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The sweeping survey that paints Australia’s wellbeing by numbers

The federal government’s release of a national wellbeing framework has revealed Australians are increasingly living with chronic illness and waiting for GP and specialist appointments, while the natural environment struggles under the weight of human impact.

Federal Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers said the framework “helps us put people and progress, fairness and opportunity at the very core of our thinking about our economy and our society, now and into the future”.

“We’ve chosen 50 different indicators to help us better understand how we are faring as we pursue a more healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive and prosperous Australia,” he said in the framework’s foreword.

“These measures are in addition to, not instead of, all the other
traditional ways we measure our economy, like GDP and employment.”

But it isn’t all bad news. Currently, it shows mixed progress across 50 different indicators, with 20 improving, 12 deteriorating and the remaining showing little change over previous decades.

Warwick Smith, program director at the Centre for Policy Development, said it is a great start to measuring success in different areas.

“Some of the data is a little out of date, and they’re yet to say how they’re going to use it in decision-making,” he said.

“It’s a pretty mixed story, Australia is a really privileged country and is doing well comparatively, compared to most other countries in the world across most metrics.”

Using data from the ABS’s General Social Survey, the wellbeing framework found that Australians’ overall life satisfaction has fallen slightly between 2014 and 2020.

Health

The framework determines how healthy a society is by measuring access to care and support services, access to health services, life expectancy, mental health and prevalence of chronic conditions.

Australians’ access to healthcare was measured by the proportion of people who delayed or did not see a GP or a specialist when needed due to cost, and the proportion of people who waited longer than they thought was acceptable to see a GP or a specialist.

The number of people waiting for GP or specialist appointments increased in 2021 compared to the previous nine years, with people in regional areas reporting longer wait times than those in cities.

The prevalence of chronic conditions is increasing in Australia, according to the government’s data.

“This trend is associated with a number of factors, including the prevalence of modifiable risk factors, the fact that people are living longer and that improvements in the treatment and management of chronic conditions have extended life expectancies,” it said.

“In 2020-21, nearly half of Australians of all ages (46.6 per cent) had one or more chronic conditions, and almost one in five (18.6 per cent) had two or more chronic conditions – a state of health known as multi-morbidity.”

Unfortunately, much of the data on mental health, using the proportion of adults who experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, does not cover the COVID-19 pandemic years.

mental health

The mental health data in the wellbeing framework doesn’t cover the years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty

Security

The framework measures Australia’s security through access to justice, childhood experience of abuse, the experience of violence, feeling safety, homelessness, housing serviceability, making ends meet, national safety and online safety indicators.

The indicators found the rate of people experiencing physical violence each year has improved since 2005, declining from 10.4 per cent for men and 6.1 per cent for women in 2005 to 6.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively in 2022.

Proportional data for household income to mortgage costs for 2022 and 2023, when interest rates started rising, isn’t currently available on the dashboard.

Sustainability

Australia’s threatened and near-threatened species are continuing to decline at an alarming rate.

Mr Smith said Australia has the ignoble honour as one of the worst places for species loss in the world.

“There are a series of things that are on a downward slope and biodiversity loss is one of them,” he said.

“The idea that we are improving on climate action is true, but are we doing enough?”

Since 1985, birds, mammals and plants have continued to drop in numbers, revealing a stark picture of environmental damage throughout the country.

Australia’s emissions per capita are above the OECD average.

According to the data – and aside from a spike during the Black Summer bushfires – the air in Australia was cleaner in 2021-22 than in 2017-18.

“Substantial further progress needs to be made to reach Australia’s legislated commitment to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030,” Treasury said.

“Electricity generated from renewable energy has increased from 7.7 per cent in 2001‑02 to 30.9 per cent in 2021‑22.”

science suppression

Australia’s threatened and near-threatened species are continuing to decline at an alarming rate. Photo: AAP

The portion of landmass protected by conservation has grown significantly since 1997 and a large portion is managed by First Nations groups.

Some 45 per cent of Australia’s oceans are now marine-protected areas, up from less than 10 per cent in 2005.

Cohesiveness

The framework measures the cohesiveness of society through a host of indicators, spanning from acceptance of diversity to trust in the government.

By measuring the proportion of people who use a language other than English at home and the proportion of people who agree with accepting immigrants makes Australia stronger, the framework found Australia is now more accepting of diversity.

“In 2022, 78 per cent of Australians agreed that accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger, up from 63 per cent in 2018,” it said.

There has been a decrease in people experiencing discrimination in Australia, with 13.3 per cent reporting some form of discrimination in the past year in 2020, down from 18.7 per cent in 2014.

People who are gay, lesbian or bisexual reported being more likely to be discriminated against than heterosexual people at a rate of 30.1 per cent compared to 12.5 per cent.

The data shows more Australians felt lonely in 2020 compared to 2015. However, it was still lower than the highs of the early 2000s.

Prosperity

The prosperity of Australia is measured in the wellbeing framework through access to work, childhood development, income inequality, job opportunities and satisfaction, literacy and numeracy skills, access to education and other traditional economic indicators like wages and productivity.

The data showed the gender pay gap between men and women had fallen only 2.9 per cent in 28 years, to 13.3 per cent in November 2022.

During this time, 75 per cent of women aged over 15 were employed, up from 63 per cent in 2005.

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