The study reviewed publicly available statistical information presented in the annual reports and reviews of the 24 dispute resolution agencies examined.34
These particular agencies were chosen for three reasons: they cover NSW residents, they are listed in the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council paper on alternative dispute resolution statistics,35
and they collect some form of usage or demographic data.
Agencies with State and/or Commonwealth jurisdictions were included and have been categorised into three types: government, tribunals and self-regulated industry.
Published data on all complaints and inquiries were collected over a three-year period. Some agencies report on calendar years and others on financial years. The three calendar years of interest were 2000, 2001 and 2002. The three corresponding financial years of interest were 1999/2000, 2000/2001 and 2001/2002. Because many agencies did not have the relevant data over all three years of interest, frequencies and percentages are presented as yearly averages based on the available years.
For each agency, we attempted to collect publicly available information on the following demographic characteristics of the person making the inquiry or lodging the complaint:
- country of origin
- preferred language
- Indigenous Australian status
- employment status
- region of residence.
Available information on the source of the inquiry to the agency and the destination of any referral resulting from the complaint were also collected.
For each agency, we also collected the available data on the volume of complaints and/or inquiries lodged each year. This information is reported in Appendix 6.
Limitations of the data
A number of issues were identified regarding the quality of the usage and demographic data published by the agencies including:
- the definitions of the services provided varied
- the agencies had a diverse range of collection and reporting styles
- the data were not reported in a consistent form (sometimes in numbers, sometimes in percentages)
- the data were not consistently reported over the three years (e.g. the same information was not always published each year)
- because the data often depended on voluntary reporting of personal information by service users, there was a high proportion of missing data in many instances.
Given the issues with data quality, particularly the large numbers of missing data, it was not possible to provide a reliable profile of the service users of dispute resolution agencies. Thus, the present study is best conceived of as a preliminary, exploratory study providing suggestive rather than conclusive information on the demographic characteristics of service users of dispute resolution agencies. Nonetheless, we consolidated the publicly available data as a starting point for developing such a profile.
Consistent and collaborative collection of demographic data by dispute resolution agencies would provide a valuable basis for measuring the use of services by disadvantaged users.