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Agency, Contingency and Census Process

Agency, Contingency and Census Process: Observations of the 2006 Indigenous Enumeration Strategy in remote Aboriginal Australia

Frances Morphy Editor
Volume: 28
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Agency, Contingency and Census Process
    Book Description:

    The Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) of the Australian National Census of Population and Housing has evolved over the years in response to the perceived 'difference' of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Its defining characteristics are the use of locally recruited, mostly Indigenous collector interviewers, and the administration of a modified collection instrument in discrete Indigenous communities, mostly in remote Australia. The research reported here is unique. The authors, with the assistance of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, were able to follow the workings of the IES in the 2006 Census from the design of the collection instrument to the training of temporary census field staff at the Northern Territory's Census Management Unit in Darwin, to the enumeration in four remote locations, through to the processing stage at the Data Processing Centre in Melbourne. This allowed the tracking of data from collection to processing, and an assessment of the effects of information flows on the quality of the data, both as input and output. This study of the enumeration involved four very different locations: a group of small outstation communities (Arnhem Land), a large Aboriginal township (Wadeye), an 'open' town with a majority Aboriginal population (Fitzroy Crossing), and the minority Aboriginal population of a major regional centre (Alice Springs). A comparison between these contexts reveals differences that reflect the diversity of remote Aboriginal Australia, but also commonalities that exert a powerful influence on the effectiveness of the IES, in particular very high levels of short-term mobility. The selection of sites also allowed a comparison between the enumeration process in the Northern Territory, where a time-extended rolling count was explicitly planned for, and Western Australia, where a modified form of the standard count had been envisaged. The findings suggest that the IES has reached a point in its development where the injection of ever-increasing resources into essentially the same generic set and structure of activities may be producing diminishing returns. There is a need for a new kind of engagement between the Australian Bureau of Statistics and local government and Indigenous community-sector organisations in remote Australia. The agency and local knowledge of Indigenous people could be harnessed more effectively through an ongoing relationship with such organisations, to better address the complex contingencies confronting the census process in remote Indigenous Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-59-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-vi)
  3. Notes on the contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Frances Morphy, Will Sanders, John Taylor and Kathryn Thorburn
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. 1. Producing powerful numbers
    (pp. 1-8)
    Frances Morphy, Will Sanders and John Taylor

    Census statistics are powerful numbers. Governments frequently use them in the allocation of important resources, such as seats in parliament or shares of expenditure between jurisdictional areas. More indirectly, they can be used to characterise social and economic situations among groups of people, and through that to drive important public policy debates. Who gets what, when and how from governments is often informed—if not determined—by what census statistics reveal about existing and projected numbers of people and their socioeconomic characteristics.

    As researchers studying the socioeconomic circumstances of Indigenous Australians and contributing to Indigenous affairs policy debates, we have...

  8. 2. Preparing for the 2006 enumeration at the Darwin Census Management Unit
    (pp. 9-20)
    Frances Morphy

    In broad organisational terms, a national census poses particular problems because of its scale and the five-year gap between census events. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) cannot keep on its permanent staff the thousands of people needed to coordinate the exercise on the ground and to distribute, collect and code the data from the forms. The 2006 Census exercise therefore involved the hiring of a temporary workforce of more than 42,000 people, who had to be trained adequately to carry out their allotted tasks. In such a context, the flow of information becomes vital—across time (so that the...

  9. 3. A vast improvement: the 2006 enumeration in the Alice Springs town camps
    (pp. 21-32)
    Will Sanders

    The conduct of the 2006 Census in the Alice Springs town camps was a vast improvement on 2001. Later I will suggest some reasons for this, as well as identifying some remaining issues. I will begin, however, by recalling some of the major problems of the 2001 collection process and identifying developments since. I will then tell the story of the 2006 collection in the Alice Springs town camps, as I observed it. This should lay some foundations for understanding more analytically in the later sections of the chapter how and why the 2006 Census collection process in the Alice...

  10. 4. Mobility and its consequences: the 2006 enumeration in the north-east Arnhem Land region
    (pp. 33-54)
    Frances Morphy

    This case study is constructed from an anthropological perspective. An anthropological analysis has a particular kind of contribution to make in a situation such as a census enumeration, in which members of an encapsulated cultural minority are interacting with the institutions of the encapsulating state. I want to convey how the census enumeration appears to the Yolngu—particularly the Community Coordinators (CCs) and collector-interviewers (CIs)—in order to understand some of the problems that arise and what their possible solutions might be.

    The census, being a dwelling-based count, is founded on assumptions about the characteristics of populations that fit sedentary...

  11. 5. Whose census? Institutional constraints on the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy at Wadeye
    (pp. 55-72)
    John Taylor

    The 2006 Census enumeration in the Thamarrurr region provides an example of the logistical and cross-cultural issues associated with implementation of the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) in a large Aboriginal town (Wadeye) and surrounding outstations (Figure 5.1). In the past 30 years, many former mission and government settlements across northern Australia that were established for the purposes of administering Aboriginal welfare polices have grown steadily in size and complexity, with several now achieving the status of ʹurban centreʹ (more than 1000 people) within the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). Among those with populations that now exceed this number are: Wadeye,...

  12. 6. What sort of town is Fitzroy Crossing? Logistical and boundary problems of the 2006 enumeration in the southern Kimberley
    (pp. 73-86)
    Kathryn Thorburn

    Fitzroy Crossing is a major service centre in the central western Kimberley. The nearest towns are Derby, 250 kilometres to the west, and Halls Creek, 290 kilometres to the east (see Figure 6.1). The majority of residents in Fitzroy Crossing are Indigenous, and there are a significant number of Indigenous-run non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Marra Worra Worra (MWW) and Bunuba Inc., which, at the time of the census, were funded by the Western Australian and Commonwealth governments to service town-based Indigenous communities and outstations.

    There are also a large number of non-Indigenous residents: about 45 per cent, according to the...

  13. 7. After the count and after the fact: at the Darwin Census Management Unit
    (pp. 87-100)
    Frances Morphy

    Before embarking on a description of processes at the Census Management Unit (CMU), I will present some interim comments about the organisational structure of the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES). I will use the debriefing of the Census Field Officers (CFOs) in Darwin as a frame for doing so, for two reasons:

    in the course of the debriefing, the CFOs raised many of the issues that I would like to raise myself

    as the people who were responsible for the practical implementation of the IES strategy, their perspectives on what worked and what did not are significant.

    That being said, I...

  14. 8. The transformation of input into output: at the Melbourne Data Processing Centre
    (pp. 101-112)
    Frances Morphy

    I made several visits between November 2006 and March 2007 to the Data Processing Centre (DPC) in Melbourne, to observe the work of the Indigenous Processing Team (IPT). The creation of the IPT was an innovation for the 2006 Census, with a cohort of data-coders trained to deal specifically with the Interviewer Household Form (IHF). All Collection Districts (CDs) of Types 11, 12 and 13—all those consisting of or containing discrete Indigenous communities—went through the IPT. Since CDs of Types 11 and 13 also contained other kinds of communities that were enumerated via the mainstream form, the IPT...

  15. 9. Accommodating agency and contingency: towards an extended strategy for engagement
    (pp. 113-126)
    Frances Morphy, Will Sanders and John Taylor

    The National Census is a broad-brush instrument with two major objectives: to provide an accurate count of the national population and to collect data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics that are comparable across different sectors of the population, variously defined. The Indigenous Enumeration Strategy (IES) has evolved through the years in response to the perceived ʹdifferenceʹ of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations of Australia. In the 2006 Census, we were in a unique position to observe the workings of the IES, from the design of the collection instrument through to the processing of the data collected in the...

  16. Appendix A. The 2006 Interviewer Household Form
    (pp. 127-154)
  17. Appendix B. Commentary on the 2006 Interviewer Household Form
    (pp. 155-170)
  18. References
    (pp. 171-176)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)