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The ABS aims to lead an effective national statistical service. This involves providing statistical services that meet the needs of users in government and the broader community and working with those who are holders or custodians of statistical data. The ABS coordinates these statistical services, as well as assisting data custodians such as state and territory governments in making the data available. ABS engagement with users and producers of statistical services is vital to meeting this objective.
Reflecting the wide range of users and producers of statistical services, the ABS uses a variety of mechanisms to engage with them, including:
The ABS encourages the use of statistics for informed decision making, research and discussion. It makes statistics readily available and easy to understand by employing the website, using the media, presenting at conferences and other forums, and providing a range of consultancy services. The ABS actively looks for ways to work with users of statistics and those needing information to develop and/or evaluate policy (for more information see Chapter 12, Communication of statistics).
The ABS works closely with users of statistics to enhance user understanding of ABS products, and to ensure ABS statistics are relevant to user requirements. Engagement with users of statistics takes place in a number of different ways, including through:
The Australian Statistics Advisory Council chairperson, Geoff Allen, centre, and the Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, right, at the ASAC meeting on 24 June 2008.
Other examples of engagement with users of statistics include:
USER AND ADVISORY GROUPS ESTABLISHED BY THE ABS
(see Appendix 2 for a full list of user and advisory groups)
The Housing Statistics User Advisory Group has representation from state and territory governments and the Australian Government’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; Treasury; Productivity Commission; and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Members also include community sector and industry representatives, and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. During 2007–08, the following issues were examined: the launch of a housing Information Development Plan process; housing affordability measurement issues; the broad housing information needs in the field; and updates on the many developments in the ABS forward work program related to housing statistics.
The Children and Youth Statistics Advisory Group met in September 2008 to the discuss the progress of data development activities identified in the 2006 Children and Youth Information Development Plan, as well the details of progress that will be published. The ABS also informed members about, and sought advice on, the many developments in the ABS forward work program relating to children and youth statistics. These developments included: the Data Mapping Pilot on Early Childhood; Census Data Enhancement; and census developments relating to children and youth.
The Labour Statistics Advisory Group includes academics and key users of ABS labour data. The group meets annually and provides advice and feedback on labour issues and priorities from a wide range of perspectives. Issues discussed in 2007–08 included the content of the labour supplementary surveys, the development of the Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours and developments in the monthly labour force survey.
The Demography Statistics Advisory Group was formed to provide an annual forum for key users and experts in the field of demography statistics. The aim of the group is to provide feedback and advice to the ABS on issues relating to the Demography Statistics program. Topics discussed in 2007–08 included the content for the 2011 Census of Population and Housing and a range of research projects relevant to demography statistics being undertaken in the ABS.
The annual Agriculture Statistics Workshop met in March 2008, with members advised about:
The Water Statistics User Group has been established to consider issues relating to water statistics work programs. In 2007–08, the group discussed progress with the newly enacted Water Act 2007, with presentations from the Bureau of Meteorology, the National Water Commission and the Water Accounting Development Committee, as well as performance reporting, and the development of water accounting standards. The group also heard of the ABS’ plans to release a report on water use in the Murray Darling Basin.
The Energy Statistics User Group met in 2007–08 to hear progress on a number of key initiatives relating to Australia’s energy statistics. The Department of Climate Change outlined progress with a National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System and Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics outlined the process for compiling Australia’s energy statistics and balances. The ABS provided information about the conduct of a survey of energy suppliers for the 2007–08 year, and the release of statistics presenting an alternative view of energy activity in Australia. In addition, the ABS reported on developments overseas, including discussions on the European Emissions Trading Scheme and collection of data on household energy use.
A new Migrant Statistics Advisory Group has been established and met for the first time in 2007–08. The group considers statistical priorities relevant to migrant outcomes, with a particular focus on improving understanding of differential outcomes for migrants entering Australia under different migration programs.
During 2007–08, the Economic Statistics User Group (ESUG) met to discuss recent developments in ABS economic statistics, such as:
ESUG was also advised of ABS plans for reviews in the areas of merchandise trade statistics, financial statistics and the stage of production price indexes.
At meetings of the Transport Statistics User Group during 2007–08, the following opportunities were identified:
There was also agreement on revisiting the Transport Information Development Plan in order to refresh the priorities across transport statistics.
The third meeting of the Advisory Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics was held in May 2008. At that meeting, the ABS reported on progress against the six key strategic areas identified in ABS Directions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics (cat. no. 4700.0) released in mid 2007.
INFORMATION DEVELOPMENT PLANS
Information Development Plans (IDPs) involve a review of the needs for users in a particular area of statistics, a review of available sources of data, an assessment of the gaps and overlaps in information available, and recommendations on a future work program. These recommendations are agreed with users of statistics, as well as other data custodians.
During 2007–08, progress on a number of IDPs was made, including:
On 5 June 2008, the Australian Capital Territory Information Development Plan, 2008–2011 (ACT IDP) was signed by the Chief Executive of the ACT Chief Minister’s Department and the Australian Statistician. The ABS’ ACT regional office and the ACT Government have developed the IDP to recognise and give effect to the important role that quality statistics play in informed decision making within governments, business and the community. The IDP provides a high level strategic framework for a whole of government approach to improve the management and development of statistical resources for the Territory. The objectives of the IDP are to:
The Information Development Steering Committee (IDSC), established in February, 2007 and chaired by the Chief Minister’s Department, provides the formal mechanism through which the IDP will be implemented and monitored.
The Chief Executive of the ACT Chief Minister’s Department, Andrew Cappie-Wood, right, and the Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, sign the ACT IDP in June 2008.
Children and Youth Information Development Plan
The Information Paper: Improving Statistics on Children and Youth — An Information Development Plan, 2006 (cat. no. 4907.0), released in December 2006, identified the agreed priorities and action for information development for children and youth statistics. The information paper also indicated that, during the life of the Plan, progress on actions identified in it would be monitored, annually, at meetings of the ABS Children and Youth Statistics Advisory Group. The Group would consider options for both monitoring and facilitating progress against the Plan and ensuring the continuing relevance of the agreed priority areas and associated data development needs. Following a review, the Annual Progress Report was published on the National Statistical Service website in December 2007 (see http://www.nss.gov.au).
Arts and Heritage Information Development Plan
In 2007–08, an Arts and Heritage IDP was released that sets out major information needs and priorities across a range of areas including the economic and social contribution of arts and heritage, as well as cultural identity and access to arts and heritage services. The plan identifies a number of research themes that could be pursued by researchers in this field and, to facilitate this, a research symposium is planned for 2008–09. This was to bring together researchers and major users of information in this area, to better coordinate research and data development.
Housing Information Development Plan
During 2007–08, the ABS commenced work on a Housing IDP. The Housing IDP is an agreement between data users and providers on actions needed to improve housing statistics to meet key policy and research needs. Development of the Housing IDP will be facilitated through a series of workshops/discussions with a range of government, academic and industry stakeholders. The Housing IDP is expected to be published in mid 2009.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH GOVERNMENT IN 2007-08
In July 2007, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Australian Statistician and the acting Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Education, Science and Training (now known as the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations). The memorandum of understanding includes an agreement to seek improvements on projects of mutual interest, as well as education and training finance statistics.
The ABS and the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2008, which aims to establish a governance system for establishing statistical priorities for the state.
In addition to these new partnerships with government, the ABS also has many ongoing partnerships in place.
MEETINGS WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF GOVERNMENT AGENCIES USING ABS STATISTICS
The Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, and the Deputy Australian Statistician, Population, Labour, Industry and Environment Statistics Group, Peter Harper, attended a joint meeting of the Natural Resource Management and Primary Industry Standing Committees. The Australian Statistician gave a presentation on improving Australia’s environment statistics, which was well received. The meeting chair, the Secretary of the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, concluded the discussion with very strong words of support for the role of the ABS in environment information.
The ABS attended the inaugural meeting of the Reference Group on Financial Statistics convened by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The group brings together industry and government organisations interested in financial services in the context of World Trade Organisation and bilateral Free Trade Agreement negotiations. On the statistical side, there is a strong interest in foreign affiliates statistics, as the establishment of affiliates overseas, rather than delivery of services from Australia, is the main mode of delivery of financial services to non-residents by Australian financial institutions.
An agency heads meeting was held between the ABS and the Department of the Environment and Water Resources (now known as the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts). The main issues discussed at the meeting related to the role of the ABS in environment statistics, particularly the ABS’ role in supporting the department’s attempts to improve the underlying data set and systems that support State of Environment reporting. Potential ABS involvement in assembling data for the National Pollutant Inventory, and the possibility of the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies were also discussed.
The ABS held a meeting with staff from the Department of Transport and Regional Services (now known as the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government). The Department showed strong support for ABS directions in regional statistics. There was also strong recognition of the importance of transport/infrastructure statistics, and there was agreement that the ABS and DOTARS would work together on an issues paper addressing information needs, with a view to taking a proposal to a wider forum such as the Council of Australian Governments or the Standing Committee on Transport.
FORUMS INVOLVING NON-GOVERNMENT AND/OR GOVERNMENT DELEGATES
The ABS attended meetings of the Homelessness Taskforce steering committee, to advise the committee on the various measures of homelessness derived from the census, administrative data sources, and direct collections of information.
During 2007–08, the ABS attended several meetings of the National Child Information Advisory Group, established by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The purpose of the advisory group is to provide advice to the AIHW on current child health and wellbeing information issues. In 2007–08, the group provided advice to the AIHW on a range of issues including: a review of a reporting framework for child health and wellbeing; an update of existing indicators on issues relevant to children; the appropriateness and usefulness of existing data on national child health and wellbeing; and the structure and content of the report being compiled by the AIHW, A Picture of Australia’s Children: Their health and wellbeing 2009.
The ABS has continued to participate in both the steering committee and the technical working group for the Australian Population and Policy Simulation Model (APPSIM). The APPSIM is a new dynamic microsimulation model project conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), which will simulate the impacts (both distributional and fiscal) of Australian policy responses to projected changes, such as population ageing. Some examples of recent work on the model include incorporating labour force details, and refining estimates of fertility. The ABS has contributed in areas such as microdata access for development of the model.
The ABS participates on the Northern Territory Government Statistical Boundaries sub-committee, which advises the government on geography issues. During 2007–08, the ABS worked collaboratively with the Northern Territory Government on its project to change geographical boundaries following local government reforms.
The ABS attended a Tourism Research Committee meeting. This committee brings together Australian and state/territory government tourism data users and producers, as well as the Tourism Cooperative Research Centre from the Griffith University. The discussion focused on: the impact on the new standards for Tourism Satellite Accounts, as proposed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation; the impact of the introduction of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industry Classification 2006; and ways to improve communication between the ABS and the tourism industry. Most of the participants were accepting of the proposed new standards.
The ABS periodically undertakes a major review of its household survey program to ensure that emerging issues are being adequately addressed and ongoing measures remain relevant to users. The latest review commenced in 2006, and the priorities identified through the consultation undertaken have been developed into a broad survey program that has generally been supported by key stakeholders. The funding implications of both sustaining the existing program, and expanding it to meet identified priorities, are being explored.
During 2007–08, the content of the Survey of Education and Work and the Survey of Education and Training was also reviewed. As a result of feedback from major stakeholders, a number of changes have been made to the next Survey of Education and Training (to be conducted in 2009), to better reflect current issues in education and training.
SUBMISSIONS TO REVIEW
The ABS made a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Inquiry into Grocery Prices, outlining the purpose of the Consumer Price Index and methods used to compile the index.
In May 2008, the ABS made a submission to the Inquiry into the Management of Australia’s Waste Streams. This submission highlighted the role of the ABS in waste statistics, and how the ABS could potentially contribute to the terms of reference for this inquiry.
The ABS also made a submission to the Inquiry into the Cost of Living Pressures on Older Australians, outlining the range of data relevant to this inquiry, including the annual series Analytical Living Cost Indexes for Selected Australian Household Types (cat. no. 6463.0).
Other submissions by the ABS during 2007–08 include submissions to the Independent Review of the Australian Government’s Use of Information and Communication Technology (Gershon Review) and the Review of the National Innovation System.
(See online Appendix 3 for information about ABS submissions to parliamentary inquiries)
WORKING WITH PRODUCERS OF STATISTICS
In addition to the ABS, Australia has many producers of statistics, including other specialist statistical organisations, such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE). Universities, research centres and other government agencies also carry out surveys for policy development and other purposes.
The ABS works closely with a range of producers of statistics, both within Australia and internationally. Cooperation takes many forms, including undertaking joint projects, joining advisory and technical working groups, carrying out evaluations, and providing information for international studies.
EXAMPLES OF WORKING WITH PRODUCERS OF STATISTICS
During 2007–08, the ABS collaborated with other Australian producers of statistics. For example, in early 2008, the ABS and the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics undertook a Strategic Review of Transport Statistics. The Strategic Review of Australian Transport Statistics highlighted gaps in statistical infrastructure and data collections. The review was done in consultation with both Australian and state/territory government agencies. The proposed ABS work program addresses key information needs to identify data gaps. The focus is on areas where ABS involvement in data collection or delivery is essential or where ABS expertise can add value to existing data. It is designed to complement transportation data already available from other agencies.
A joint project is being undertaken by the Bureau of Rural Sciences and the ABS, to develop a systematic method of identifying changes in Australian land use intensity over time using Cadlite, a digital map of the cadastre across all state of Australia.
During 2007–08, the Bureau of Meteorology was given responsibility for the development of a National Water Account and National Water Information Standards under the Water Act 2007. The ABS and Bureau of Meteorology met several times during 2007–08 to ensure duplication in data collection and dissemination activities are minimised, as the standards and National Water Account are developed.
The Population Estimates Technical Workshop is held annually to provide a forum for discussion with state and territory government representatives on developments and issues associated with the compilation of population estimates at national, state/territory and lower levels. In addition, the Australia New Zealand Population Workshop is also held annually and brings together demographers and population analysts from Australian, state/territory and New Zealand government agencies to discuss issues relating to the compilation and presentation of demography statistics.
In 2007–08, the ABS met with Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies, to discuss progress in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Wave 3 development.
In addition, the ABS continued to be a member of the Steering Committee for the Longitudinal Study for Indigenous Children (LSIC) convened by FaHCSIA. During 2007–08, the ABS presented a preliminary report on the pilot test of the LSIC. The report suggested some improvements in coverage, and highlighted issues with the overall interview length, response rates and retention rates.
The ABS was also represented at the National Advisory Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information and Data (NAGATSIHID) meetings, held in October 2007 and April 2008. Issues discussed include a project to be led by the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to develop statistical capacity among Indigenous people. The ABS Indigenous Community Engagement Strategy, Reconciliation Action Plan, and efforts to employ Indigenous graduates and cadets will be recognised through this project. A number of data development projects, for which NAGATSIHID are responsible, were also discussed. These include work to improve information on primary health care, family violence, prisoner health, social and emotional wellbeing, and mortality.
The ABS cooperated with the Queensland Office of Economic and Statistical Research, to improve coverage and metadata entries in the Queensland Government’s central repository.
The Australian Statistician met with the Children’s Services Coordination Board, the senior governance forum for the Victorian Children and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS) project. This project is one of the key pilot studies for the development of the National Data Network (NDN). Discussions during the meeting were very positive, and covered the strategic management of information; the impact on data providers; the hosting of VCAMS; and the implication of using open source software. The Board endorsed the recommendation to continue to work with the ABS to further explore the potential benefits of the NDN solution.
The Data Mapping Pilot—Early Childhood Working Group met on 29 November 2007. This working group was established following the Population Wellbeing Data Gaps workshop held in June 2006. Along with ABS representation, membership of the working group includes the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Treasury, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The meeting reviewed progress on identification of data gaps in the area of early childhood. It discussed a model for linking administrative and survey data to improve information available to address important data gaps. A hypothetical model has been developed that identifies existing datasets and how they could be brought together and augmented by specifically commissioned surveys to collect data, which is not currently available from survey or administrative sources. The model is not a proposal, but an examination of what might be possible if there were no constraints in access to existing data. The Working Group was enthusiastic about the potential benefits of such a linked data model and agreed it would go a good way toward addressing existing data gaps.
WORKING WITH PRODUCERS OF ADMINISTRATIVE DATA
The ABS works closely with Australian and state/territory government agencies producing administrative data. For example:
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the ABS
In December 2007, the ABS and the ATO signed agreements covering arrangements for the provision of Australian Business Register, Business Activity Statement (BAS) and Business Income Tax data. These agreements are subsidiary to the ABS/ATO Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2006.
In addition, the two agencies have agreed to manage the implications of incoming government proposals in relation to BAS reporting, tax credits rebates and other matters through on-going interagency forums.
The Australian Customs Service and the ABS
In 2007, the ABS and the Australian Customs Service (ACS) celebrated 100 years of cooperation in the release of merchandise trade statistics. During 2007–08:
Government Health Ministers
During 2007–08, the ABS was represented at a number of information committees reporting to Health Ministers, including the National eHealth Information Principal Committee (and its predecessor the National Health Information Management Principal Committee), the Health Statistical Information Management Committee (SIMC) and the Health Data Standards Committee.
At the SIMC, the ABS provided papers assessing the state of readiness of jurisdictions for geocoding data holdings and providing options for geographic coding data held by government agencies. Proposals for a national data linkage framework, and ongoing issues relating to data items and definitions for a number of national minimum datasets were also discussed.
Government of Western Australia
The ABS’ regional office in Western Australia conducted a Data Custodians Workshop for the Western Australian Indicator Framework System (WAIFS) initiative. WAIFS will be an integrated online data repository and search facility for indicator data and metadata relating to state government indicator frameworks. The workshop brought together framework owner agencies and data custodians, to gain their support and collaboration. Initial reactions from custodian agencies were extremely positive, with strong agreement on the synergies to be achieved by this cross-government approach to data sharing.
STATISTICAL CLEARING HOUSE
The Statistical Clearing House (SCH) was established in response to a recommendation in 1996, by the Small Business Deregulation Task Force. Their report recommended that a central clearance process be established for business surveys conducted by the Australian Government. The purpose of the process was to ensure that surveys are necessary, well designed and place minimum burden on business respondents. As such, all directed businesses surveys conducted by or on behalf of any Australian Government agency (including the ABS), are subject to clearance by the SCH. In view of its statistical expertise and statutory coordination role, the ABS was empowered to administer the clearance process.
The SCH pays particular attention to eliminating duplication in business surveys, and ensures that surveys conducted follow good statistical methodologies and practices in reducing respondent burden. Table 9.1 presents the number of surveys approved over the last five financial years, for both the ABS and other government agencies. Of the 80 approved surveys during 2007–08, 27 of these were high profile reviews (for example, when a survey is expected to have high respondent burden and has planned to approach more than 5000 businesses or has a planned sample size of more than 2000 businesses) and 14 surveys were approved with conditions attached. The majority (61%) of the 80 surveys approved during 2007–08, were either annual or once-only collections.
Table 9.1: Statistical Clearing House—number of approved surveys by financial year and agency
The SCH’ Australian Government Business Surveys Register (available on the Internet at http://www.nss.gov.au/nss/home.nsf/pages/About+SCH) provides access to information on collections that have already been conducted. It also includes information on survey design standards and best practices for organisations developing surveys.
WORKING WITH USERS AND PRODUCERS OF DATA
By outposting statistical officers in Australian and state/territory government agencies, the ABS engages with users and producers of statistics. The primary objectives of longer term outpostings are:
In addition, ABS outposted officers assist with coordinating statistical activities, including collection and dissemination of data, so that duplication is reduced and quality is improved. Coordination reduces costs and provider burden associated with information collection, as well as improving comparability of data.
A new outposting commenced in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet during 2007–08, with a focus on the Australian Government’s social inclusion priority. The department has established a unit to manage the new Government’s Social Inclusion agenda. The Social Inclusion Unit will have further bilateral discussions with stakeholders, including the ABS, to discuss the data needs for an evidence base for their work and its outcomes.
During preparation for the Australia 2020 Summit, which was held in April 2008, the ABS provided the co-chair’s team with an outposted officer, to assist with development of briefing materials on the ten long-term challenges confronting Australia. These briefing materials were used to inspire ideas and debate around the 10 topics, with the view to creating a long-term strategy for the nation’s future.
ABS outposted officer, Sam Thomas (second from left), pictured with the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Kevin Rudd, at the 2020 Australia Summit in April 2008.
During 2007–08, the ABS Tasmanian Office provided the Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Local Government Office, with an outposted officer. The Tasmanian Government identified a need for accurate, up-to-date regional data for informed policy-making and planning, Ministerial Briefings, grant allocations and maintaining the core business of State Government. The outposted officer developed a template with information about local government areas, including data from State/Territory and Australian Governments. The template covers a range of subject matter areas including population, health, economic and employment and education.
Table 9.2: Agencies with long-term outposted officers, 2007–08
TRAINING FOR USERS AND PRODUCERS OF STATISTICS
The ABS conducts a range of training courses to assist users understand ABS statistics. The National Statistical Training Institute (NSTI) in the ABS, along with the State and Territory Statistical Services (STSS) units in each regional office, coordinated the development and presentation of a wide range of training courses on statistical issues in 2007–08. Table 9.3 outlines the training courses conducted by NSTI in 2007–08, as well as the number of participants from other agencies for each course. During the last 12 months, demand for external statistical training for government continued to grow.
To harness the increased demand for statistical training, the ABS is currently undertaking a number of initiatives to improve the curriculum available and promote courses to external agencies. This includes working with clients to identify statistical skills required and develop or renew programs offered through the external training programs. It also includes gaining feedback from course attendees, as they take the opportunity to discuss user needs and concerns with the ABS staff during sessions.
During 2007–08, a large number of courses and seminars continued to be offered through the NSTI, STSS, National Statistical Service, and Statistical Literacy programs. These ranged from information sessions on the ABS website, offered through the Information Skills program, to skills based courses, such as Turning Data into Information and Analysing Survey Data Made Simple, aimed at improving the statistical skills of staff in other agencies. A new course on Understanding Environmental Accounts was recently added to the external training curriculum, with a course on Discovering Macro-economic Statistics scheduled for pilot in 2008–09.
The ABS has also developed a new training course, entitled Valuing Australia’s Environment, on environmental-economic accounting. The development of the training course is key to raising capacity in environmental accounting in the ABS and more broadly.
Table 9.3: NSTI training courses conducted in 2007–08 for users and producers of statistics