lay with last year’s Closing the Gap report.
“It says the baseline data for mortality reporting is 2006, when Closing the Gap was launched, but if you look at the report, they’ve got a headline that talks of a 16 per cent decline in mortality since 1998,’’ he said.
“They happen to have picked a starting point of 1998. That gives you a downward trend of 16 per cent. But if you take it from the correct starting point of 2006, it isn’t a downward trend at all, but a slightly upward trend of around 4.5 per cent.”
Professor Madden said the fall was based on NSW, Queensland, WA, SA and NT data combined, but NSW and Queensland did not have adequate quality or numbers for trend reporting.
“The use of NSW data in particular is problematic given the acknowledged poor levels of indigenous identification in death reporting,’’ he said.
“Our preferred estimates use WA, NT and SA data only. They show a downward trend of 3.4 per cent from 2006.”
Clare Coleman, one of five co-authors of the Sydney centre report, said she feared that misleading trends could cause Aboriginal people to lose faith in data-collecting institutions.
A Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet spokesman said the government backed the integrity of the data used for the Closing the Gap report.