The ABS is Australia’s central statistical authority for the Australian Government and provides statistical services for state and territory governments. In relation to its role, the ABS is responsible for:
- collecting, compiling, analysing and disseminating statistics and related information
- coordinating the statistical operations of official bodies
- avoiding duplication
- achieving comparability and integration
- maximising the utility of available data
- developing and implementing statistical standards
- providing statistical advice and assistance
- working with international organisations on statistical matters.
To meet its responsibilities, in 2013–14, the ABS was guided by six objectives. This chapter provides an assessment of the ABS’s performance in relation to these objectives, based on the key performance indicators published in the Portfolio Budget Statement in 2013–14.
OBJECTIVE 1. DECISION MAKING, RESEARCH AND DISCUSSION ARE UNDERPINNED BY RELEVANT STATISTICAL INFORMATION
KPI 1.1 Australia’s key decisions, research and discussions continue to be underpinned by trusted official statistics
In 2013–14 ABS statistics continued to inform decision making, research and discussions in Australia. In its published research and decisions, the Reserve Bank of Australia has continued to reference a broad range of ABS statistics (97 references to ABS statistics in RBA Bulletins in 2013–14). Microdata citations in academic journals have also continued, showing an active use of official statistics for research purposes (94 citations of microdata in published research). Hansard references show the continued use of ABS statistics to inform public debate and decision making (197 references). During 2013–14 the ABS also provided three submissions to parliamentary inquiries to inform key issues of interest (see Chapter 10 Table 10.2 for details of these submissions).
Trust in the ABS was last measured in 2010, when the ABS commissioned a Community Trust in ABS Statistics Survey. Ninety-two per cent of respondents reported that they either ‘tended’ to trust the ABS, or that they trusted the ABS ‘a great deal’. The increasingly high level of use of ABS statistics, (Table 4.1) and the continuing high rate of positive and neutral media coverage of the ABS (Table 4.6) suggests that this trust is continuing.
KPI 1.2 Statistical information continues to be relevant to the needs of key stakeholders through active engagement
The ABS uses a range of mechanisms to ensure that it keeps in touch with the needs of its key stakeholders. The Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) is the key advisory body to the ABS. Members are chosen to represent a broad cross-section of government, business, academic and community perspectives. In 2013–14 ASAC advised the ABS on its overall strategic directions and forward work program, 2016 Census topics, the Essential Statistical Assets for Australia initiative, future directions for increased coordination of Australia’s statistical system, and enhanced use of Census data. The State and Territory Statistical Forum membership is representative of all state and territory governments. The forum works with the ABS to progress their statistical priorities. In 2013–14 this forum focused on progressing issues in relation to measures of disadvantage, statistical data integration, and statistical capability.
In addition to these cross-cutting, strategic engagement forums, the ABS hosts a comprehensive range of specialist statistical and topic advisory groups. In relation to their areas of expertise, these groups advise on specific statistical developments and on emerging issues that may influence future statistical needs. A complete list of advisory groups is provided in Chapter 9.
The ABS also engages with its government stakeholders by outposting ABS statisticians to other agencies. Outposted officers provide statistical support for specific projects and policy initiatives, build statistical capability, and provide advice on data management practices to improve the health of the Australian statistical system. In 2013–14, 30 outpostings were undertaken, up from the 25 undertaken during the previous year.
OBJECTIVE 2. HIGH QUALITY STATISTICAL INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE TO INFORM AUSTRALIA'S MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES
KPI 2.1 The quality and accuracy of Australia’s official statistics is maintained or improved
In 2013–14 the ABS produced approximately 540 statistical publications. For each publication the ABS aims to achieve an appropriate level of quality and accuracy, while also operating cost-effectively and minimising provider burden. Quality declarations, which include statements on accuracy, are published with most key ABS statistical publications, including Australia’s three headline economic collections: National Accounts, Consumer Price Index (CPI), and Labour Force. Developments impacting the quality of these headline measures during 2013–14 included:
the commencement of a quarterly household balance sheet and associated tables on Analytical Measures of Household Income, Consumption, Saving and Wealth. The publication of these tables commenced with the September 2013 quarter (ABS cat. no. 5232.0). The tables describe short run changes in household wealth, and how mechanisms such as fluctuations in property prices or equity values can in turn explain changes in household consumption and saving patterns.
the increasing use of transactions data in the production of the CPI (ABS cat. no. 6401.0). The use of transactions data (such as supermarket scanner data) improves accuracy, reduces data collection costs, and positions the ABS to be able to expand the range of consumer price measures in future.
the implementation of a reviewed Labour Force Survey (LFS) sample, and the use of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) for Labour Force Survey sample selection and output. Every five years the ABS reviews the Labour Force Survey sample design using data from the Census of Population and Housing. This ensures that the survey sample continues to accurately represent the Australian population, and remains efficient and cost-effective. The outcomes of the latest review showed that for the key LFS estimates, the 2011 sample design generally maintains standard errors at the levels targeted under the 2006 sample design. The new sample design, which included the introduction of the new geography standard, was implemented over the four months to August 2013. From February 2014 the ABS started publishing regional Labour Force statistics using the ASGS.
KPI 2.2 Australia’s leading indicators adhere to appropriate statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies to maintain quality and support comparability in the global statistical systems
To ensure comparability between countries, the standards, frameworks, classifications and methodologies governing official statistics are agreed internationally. The ABS publishes the concepts, sources and methods it uses for all key macroeconomic and demographic statistics. These publications include information on the applications of internationally agreed practices in ABS statistics. Where possible, the ABS meets agreed standards, and in some cases the ABS is a world leader in the implementation of newly agreed or updated standards.
Each year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assesses Australia’s observance of its Special Data Dissemination Standards (SDSS). Given that it is not practical for any country to fully observe all internationally agreed data standards, frameworks and methodologies, these standards provide an accepted benchmark for the main economic and population indicators for subscribing countries. A large proportion of the data standards refer to key official statistics produced by national statistical offices, however some aspects refer to information that is the responsibility of central banks or other government agencies. In relation to official statistics produced by the ABS, in its 2013 report the IMF found that Australia met all requirements except for short delays compared to the standards for the timely delivery of National Accounts and Production Indexes.
KPI 2.3 Use of ABS data increases
Australia subscribed to the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) and its metadata are posted on the Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). In recent years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has taken several initiatives to further improve the quality of the data, such as including the prices of financial services in the CPI and developing new measures of labor underutilization. Method to calculate contributions to growth has also been revised so that each volume component adds to total volume GDP growth.
IMF Country Report No. 14/51: Australia, February 2014
A high level of use of ABS statistics indicates their relevance to a broad audience. In 2013–14 there were 13.7 million visits to the ABS website, an increase of approximately 1.5 million on the previous year, and an increase of over 5 million since 2010–11. The number of products downloaded increased steadily, with a 15% increase in the number of downloads since 2012–13 (Table 4.1). Highlights promoting the use of ABS data in 2013–14 included:
the continuing popularity of the Census iOS app, which has achieved almost 70,000 downloads and won the 2014 Government 2.0 category in the Australian eGovernment Awards for Excellence
the ABS Stats iOS app, which has achieved more than 25,000 downloads, and 64,000 updates, indicating active interest from users
podcasts used on the ABS website, iTunes and Australian Policy Online which include material from the ABS Demography program and Australian Social Trends articles.
ABS statistics and the ABS brand are also promoted through Facebook and Twitter. In 2013–14 the ABS Facebook newsfeed reach more than tripled, providing ABS brand exposure to a large audience at a negligible cost. The ABS Twitter account continues to be popular with over 18,000 followers, an increase of over 7,000 followers in the last 12 months.
Table 4.1 Key metrics of ABS website visitors, use of content and online performance
(a) National Information and Referral Service
KPI 2.4 High-quality statistical information is available to describe Australia’s most important issues
|Statistical publications released|
|Visits to the website|
|Calls to NIRS(a)|
|Social Media-Facebook and Twitter|
|Number of tweets|
|Number of retweets|
In March 2013 the ABS published a list of Essential Statistical Assets for Australia, which represents the statistics most critical to Australia. The list was developed following extensive consultation with stakeholders, and with the support of the Australian Statistics Advisory Council. Of the 74 assets listed, only two environment statistics and one social statistic have been identified as having data gaps:
- biodiversity and ecosystem health—the data gap relates to integrated information on individual ecosystem regions, and their health
- water quality of natural systems—the data gap relates to the use of water in the environment not used for human consumption or production
- access to essential social services—the data gap relates to proximity to emergency service, health care and education providers.
More details on the availability of essential statistics are available in (ABS cat. no. 1395.0). The quality assessment process of the ESA for Australia initiative is currently being undertaken. This process will identify how well information that is currently available meets the critical needs of users. The ESA initiative is described in Chapter 6 National Statistical Service.
OBJECTIVE 3. THE COOPERATION AND SUPPORT OF PROVIDERS CONTINUES
KPI 3.1 Provider cooperation is demonstrated through the achievement of target survey response rates
The ABS sets high target response rates for collections to ensure surveys are representative of the whole population. Overall, the ABS continues to achieve very high response rates, however not all surveys met their targets in 2013–14, as shown in Table 4.2, below. In 2013–14, the ABS lowered the target response rate for the Labour Force Survey from 97% to 94%. The main reason for this decision is the increasing difficulty of contacting the people selected in the survey. This has led to unsustainable increases in the costs required to achieve the 97% target. Analysis has shown that a reduction to the target response rate, to 94%, will not have a significant impact on the quality of labour force estimates for Australia, states, territories or regions. The new response rate is more cost-effective, and remains higher than the response rates achieved for similar surveys conducted in comparable countries.
Table 4.2. Response rates achieved for selected surveys
a. Average response rates over the year for quarterly or monthly surveys.
b. The Multi-purpose Household Survey covers a number of individual topics, enumerated monthly. Response rates are a simple average across all topics.
c. Survey not conducted during the year.
d. Figures were incorrectly reported in previous annual reports.
Final response rate (%)(a)
|Retail Business Survey|
|Quarterly Business Indicators Survey|
|Capital Expenditure Survey|
|Economic Activity Survey|
|Business Characteristics Survey|
|Survey of Average Weekly Earnings|
|Survey of International Trade in Services|
|Labour Force Survey|
|Multi-purpose Household Survey(b)|
|Survey of Income and Housing|
To encourage the support of businesses and households the ABS actively protects the privacy of respondents. During 2013–14 the ABS reviewed its policies and practices to ensure its continued compliance following privacy law reform. The Australian Privacy Principles complement the ABS’s obligations under the , which require the ABS to maintain the confidentiality of information collected under the Act. The ABS meets the confidentiality requirements of the Act by ensuring that information provided is securely maintained, used only for statistical purposes, and used only in aggregated tables and unidentifiable microdata files to support research and analysis.
KPI 3.2 ABS commitment to reducing provider burden is demonstrated through the minimisation of provider load
The most significant factors contributing to provider burden are the number of surveys in the field, and the number of households and businesses participating in them. The number of contributing households and businesses has a direct relationship with the quality of estimates produced. More streamlined interactions with data providers (such as the use of online forms) also helps to reduce overall burden. In 2013–14 provider burden decreased slightly for both households and businesses compared with the previous year; however it remained relatively steady over a longer-term view.
The total number of hours taken by businesses to complete ABS business surveys in 2013–14 was approximately 364,000. This is a decrease of 41,000 hours since 2012–13 and the second consecutive decrease in total hours taken per financial year. Provider load was high for micro and small businesses in 2006–07 and 2011–12 due to the conduct of the five-yearly Agricultural Census.
Excluding the Census of Population and Housing, the total number of hours taken by households to complete ABS household survey forms is estimated at 59,000 hours in 2013-14, a significant decrease of 61,000 hours since 2012–13. This reflects the completion of a number of surveys that were in the field during 2011-12 and 2012-13, including the Survey of Disability and Carers, the Post-enumeration Survey (which evaluates the coverage and accuracy of the Census), the Australian Health Survey, and the Personal Safety Survey.
KPI 3.3 Complaint resolution performance meets ABS Surveys Charter standards
The ABS Surveys Charter includes information on how surveys are conducted, and outlines the rights and obligations of the ABS and survey participants. The charter explains what people can expect when dealing with the ABS and ABS interviewers, including standards expected of the ABS when responding to complaints.
The overwhelming majority of businesses and households selected in ABS surveys understand and support the need for high quality statistics. Only a very small percentage (less than 0.5%) of the 200,000 businesses and 150,000 households selected in ABS surveys write to the ABS to question or complain about their participation in an ABS survey.
Households and businesses have a number of options if they have queries or complaints about being selected in a survey or about the processes involved. Freecall (excluding mobile phones) contact numbers are provided with all information sent to survey participants and, in most cases, when participants call these numbers their concerns are resolved by the ABS officers receiving the calls.
In 2013–14 the ABS received 758 written queries or complaints from businesses (Table 4.3). Most approaches from businesses were seeking exemption from the requirement of ongoing participation in the ABS Business Survey Program. The ABS does at times provide general exemptions from surveys to certain small businesses in exceptional circumstances. Some providers are also granted temporary exemptions on compassionate grounds.
The ABS received 119 written queries or complaints from households, most of which were seeking exemption from participation in surveys. Exemption is provided to households in exceptional circumstances, usually on compassionate grounds.
Table 4.3: Written correspondence to the ABS from businesses and households selected in ABS surveys, 2010-11 to 2013-14 (a)
(a) Excludes correspondence to politicians (ministerial correspondence), which are shown in Table 5.3.
|Requests for exemptions|
|Other complaints and queries|
|Requests for exemption|
|Other complaints and queries|
In 2013–14 the ABS received and responded to 39 queries from politicians advocating on the behalf of constituents (Table 4.4).
Table 4.4: Correspondence to the ABS from politicians acting on the behalf of constituents, 2010-11 to 2013-14
|Business surveys |
The ABS’s performance against the standards for managing correspondence from businesses is summarised below in Table 4.5.
Table 4.5: Performance against ABS Surveys Charter complaint resolution standards for 2013–14: targets and actual performance
Actual performance (% of total where target achieved)
|Sent written acknowledgment|
|Sent written advice of outcome|
KPI 3.4 Customer service performance meets the ABS’s Service Delivery Charter standards
The ABS Service Delivery Charter outlines the ABS’s commitment to providing a high level of customer service. In 2013–14 the ABS met its commitments by:
More information about the ABS’s commitment to meeting the expectations of its customers is presented in the program reports in Chapter 5.
OBJECTIVE 4. TRUST IN OFFICIAL STATISTICS MAINTAINED
KPI 4.1 Australian public sentiment about ABS statistics remains positive
- answering 85% of calls to the ABS telephone inquiry service within 30 seconds between the hours of 9:00am and 4:30pm, Monday to Friday
- acknowledging the receipt of 99% of email inquiries and inquiry form correspondence within five working days
- ensuring the website was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, subject to events beyond its control
- advertising website unavailability for maintenance purposes one working day prior to the website being unavailable
- fixing all broken web page links within three working days of notification by a customer
- referring any requests for translation of any web product which is not suitably accessible for visually impaired users, to an appropriate translation service within three working days
- providing 90% of quotes for information consultancy services within three working days of receiving final specifications
- providing 90% of information consultancy services within five working days of receiving instructions to proceed, or to a timeframe negotiated between the ABS and the customer
- acknowledging the receipt of 99% of microdata inquiries within one working day
- providing a full response to 85% of microdata inquiries within five working days
- dispatching 90% of Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) microdata products within 15 working days of receipt of completed CURF application forms
- providing 90% of new CURF users with access within five working days to a CURF already approved for use in that organisation.
Positive public sentiment regarding the ABS has remained relatively steady over the last 12 months (Table 4.6). This is represented by the number of positive and neutral media articles, which include articles citing ABS statistics without concerns about their quality. The decline between 2012–13 and 2013–14 in the overall volume of media interest in the ABS is driven by a decline in coverage of the 2011 Census of Population and Housing outputs. There was an increase in negative media coverage in 2013–14, driven by media attention regarding an ex-ABS staff member who was charged with insider trading.
Table 4.6: Positive, negative and neutral articles in selected print newspapers, 2010-11 to 2013-14 (a)
(a) From The Australian, Australian Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, The Age, Herald Sun, Canberra Times. Articles syndicated by multiple publications are counted individually.
OBJECTIVE 5. STATISTICAL CAPABILITY IS IMPROVED WITHIN AUSTRALIA, ASIA AND THE PACIFIC REGION TO SUPPORT INFORMED DECISION MAKING, AND PROGRESS IS MADE IN THE NATIONAL AND GLOBAL STATISTICAL SYSTEMS
KPI 5.1 National statistical literacy programs effectively engage target audiences
|Total number of articles|
|Positive and neutral articles|
Adequate statistical literacy is needed to ensure statistical information is used effectively. During 2013–14 the ABS developed a Statistical Capability Framework to guide greater integration of statistical capability development effort across the ABS, and with ABS’s partners. The Framework forms a key part of the infrastructure being implemented to transform the ABS’s approach to building statistical capability. Consistent with the framework, during 2013–14 the ABS:
published a suite of statistics-related teaching resources aligned with the new Australian education curriculum
worked with other stakeholders to develop enhanced statistical methods for the future including Australian Technology Network Universities, the University of Wollongong, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, the Australian National Data Service, CSIRO and the Office of the Chief Scientist
held interactive, participatory seminars for users of statistics with non-statistical backgrounds
contributed to the Australian Government-led Policy Visualisation Network, helping to bring policy makers together to explore how government agencies can get the most out of visualisation techniques to inform policy making and evaluation.
More information on the ABS’s statistical capability program is provided in Chapter 6.
KPI 5.2 Effective delivery of international engagement programs increase the statistical capability of national statistical offices in Asia and the Pacific region
In 2013–14 the ABS continued to take a strong lead role in Asia and the Pacific region to support the development of increasingly high-quality, comparable statistics. During 2013–14 the ABS:
. co-chaired the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Technical Advisory Group on Population and Social Statistics
. contributed as a member of the Governing Council of the UN Statistics Institute of Asia and the Pacific (SIAP), and also a member of the Friends of the Chair group which will report to ESCAP on strategic directions for SIAP for the next five years
. contributed to the Asia and Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics
. partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide technical assistance and capability development in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, the Pacific, and Myanmar.
More information on the ABS’s international statistical capability building programs in Asia and the Pacific Region is provided in Chapter 7.
KPI 5.3 The National Statistical Services priorities are progressed or met
During 2013–14 the ABS made progress in all five of its priority areas for the National Statistical Service:
. transforming information management infrastructure
. maximising the utilisation of public information assets for statistical and research purposes
. progressing the Essential Statistical Assets for Australia initiative
. enabling statistical information to be integrated with location information
. enhancing the level of statistical capability across government agencies.
In 2013–14 the ABS progressed these interrelated priorities with the support of key statistical governance forums, including the Australian Government Statistical Forum, the State and Territory Statistical Forum, the Australian Statistics Advisory Council, and the Cross Portfolio Data Integration Oversight Board. The roles played by each forum, and the ABS,
in progressing the National Statistical Service priorities are described in Chapter 6.
OBJECTIVE 6. STATISTICAL AND INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE IS DEVELOPED TO BETTER SUPPORT AUSTRALIA'S LONG-TERM STATISTICAL NEEDS
KPI 6.1 Products, services and tools are available and improved to assist providers to meet their obligations
The cooperation of Australian businesses and households is critical to the quality of ABS statistics. In 2013–14 the ABS continued to improve interaction with providers in order to reduce compliance burden. This included implementation of online reporting capability for the monthly population survey and further expansion of online reporting capability for business collections. Online forms now comprise 80% of forms offered to business survey respondents. Of the businesses offered an online option, about 90% opt in. Online take up rates for households are lower, but still exceed the introductory target of 20% take up. Online reporting capabilities are also being developed to support a primarily digital Census
Other initiatives undertaken in 2013–14 to improve interactions with providers include:
. implementing new survey communications and revised survey participant web content to support increased compliance
. establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Roundtable to improve ATSI participation in ABS surveys
. reducing the amount of information requested from businesses for the maintenance of the ABS business register.
More information about online forms is provided in the special article in Chapter 3, and in the program reports in Chapter 5.
KPI 6.2 The ABS progresses new sustainable solutions to support statistical information management
In 2013–14 the ABS continued to improve its approach to statistical information management by:
KPI 6.3 The ABS is actively involved in the development of statistical frameworks, methods and standards
- developing an improved governance strategy for managing metadata (information about the data), including concepts and classifications
- developing a blueprint for end-to-end metadata-driven business processes
- developing a corporate Metadata Registry and Repository to centrally store and easily access all statistical metadata
- developing a Statistical Workflow Management System to enable the automation and sequencing of common business processes and provide a repository of reusable processes
- developing a prototype metadata authoring tool to support the creation of online forms
- delivering new Census systems including an enhanced address register, a mobile application to support the field work force in undertaking address canvassing and Census enumeration tasks, automated workload allocation services; provider portal website, eCensus online form, and operations management tools
- introducing corporate geospatial infrastructure through the corporate address coding strategy and enhancement of geospatial web services to support corporate applications (including implementation of the network analyst web service).
During 2013–14 the ABS has continued its significant involvement in the development of statistical frameworks, standards and methods. Key contributions include:
- co-chairing the first meeting of the United Nations (UN) Expert Group on the Integration of Statistical and Geospatial Information (EG–ISGI) in New York and working towards establishing a global geospatial-statistical framework based on the ABS’s Statistical Spatial Framework (SSF)
- working with the UN Statistical Commission Friends of the Chair to develop broader measures of progress
- inputs to the UN System of Environmental and Economic Accounting: Applications and Extensions, and to the London Group on Environmental Accounting
- membership of the UN Statistical Division task force on business registers, including the preparation of a draft chapter on coverage for the UN Statistical Division Manual of Business Registers
- input to the International Expert Group on Big Data for Official Statistics
- chairing the UN Economic Commission for Europe task force on time use statistics and contributing to the Guidelines for Harmonizing Time-Use Surveys
- input to the development and assessment of the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) through the World Health Organisation Mortality Topic Advisory Group, a classification critical to the production of Australian health information as it underpins the classification of both mortality and morbidity data
- continuing to work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) taskforce to develop an international criminal offences classification, which is based on a similar foundation to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC).