LCC Working Paper Series: 2014-02


Francisco Perales, Bernard Baffour and Francis Mitrou

Non-technical Summary

The amount of Australian survey data available for social commentary and decision-making has grown exponentially in the past two decades. One of the subpopulations of most interest to policymakers in Australia are Indigenous Australians, as they are amongst the most disadvantaged groups and sustained Government efforts have been made to address their situation.

However, survey data that can be used to compare the outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to inform policies aimed at closing ethnic gaps and monitor their progress are scarce. Additionally, we argue, the data that exists may be compromised because Indigenous and non­ Indigenous Australians may react differently to being interviewed as part of large-scale general population surveys (due to life circumstances or cultural norms), and this may in turn compromise the quality and comparability of the information gathered.

We use data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey and complex statistical models to examine whether or not there are differences between Indigenous and non­ Indigenous Australians in indicators of the quality of the interview process. These include measures of whether (i) somebody influenced the responses given by the interviewee, (ii) the interviewee seemed suspicious about the study, (iii) the interviewee had issues understanding the questions, and (iv) the interviewee was perceived as being uncooperative during the interview.

We find that Indigenous Australians are more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to experience all of the above. The ethnic differences remain when we statistically account for group differences in socio-economic characteristics (such as age, number of children, employment status, education, income, and place of residence), which suggests that such differences have their roots in ethnic­ specific cultural norms, practices and interactions.

Overall, our results suggest that the information gathered from Indigenous Australians using general population surveys is likely to be of poorer quality than that gathered from non-Indigenous Australians. Thus, we recommend that such surveys feature interview protocols that are sensitive to the needs and culture of Indigenous respondents to improve the quality of the survey information gathered from this subpopulation, and enhance its comparability to that gathered from non- Indigenous Australians .


September 30, 2014