Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 02:44 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 02:44 | SYDNEY

No democracy without demography


Rodger Shanahan


21 August 2009 09:34

Two events on opposite sides of the world provide good examples of the central role statisticians play in developed democracies, and how hard it is for true democracy to develop where statisticians can't ply their trade.

The recent electoral redistribution that has led to the axing of long-term Labor MP Laurie Ferguson's seat provides a good case of the former. The Australian Electoral Commission relies on census data to conduct redistributions at least every seven years. The independent process is readily accepted and spares no-one, as Prime Minister John Howard found when successive redistributions eventually turned his safe seat of Bennelong into a marginal one. 

The Middle East, however, remains barren ground for political demographers. Last week's decision to postpone (indefinitely) Iraq's first census in over 22 years for fear it could inflame ethnic tensions in the north shows how far that country has to go before it can claim that national identity has developed to the point where it can function as a unified state. 

Still, at least the Iraqis intended to conduct a census. While people speak of Lebanon's democratic traditions, the absence of a census since 1932 shows how far the Lebanese also fall short of being a true secular democracy, and of how underemployed statisticians there are.