|Page tools: Print Page RSS Search this Product|
1: Relevance of ABS output
Support to decision making
The ABS provides official statistics across a wide range of economic and social matters, for government, business and the Australian community.
Collections undertaken by the ABS include:
In addition, as part of the national statistical service, the ABS cooperates with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to release statistics required by key users which are collected as a by-product of administrative systems.
Apart from the extensive range of existing publications and data which provide support to decision makers on a range of ongoing policy issues, the ABS continues to monitor and anticipate users’ needs in terms of new surveys, statistics, and research. The ABS is assisted in this regard by the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) identifying major social, economic, and environmental issues of policy significance over the coming three to five years. This priority list is used as one check on the ABS priorities as identified in the forward work program.
Ensuring ABS outputs provide support to decision making is also achieved by extensive consultation with state/territory governments. Each year a meeting of state/territory government representatives known as the State Statistical Forum is held at the ABS. The objective of the forum is similar to ASAC in that it identifies major policy issues over the coming three to five years. The SSF has a narrower focus with the emphasis particularly on the issues which directly affect the state/territory governments.
The ABS maintains a close relationship with what are termed ‘Lifeline’ and other key Commonwealth clients. These Lifeline and other key Commonwealth clients have a major influence on the ABS’ work program. Some of these clients are also sponsors of user funded surveys which allows the ABS to meet their more narrow or priority needs and to expand the ABS statistical program.
Given the importance of Lifeline and other key Commonwealth clients significant contact is maintained at a variety of levels, in particular at the Senior Executive Service levels. The regular contact provides:
A number of key decisions were agreed in 2002-03 as a result of the processes outlined above. These are listed under Performance Measure 1.2.
Some of the key areas where the ABS is responding to current and emerging issues and conducting research or new surveys include:
An important component of the ABS output strategy has been to support secondary analysis of ABS data through access to Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURFs). During 2002-03 a new dissemination stream - Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) - was implemented. RADL allows users to access ABS microdata via a secure web arrangement at a more detailed level than that which may be released on CD-ROM versions of CURFs. Extra protection is provided with RADL as with this arrangement the full file is kept within the ABS computing environment. More information on these and other strategies for supporting secondary analysis can be found in Chapter 3 - Access to ABS Microdata.
In 2002-03 the ABS released 170 CURFs, while in its first two months of operation put in place arrangements for 13 organisations to access CURFs via RADL. The number of registered users within the 13 organisations approved to access RADL totalled 57 at 30 June 2003. The majority of analysis has been focused on the 2001 National Health Survey CURF.
Chapters 6 and 7 contain detailed information about the many components of the ABS statistical work program and improvements to the coverage of official statistics.
Demonstrated by a high level of use
The ABS delivers results from all statistical collections, as soon as practicable after the reference period, and makes them available to all users at the same time.
The ABS provides statistics and related information to users via many mechanisms, including:
Access to ABS statistical information increased significantly during 2002-03. This is particularly evident in the use of the ABS web site and the web site-based AusStats subscription service. The large increase (40%) in the access to statistics via the ABS web site stems from the ABS’ policy of expanding the range of data available on the web site free of charge and the large range of data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, such as basic community profiles becoming available. The AusStats service has also expanded with the media and LEP member libraries granted access to the service.
LEP is a partnership between the ABS and libraries which assists in the provision of ABS information to the community by providing LEP member libraries with free access to published ABS statistics. A recent initiative of the ABS is the provision of free online access to ABS publications on the ABS web site to LEP member libraries. This initiative, known as e-LEP, is an example of ABS’ innovative service provision.
Subscribers to ABS@ have increased to ten with the addition of the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland governments. The service, replicated daily into the Intranets of key client organisations which have paid an annual fee for that service, enables staff in those organisations to access ABS information. The information presented reflects the move from traditional paper-based publications to electronically disseminated information, justifying the resources allocated to further developing and improving this medium in the future.
In the past two years there has been a significant drop in the number of publication subscribers. The main reasons are that many subscribers have been converted to e-LEP and AusStats while others access the data via the ABS web site. Additionally, the ABS subscription service no longer services ad hoc clients or subscribers to irregular publications.
Table 1: ACCESSES TO SELECTED DISSEMINATION SERVICES
(b) Relates to total number of organisations using the service (including some state and territory governments).
(c) Where the number of subscribers is shown this refers to 30 June.
(d) Various organisations which are licensed to re-sell ABS data. Of these, 38 are secondary distributors who include ABS data on their non-charging web sites.
The following table shows ABS printed and electronic publication releases by subject matter and frequency for 2001-02 and 2002-03. The fall in the number of printed publication releases more than offset the rise in electronic releases, leading to an overall decrease in publication releases. Of the 776 publication releases in 2002-03, 218 were only released in electronic version.
Despite the overall drop in publication titles in 2002-03 there was a rise in the population and migration releases due to the reporting of the Census of Population and Housing statistics.
Table 2: ABS RELEASES(a) CLASSIFIED BY SUBJECT MATTER AND FREQUENCY,
2001-02 AND 2002-03 (number)
The ABS provides free access to much of its data, including Main Features, Year Book Australia, Australian Social Trends and Statistical Concepts Library, through the ABS web site. Free access is also provided through public libraries, media releases, media enquiries, and via the distribution of ABS reports to media offices and to members of parliament.
Table 3 below shows the level of media reporting (by medium) over recent years. Since 2001-02 there has been a significant increase in reporting on radio, television and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. This increase in activity is predominantly attributed to the conduct of, and subsequent launch of results for, the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
Table 3: MEDIA REPORTING, BY PLACEMENT
The ABS maintains a Client Service Charter which describes the relationship between the ABS and users of its products and services. The Charter also provides information on client procedures in the event of a complaint. The ABS received two formal complaints during 2002-03, each in relation to the ABS charging policy. The complaints were both resolved in an amicable manner.
A number of exercises were conducted by the ABS in 2002-03 to assess the quality of service and to improve the ABS’ understanding of user needs. These included:
Performance Measure 1.2: Openness of planning process
ABS planning processes and decisions are open, relevant and independent. The ABS manages this by maintaining a rolling three-year forward work program, published on the ABS web site, which develops and allocates resources to program outputs. The external dialogue which forms such an important element of the ABS planning process is also critical to ensuring the relevance of ABS statistical output. In establishing its forward work program, the ABS is advised by the following user groups:
Some of the key decisions in 2002-03 arising from the planning process include:
2: Integrity in statistical operations
ABS data, analysis, and interpretations are always objective, and the ABS always publishes its statistics. The ABS decides what to publish, and then does so in ways which explain and inform, without advocating a particular position.
The ABS statistical system is open. The ABS sets and publishes, in advance, the dates for the release of all its statistics. Pre-embargo access to statistics is strictly controlled under publicly known arrangements. The methodologies and approaches followed are based on sound statistical principles and practices, disseminated widely, and open to scrutiny.
Performance Measure 2.1: An objective statistical service through:
Release of reliable/accurate statistics
Key measures for demonstrating reliable/accurate statistics include high response rates, low sample errors and the timeliness of ABS statistics. Performance Measure 6.1 demonstrates that the ABS has maintained high response rates in its major economic and social surveys and provided statistics which are subject to low sample errors. In addition, the timeliness of ABS quarterly main economic indicators has improved marginally in 2002-03.
A key element of this performance indicator is the availability of information to enable users to make their own assessment of quality. Information on these aspects of reliability and accuracy, as well as extensive information on the statistical methods used in collections, are routinely provided in concepts, sources and methods publications, the Explanatory Notes in publications, and are also available at the Statistical Clearing House web site <www.sch.abs.gov.au>.
Open statistical process
The Australian Statistician determines which statistics are to be collected, after full discussion with users, clients and the ASAC.
The ABS continues to maintain close contact with its users through a variety of mechanisms, including:
The ABS Forward Work Program for 2003-04 to 2005-06, published in hard copy and also available on the ABS web site, demonstrates the open statistical process by describing ABS outputs, clients and uses of statistical information, as well as the proposed main medium-term developments over the next three years.
We are open about the methods we use. The ABS regularly publishes information about new statistical standards, frameworks, concepts, sources and methodologies in a range of information papers and other publications in hard copy, or electronically. Their publication is one element in ensuring that the public are informed about the statistical process. Many of these publications are listed in this Annual Report, including new and updated versions. Details of major revisions to published data are described in the Explanatory Notes of the relevant publication.
Ongoing research work is often published in professional papers and/or presented to conferences in Australia and abroad. These papers and conferences provide the ABS with valuable peer review and suggestions in the development of new statistical products. A full list of papers presented in 2002-03 is provided at Appendix 16. Some of the topics presented at conferences included:
In addition the ABS has contributed its own policies on collection and dissemination of statistics to the United Nations web site on Good Practices in Official Statistics.
Trust and cooperation of providers
The Census and Statistics Act 1905 (C&S Act) obliges ABS staff to maintain the secrecy and security of all data provided to the ABS under the C&S Act, and held by the ABS. Staff sign an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy under the terms of the Act to ensure that they are fully aware of the requirements on them. There have been no known cases of an ABS officer breaching the undertaking of fidelity and secrecy.
The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, whether it is provided in response to an ABS survey or as administrative data, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release. The ABS also audits the use of confidentialised unit record files (released under the provisions of clause 7 of the Ministerial Determination) to ensure that the requirements relating to the management and use of the files (which are agreed to by users in a legally binding undertaking), are complied with.
The efficiency of ABS operations and the quality of the data collected are enhanced through maintaining the trust and cooperation of the providers of data. Integral to that process has been the development of the Business Surveys Charter, careful form design, and close liaison with business and other representative groups. The ABS is conscious however that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the load placed on businesses in providing that information. With this in mind, the ABS has actively and successfully worked to reduce the reporting load on businesses during 2002-03 through a range of methods including the increasing use of administrative data, the cessation of existing collections, and by transferring a number of financial sector collections from the ABS and the Reserve Bank of Australia to a single collection conducted by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. This builds on initiatives undertaken in earlier years. In addition, a range of relevant census outputs have been provided to all small-medium businesses included in ABS collections as a means of maintaining the goodwill between the ABS and its providers and to thank them for their contribution. More information on provider load is detailed in table 15 under Performance Measure 7.4.
Each year over 100,000 businesses are selected in ABS economic surveys. In 2002-03 a total of 427 businesses wrote to the ABS complaining about respondent load issues. This was down from the 550 complaints received by the ABS in the previous year. Every complaint is responded to in writing by the ABS and, as provided for in the ABS Business Surveys Charter, if the complainant is not happy with the response they can take the matter to the ABS Complaints Review Officer. During 2002-03 no complainants asked the Complaints Review Officer to review their initial complaint.
Table 4: COMPLAINTS FROM DATA PROVIDERS
3: Appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies
Performance Measure 3.1: Lead the development of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation within the broader Australian statistical system
An important ABS activity is the development and implementation of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, which are applied, as appropriate, to all ABS statistical collections, including business and household surveys. A number of publications outlining statistical standards were issued during the course of the year.
The ABS is active in encouraging other Commonwealth and state government agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities.
Activities and achievements during 2002-03 included:
ABS’ Methodology Division provides specialist services to meet new and ongoing demands in statistics. The Division has four key roles in ensuring the adoption of professional statistical principles/methods:
Supporting the work of the Methodology Division has been the formation of a Methodology Advisory Committee (MAC) consisting of professional statisticians external to the ABS, which meets twice-yearly and provides a forum for peer review of statistical developments in the ABS. Some of the issues considered by MAC in 2002-03 include:
Performance Measure 3.2: Contribute to the development of key international standards, frameworks and methodologies, and implement them as appropriate
The ABS is an active member of the international statistical community, contributing significantly to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies. Some of the involvement that the ABS has had during 2002-03 included contributions to:
In addition to contributing to the development of new international standards and frameworks, the ABS has also implemented, or is in the process of implementing, some of these including:
The ABS also provides assistance to statistical agencies in developing nations in implementing the latest international standards. Assistance in 2002-03 included:
ABS officers held prominent positions in a number of international groups during 2002-03. These included:
4: Improving coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies
Performance Measure 4.1: Statistical Clearing House activity
The primary objective of the Statistical Clearing House (SCH) is to reduce the reporting burden placed on business providers by Commonwealth agencies (including the ABS). The SCH pays particular attention to eliminating duplication in business surveys, and ensures that surveys conducted follow good statistical methodologies and practices. In view of its statistical expertise and statutory coordination role, the ABS was empowered to administer the clearance process.
The number of survey reviews at various stages of completion on 30 June 2003, for the 2002-03 financial year, is presented in the table below. Of the 169 completed reviews, all but six have resulted in approval to proceed. However, SCH intervention has resulted in 89 instances of improved survey design and/or reduced provider load.
Table 5: STATISTICAL CLEARING HOUSE - STATUS OF REVIEW FOR
STATISTICAL COLLECTIONS, 2002-03
For 2002-03, the annualised load imposed on providers by non-ABS surveys reviewed by the SCH has been estimated at 37,335 hours, which represents less than 10% of the total load imposed by the ABS. Annualised load for non-ABS surveys has increased since 1999, largely as a result of the increased number of non-ABS surveys which the ABS has reviewed in this time. This is confirmed in table 6 below which shows that there has been an approximate 50% increase in non-ABS surveys reviewed in 2002-03 alone.
Table 6: STATISTICAL CLEARING HOUSE - COMPLETED REVIEWS OF
STATISTICAL COLLECTIONS, 1999-2003
The SCH’s Commonwealth Register of Surveys of Businesses (available on the Internet at <www.sch.abs.gov.au>) provides access to information on collections that have already been conducted, including survey design standards and best practices for organisations developing surveys. Metadata relating to 717 surveys is currently disseminated on the SCH web site.
Performance Measure 4.2: Assisting other official bodies with the integration of administrative and statistical data, including outposting ABS officers and providing training on statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies
Under section 6(c) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, a key function for the ABS is to improve coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies.
In accordance with the Act, the ABS continues to develop the concept of the National Statistical Service (NSS) by broadening the concept of ABS statistical responsibilities to include not only statistics collected by the ABS, but also data produced or available from other government and non-government agencies. The ABS provides leadership to Commonwealth and state agencies in making better use of their administrative data so that it can provide another source of quality data for statistical purposes. The ABS encourages agencies to adopt a holistic approach to improving the quality of statistics available to users through the application of similar methodologies to administrative and statistical data.
In pursuing the development of the NSS some of the main activities/achievements in 2002-03 included:
In addition, the ABS continues to develop the NSS Best Practice Guidelines which will:
The guidelines will also describe how the ABS can help organisations in these tasks.
One of the ways the ABS achieves its objective of providing leadership is by developing Information Development Plans (IDPs). The intention of the IDP is to identify in close consultation with key users, the issues to be addressed in a particular field of statistics, the available data (both ABS and non-ABS), the additional data needed and who has carriage for provision of the data. IDPs assist the ABS in improving the quality, coverage and use of statistics examined. Several IDPs are currently underway addressing statistical topics such as education and training, agriculture, tourism, transport, crime and justice and ageing.
Another of the ways the ABS achieves its objective of providing leadership is by outposting statistical officers to state/territory and Commonwealth government departments and agencies with a view to facilitating the access to, and the understanding of, statistics, and strengthening statistical coordination across these bodies. A total of 36 ABS officers were outposted to Commonwealth and state government agencies during 2002-03. The majority of these outpostings were long-term, however most state/territory agencies with outposted officers usually receive ABS statistical and technical assistance in the form of short-term secondments.
Table 7: GOVERNMENT ORGANISATIONS WITH ABS OUTPOSTED OFFICERS, 2002-03
Examples of new partnerships with Commonwealth, state and local government agencies to identify and utilise a greater range of administrative data currently under way are:
Some of the key achievements in assisting Commonwealth and state/ territory government agencies through statistical consultation, statistical analysis, modelling of existing ABS or client data, and statistical training or seminars for clients and users, during the year included:
Performance Measure 4.3: Identifying, storing and disseminating statistics from other official bodies
As part of its commitment to provide an expanded and improved national statistical service, the ABS plays a significant role in identifying, storing and disseminating statistics from other official bodies, particularly those derived from administrative systems.
The ABS continued its analytical research on Australian Taxation Office individual income tax return data in 2002-03. One of the outputs of this process has been the publication Experimental Estimates, Regional Wage and Salary Earner Statistics, Australia, 1995-96 to 1998-99 (cat. no. 5673.0). The data has been extended to 2001 on ABS electronic services.
The Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB), Australia (cat. no. 1353.0), provides clients with access to a broad range of information about Australia’s regions. The Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB) contains over 15,000 data items of which over 1,900 are sourced from 34 non-ABS statistical series provided by 13 different state and Commonwealth government agencies. Each yearly release includes updates to the economic, social and demographic data. Two of the latest additions are statistics on land use and salinity risk from the National Land and Water Resources Audit.
In 2002-03 the New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory ABS Regional Offices published updates of Regional Statistics (cat. nos 1362.1-8 series). The publication brings together data from a large range of sources for areas of the state/territory.
The ABS has established a number of National Centres covering specific areas of statistical activity. The Centres coordinate data collection activities within the ABS and across other public agencies, and provide a statistical service which includes provision of statistical information, training of data providers, advice on statistical standards and development of quality control procedures.
National Centres have been established for:
A detailed list of achievements and activities of the national centres are provided in section IV, ABS Outputs. However, some of the key achievements of the Centres during 2002-03 included:
In 2002 the ABS created two new National Statistical Units, on Ageing and on Children and Youth. The creation of these units was in recognition of the increasing policy focus and discussion at Commonwealth and state/territory levels, and in response to the need for a statistical evidence base to support government policy development related to these specific population groups.
Much of the work program of both units will be focused, initially, on the presentation and analysis of existing data, from the ageing or children/youth perspective, but there are plans to also use administrative data as a source for future analyses. The Children and Youth National Statistical Unit in particular, plays a supportive role for the Australian Research Alliance on Children and Youth by providing information on this important population group.
In recent years, the ABS has also produced a range of statistical directories to provide users with information on sources of statistics (both from the public and private sectors) for particular topics. Some of the directories include: