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Lost in the Mail: the Inherent Errors of Mapping Australia Post Postcodes to ABS Derived Postal Areas

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It is now common practice, by users of geographic information, to link data held at the postcode level to that obtained from the national census. This paper examines the relationship between Australia Post (AP) postcodes and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) derived postal areas — which are an approximation of the former based on aggregated census collection districts (CDs). A group of adjacent ABS postal areas in northwest Melbourne was compared with the true AP postcode areas they purported to represent and the discrepancies were investigated. Firstly, shape mismatches were studied and their potential impacts upon resource allocation decisions were assessed. Next, comparisons of areas were undertaken. It was found that, in established inner city urban areas, the two sets of boundaries were highly correlated. However, outer suburban neighborhoods were identified as being particularly prone to major areal discrepancies. The implications of mismatches between these two key boundary data sources may be severe, given that management decisions and the allocation of public and private resources are often based on spatial statistical analyses which use these data sets. The authors acknowledge ABS efforts in providing information at the levels of aggregation that society demands. The introduction of ABS postal areas data has undoubtedly facilitated the use of demographic data in many sectors; it has, however, also caused some problems, for instance, when users assume that ABS postal areas are identical to AP postcodes. These issues could easily be avoided with the inclusion of more comprehensive metadata documentation accompanying ABS data. Research is continuing to develop a method by which agencies may derive common boundaries for their administrative units, yet still meet their own individual data and sampling requirements.
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Keywords: data accuracy; derived postal areas; mapping errors; postcodes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Melbourne, Email: 2: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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