27 June 2017
Transcript - #2017039, 2017

Interview with Fiona Wyllie, ABC State-wide Drive (NSW)

Subjects: Release of the 2016 Census results; decentralisation; regional development

PRESENTER

Today is the release of the 2016 Census. And while there is always a lot of focus on the major cities, the data is really important, too, for regional Australia. That’s one of the reasons the Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, launched the Census results in West Wyalong earlier today.

He joins us now. Michael McCormack, good afternoon.

McCORMACK

Hi Fiona.

PRESENTER

The results we hear about each Census time usually does focus on the major cities. Why did you want to take these Census results to the bush?

McCORMACK

Because I am a regional MP. And as Australia’s first Small Business Minister from a country area I felt it was important to show what the data means for the regions. It’s in my electorate and West Wyalong is a great little town. Its population is 3,141 and what a great place to launch the Census data release from!

The Census does provide a snapshot of the nation as it is, because – like I say – West Wyalong’s a little town but there are some really interesting figures out of it.

PRESENTER

Had it grown in the past few years?

McCORMACK

It had – by three per cent! So that’s a good figure. Its internet per household had grown from 62 to 69 per cent. And one of the really interesting stats out of the Census was the fact that 29 per cent – which is up on the State average of 18 per cent – of the residents of West Wyalong aged over 15 years spent time volunteering. So isn’t that a great statistic? It shows what a caring, compassionate community West Wyalong is and that’s emblematic of country communities – I think – right across the nation.

PRESENTER

Can you tell me the median age?

McCORMACK

42, I think it was from memory. So that is a bit above the State and the National average, but it was 42 years of age. But another interesting stat was the 12 per cent unpaid care for those with a disability or an aged person, so 12 per cent of people in West Wyalong provided that unpaid care. That’s an important stat. And again it goes to show the sorts of people that make up West Wyalong.

But importantly West Wyalong is one of those little communities which rely so heavily – as part of Bland Shire – on good, reliable Census information. That’s so decision-makers – whether they’re in business or whether they’re in Government at all levels – can make the decisions to fund equitably, to make the business case for smaller country communities – especially remote communities – to help them plan and ultimately grow.

That’s what the Census does. It’s a snapshot as it is at that time, to make informed decisions when it comes to Government allocating funds and businesses building.

PRESENTER

As a local MP and a Minister, what do you look for from the data from your electorate? And what do you look to once it’s collected?

McCORMACK

It’s to see where the population trends are. To see migration trends, ageing populations, even such things as religion, it is all important in the scheme of things. You can see things like how many households have the internet and where.

They’re really important when I make a decision as a Minister. It’s important when I talk to my colleagues about the necessity for funding in places such as West Wyalong or my home town of Wagga Wagga or wherever it is in my electorate or more broadly in the State or the Nation. Those decisions are based on facts and figures and we can make well-informed decisions from the Census.

That’s why the Census is held. It’s held every five years and it helps us plan. I really thank Australians for getting on board. Importantly, more people got online this time and filled out the Census. That provides a more accurate snapshot of the nation than ever before.

PRESENTER

I had quite a bit of time going through the data. There is so much there to look at. Anyone can put their postcode in. You can look at your whole region to see if it’s growing. There are some difficulties – I found – when I tried to find regional NSW as one spot, because regional NSW is everywhere but Sydney. And there’s a big difference, say, between Newcastle and West Wyalong.

McCORMACK

Sure – I appreciate that. There are more than 68 million facts in 2.8 million tables in the Census.

PRESENTER

Oh gosh!

McCORMACK

It does show the majority of people live in the eastern State capitals – that’s a real take-home statistic. But the other one too is the fact that housing affordability is a really interesting stat out of the Census. The fact is the percentage of incomes being spent on mortgages and on rents is far, far lower in regional areas.

The other thing I want people to remember – I have said it before and I will keep saying it – there are jobs in regional Australia for those people who want them. And there are good-paying jobs as well.

It’s not always about living in the city, and as a National Party member and as a country MP, I will always plug country areas. They are a great place to live, to raise a family in and to work and invest.

PRESENTER

But not in your original industry. Newspapers have really shrunk – and particularly regional newspapers.

McCORMACK

That’s true. But this is also the evolution of the media. And as media changes, newspapers will innovate and they will go online. They will still provide a valuable service – maybe it’s in the digital form – but the service will be there. There is still a place for print at the moment. People still like to get the paper on the lawn or from the newsagent.

But that’s the way of the world. Life is changing. Businesses are innovating and it’s those businesses which can adapt and can take advantage of the changing world in which we live which will thrive.

Look at the markets we have opened up in Asia – South Korea, Japan and China with new trade agreements. Businesses which can use those opportunities will be the ones which survive – and indeed thrive – into the future.

PRESENTER

So today we know the average Australian is older, more ethnically diverse, less religious. The average Aussie is a 38-year-old woman who lives in a capital city and earns $662 a week and is married. What can we take from knowing this?

McCORMACK

It goes to show how our society is changing. All sorts of people – whether they’re running religious denominations, whether they’re businesspeople looking to make investment decisions in certain parts of Australia or whether they’re a politician or public servant about to make a really important decision – they can look to those figures and know they’re accurate. That’s Australia as it is today.

That is certainly very important when we are going to lay down road or rail networks, when we’re building that new hospital or school. So that’s the take-home message. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is a respected organisation. I thank Australians for making sure they filled out their Census and providing all that rich data and for taking part in this really important survey.

PRESENTER

They’ve identified 100,000 homeless Australians. How upsetting is that?

McCORMACK 

Oh, it is. There are many great stories from the Census but there are also some really sad stories as well. But it gives us as politicians and lawmakers the opportunity to look at those statistics and see where we can do better. To see where we can improve and to see where funding does need to go.

So it’s really important, as the people who make Australia’s laws, to delve in – to do a deep-dive into this data – and make decisions based on what the demography tells us. That way we can make sure we do spend the money where it is most needed.

PRESENTER

There was concern with the Census fail that took place. Do you believe this data is now an honest reflection, given the troubles people had logging on?

McCORMACK

Absolutely – and more importantly that’s what the Independent Assurance Panel has said today in its report. It compares with those Censuses conducted in the United Kingdom, in Canada and in New Zealand. And certainly it’s on par with previous Censuses in Australia.

95.1 per cent of households have returned the Census. 95.1, in fact, was Sir Donald Bradman’s all-time batting average in all first class cricket, so 95.1 – I’ll take that!

PRESENTER

Wasn’t it actually 94.9? Just to correct you by that little, tiny bit. Because every ABC capital city mailbox ends with it.

McCORMACK

99.94 was his Test batting average.  But this is for all first class cricket, the 95.1 figure.

PRESENTER

Oh sorry!

McCORMACK

I’m a bit of a cricket tragic, you see. So I know that for a fact. 95.1 per cent was the household response rate for the 2016 Census and indeed it was Bradman’s batting average for all forms of first class cricket – Test, State cricket – all combined.

PRESENTER

Right – so we’re just Test cricket.

McCORMACK

Yeah, that’s the figure the ABC has gone with. So that’s 99.94 – and what a batting average that was!

PRESENTER

I am corrected!

McCORMACK

But importantly it was a good result. It’s on par with previous results. And I am so pleased that so many Australians have got on board and responded. So many have got online and responded. 

PRESENTER

Michael McCormack, you do like your numbers! What was the data that stuck out most to you?

McCORMACK

Firstly that response rate – 95.1 per cent. With the independent panel’s report today it does show the Census provides quality data.

But you also look at the estimated resident population of 24.4 million – that’s great. It shows Australia is growing. The data also shows we are a very caring, generous nation through growing migration and certainly volunteering. They’re all really good statistics.

As a local MP I was also really pleased to see the Local Government Areas in my electorate of Riverina growing. That shows that regional Australia is doing well. It gives a rich insight into all areas of Australia – particularly those rural, regional and remote communities.

But I am also interested in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stats. There’s been a 17.8 per cent increase since the last Census. That’s a good statistic too. It’s also 50 years this year since Aboriginal people were counted in the Census. And how good is it that in this special year for Aboriginal people – not only do we celebrate the anniversary of their inclusion, but they are also growing so much! They are a great part of the Census. Like all Australians, they have responded well.

Australia’s Census is a great snapshot for us all. It’s a great insight for areas we need to fund and in places we all need to do more.

PRESENTER

That’s the Minister for Small Business – Nationals’ MP for Riverina Michael McCormack.