New data collection guidelines for Indigenous status

All Australians should soon become accustomed to being asked 'Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?' when they visit a health service, following today's release of new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data collection guidelines.

The National best practice guidelines for collecting Indigenous status in health data sets stress that the question, 'Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?' should be asked of all clients irrespective of appearance, country of birth or whether the staff know of the client or their family background.

According to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Indigenous Reform Agreement, all states and territories will adopt the guidelines and have them in systematic use by December 2012.

'We know that the question on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin is not always asked of every client, because staff may not realise the question is important, or they are concerned that this question is sensitive or even discriminatory', said Kerryn Pholi of the AIHW's National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre.

'Asking the question helps the design, delivery and evaluation of services to Indigenous Australians.

'It also assists researchers, policy makers and community organisations who rely on the data to understand and improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people', Ms Pholi said.

'Far from being discriminatory, the reverse may be true. It may be discriminatory if service providers choose not to ask some people, because everyone should have the right to answer the question for themselves', she said.

The report includes recommendations for putting the guidelines into practice, providing useful advice for dealing with common scenarios such as when the client is too ill to be asked, does not speak English, or when Indigenous status has to be established for a deceased person.

Also included are practical and easy guidelines for staff who might be reluctant to ask the question, and examples of clear concise responses if the client wants to know why they are being asked.

To download the guidelines for free, visit For more information for on how to use and implement the guidelines, contact the National Indigenous Data Improvement Support Centre on 1800 223 919 or email [email protected].


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