Chapter 1 - Impact of ASAC on ABS Work Program and Outputs in 2001-02
One of the key functions that ASAC undertakes is identification of statistical priorities for the ABS forward work program. Council recognises the importance of and strongly supports ABS’ continued production of high quality core economic and social statistics for Australia. Within that context the focus of Council is to highlight emerging social and economic policy issues, that are likely to become significant over the next 3 to 5 years. Ensuing from that process a priority list of emerging statistical information requirements is then considered in the planning of the ABS statistical work program.
The effectiveness of Council as an advisory body to the ABS and the Minister is best judged by the extent to which the ABS work program and outputs evolve to reflect the contemporary and emerging needs of the policy makers and other key users as identified by Council.
Some of the emerging issues that Council has been pursuing with the ABS in recent years, and the ABS responses in 2001-02 are discussed below.
Rural and regional statistics
The need for information relating to the issues confronting rural and regional Australians has been strongly emphasised by Council for a number of years. Following the establishment by the ABS of a National Centre for Rural and Regional Statistics in 2000-01, Council has welcomed during 2001-02 two Information Papers utilising data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) which are relevant to the issue.
The Information Paper: Use of Individual Income Tax Data for Regional Statistics - Experimental Estimates for Small Areas contained estimates of the total number of wage and salary earners and their average income for a two year period. In addition, a profile of these wage and salary earners has been developed by age, sex and occupation. The combination of these variables provides a good measure of regional labour market activity particularly where other employment measures may not be available. The Information Paper: Use of Business Income Tax Data for Regional Small Business Statistics - Experimental Estimates, Selected Regions, Australia contained estimates of regional business economic activity in Queensland for the periods 1995-96 to 1997-98. Although the publication is restricted to small businesses only, the data fill a gap in regional economic knowledge. The availability of both of these statistical outputs annually will enable closer monitoring of regional economic activity than has previously been possible. Council was pleased to note that further analysis of ATO data is proposed by the ABS, which will yield additional detailed statistical information for individual regions and small areas.
The Information Paper: Outcomes of ABS Views on Remoteness Consultation, Australia was also released in 2001-02. The paper described the changes which the ABS is proposing to make to its area classification in response to feedback received on the earlier Information Paper: ABS Views on Remoteness and further clarifies the purposes for which the new remoteness classification should, and should not, be used.
Other ABS initiatives supported by the Council included: the expansion of the Integrated Regional Data Base to include several new data series; and the release of updates of Regional Statistics publications for New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory.
Education and training statistics
Council noted the developments and improvements to the range of education and training statistics in 2001-02. Since the establishment of the ABS National Centre for Education and Training Statistics in 2000-01, Council noted that one of its high priority activities has been the development of a Framework for Education and Training Statistics, involving statistical leadership and consultation with a range of government agencies undertaking data collection in this area. Council was pleased to note that this work will result in the release during 2002-03 of an important Occasional Paper: Measuring Learning in Australia - A Framework for Education and Training Statistics.
The development of a new Australian standard classification of education released in 2001, has also been a milestone for the National Centre. The classification which replaces and enhances the ABS classification of qualifications will provide a basis for comparing administrative and statistical data on educational activities and can be used for the collection, storage and dissemination of statistical and administrative data relating to educational activity in Australia. Council also noted the release of Education and Training Experience, Australia, 2001.
On behalf of a taskforce formed by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, the National Centre has also conducted a significant study into the feasibility of including certain questions on school enrolment forms, which would enable the derivation of information about socioeconomic status, socioeconomic disadvantage, and language background other than English - a goal that Council has encouraged for some time.
Wealth and wellbeing of Australians
Noting that wealth is an increasingly important factor in individual economic activity and wellbeing, Council has for some time highlighted the need for more information on the distribution of wealth in Australia and on indicators of wellbeing. Council was therefore very pleased to welcome the release of Measuring Wellbeing, an innovative publication which described the conceptual frameworks underpinning many of the social statistics programs and the frameworks within each area of social concern.
Council was also pleased to note the development and conduct of the 2002 General Social Survey which focused on measures of aspects of personal and family wellbeing. Developmental work on inclusion in the next Household Expenditure Survey of a topic aimed at measuring aspects of wealth and its relationship to income and age will go some way towards addressing the issues of wealth and wealth creation that Council has been pursuing for some time. The increased frequency from triennial to biennial of the highly useful information obtained from the Survey of Income and Housing Costs was also encouraging to note.
Another important development by the ABS was the release of Measuring Australia’s Progress, a publication which responds to the growing public interest in the interrelationship between economic, social and environmental concerns in the Australian community.
Innovation and science
In recent years Council members have strongly encouraged the ABS to collect more information around the key themes of innovation and science and their impacts on the economy. It was therefore pleasing to note the range of ABS publications relating to information technology statistics including measures of government information technology expenditure and employment in Government Use of Information Technology 1999-2000, Australia. Similarly, the publication of information on the use of information technology on farms, including regional statistics on the use of computers and the internet in Use of Information Technology on Farms, Australia, June 2000 contributed to the available data, particularly from a regional perspective.
ABS' efforts in developing a comprehensive draft framework for measuring the Knowledge Based Economy and Society was seen as an important step in meeting the key information requirements identified by Council. The framework will list a set of dimensions of interest in the field and suggest appropriate statistical indicators.
One of Council’s continuing high priority areas has been relevant and appropriate data on the range of environmental issues impacting on Australia. Members were therefore pleased to hear that the first ever Salinity and Land Management Survey had been developed, and dispatched as a follow up to the Agricultural Census. Data on the impact of salinity issues on farmers, salinity management activities, and factors which influence land management decisions on farms will provide some much needed information on this major environmental issue.
Another welcome achievement in the environmental arena was the conduct of an Environment Management Survey for the manufacturing and mining sectors for reference period 2000-01. Information on expenditure by businesses on environment management and protection, and on a range of other environmental practices was collected.
Release of the innovative compendium Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends was also a positive response to Council’s urgings on this topic. This publication has a core component of ABS statistical information but also draws on a range of data from other government agencies, international organisations, industry and individual researchers. Some of the specific issues discussed include, uses and values of forests and woodlands, waste generation and minimisation, and environmental accounts.
Better statistics in respect of Australia’s Indigenous population has been a significant policy issue highlighted by Council members. In response the ABS has developed, in conjunction with other government agencies, a range of initiatives to meet the need for statistics in this area.
Council noted that the Indigenous enumeration strategy developed to enhance the coverage and accuracy of the Indigenous Persons count in the 2001 Census of Population and Housing should contribute to improvements in the quality of the statistics. As well, Council was pleased to note that both Population Distribution, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001 and The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples had been issued during the year.
Council also welcomed the conduct during 2001-02 of the Indigenous component of the National Health Survey as well as the development of the Indigenous Social Survey which will provide a range of information on the personal and social circumstances of Australia’s Indigenous population. It will be a valuable addition to the range of information available.
Increased use of administrative data
Council has strongly supported the continuing work on protocols and best practice guidelines for the collection and utilisation of administrative data by agencies at all levels of government. The development of the draft National Statistical Service Best Practice Guidelines was considered by Council to be a significant step towards national standards for the collection, management and publication of data, including administrative data, to assist in the production of high quality and comparable statistics to support informed decision making.