Australian statistics: not quite at your fingertips

The ABS iPhone app, fun but not a replacement for the online data.

The ABS iPhone app, fun but not a replacement for the online data.

On the eve of this long Australian Day weekend I am taking a break from my posts on regional youth.  Instead I’m going to suggest how you can learn more about our country and win arguments with your mates about trends in housing prices.

It’s almost that easy.

I love iPhone apps. Searching through the app store is my favourite way to spend a Friday evening. I am also a demographer and I have to be able to count something before I believe it. Imagine my joy in the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics app.

The app has three panels (pages?): one on ‘Key Indicators’, another on ‘Census Data’ and the third on ‘Population’.

Key indicators are economic, although the estimated resident population is included.  After a bit of poking I discovered the nifty slide function to determine which of the 33 indicators you want to see on the screen. Each indicator has the current estimate, definition, ABS catalogue number for the source, change over the last period (monthly, quarterly or annual) and change over the year since the current measure.  I can see that the consumer price index has increased 2.2% in the past year and average weekly earnings for full-time adults by 3.5%.

I kept poking in the hopes of getting a trend over a longer period but sadly that isn’t available.

The census data page is the most awesome.  You can type in a post code and get the summary statistics from the basic community profiles from the 2011 census.

In a flash I can tell you that in my home town of Geraldton, Western Australia has 32,000 people living in 9.874 detached houses and only 794 units or flats.

But that doesn’t sound right. Geraldton has a larger population. The ABS didn’t make a mistake, it is just that my home town covers an area bigger than the post code 6530. And who knows other postcodes. except maybe those of the few relatives and former school teachers you still mail Christmas cards?  Furthermore, ABS post codes boundaries only resemble the post codes used by Australia Post—they are not identical.  I hope that the next version will have other geographies because it is a terrific idea to have such a convenient access to data.

The Population page is the greatest disappointment. It has a population counter.  I remember being transfixed by a world population counter at the New York World’s Fair when I was a child.  This one moves kind of slowly (hardly the ABS’s fault) and sort of lurches rather than ticks over. I don’t know if it will inspire a future generation of demographers.  More importantly I would have loved to have seen some of the great dynamic population pyramids that the ABS has on their web site and other tools to demonstrate basic concepts of population dynamics.

As someone interested in public health I would have loved some other indicators from the great trove of ABS data.  How about number traffic fatalities, Gini coeffients for income and wealth, total fertility rates, life expectancies, top causes of death, numbers of students in secondary school, university and vocational colleges, smoking rate, water and electricity consumption per captia … the list could go on and on.

SO ABS, thank you. I wouldn’t dream of deleting my new app and I will recommend it to others.  It tells a part of the story of this country but it could tell so much more.

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