5204.0 - Australian System of National Accounts, 2000-01  
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Appendix 1: Conceptual Framework


National accounts are designed to provide a systematic summary of national economic activity and have been developed to facilitate the practical application of economic theory. At their summary level, the accounts reflect key economic flows: production, income, consumption, investment and saving. At their more detailed level, they are designed to present a statistical picture of the structure of the economy and the detailed processes that make up domestic production and its distribution.

The purpose of this Appendix is to outline the basic structure of the national accounting system and the theoretical concepts that the system embodies.


The Australian System of National Accounts (ASNA) is based on the principles expounded in the System of National Accounts, 1993 (SNA93). The SNA is also being adopted by other government statistical offices throughout the world, although the degree to which the recommendations of the 1993 revision have been implemented varies considerably between countries.

SNA93 brings together, within the one integrated framework, the various streams of economic accounts, including estimates of national income, expenditure, and product, input-output tables, financial accounts and national and sector balance sheets. It is designed to provide international guidance to national statistical authorities in the compilation and presentation of national accounts, and to serve as a basis for standardised reporting to the United Nations and other international bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). SNA93 provides definitions and classifications which form the basis for the collection of integrated economic statistics in general.

Although a number of other international standards have been developed for more detailed presentation of statistics for specific areas of economic accounts, such as the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Balance of Payments Manual and Government Finance Statistics, the SNA has the central position in economic statistics standards. Considerable effort has been devoted in the international arena to the elimination of inconsistencies between the SNA and the other standards.


The ASNA includes not only the traditional annual and quarterly estimates of national income, expenditure and product, but also input-output tables, State estimates, estimates of capital stock, financial accounts, balance sheets and reconciliation accounts and productivity estimates. The system could also be defined more widely to include balance of payments and public finance statistics. However, these are documented in detail elsewhere and are not considered further in this Appendix except to the extent that they provide data items for elements of the ASNA.

A full discussion of SNA93 recommendations and their implementation in the ASNA is contained in the Information Papers Implementation of Revised International Standards in the Australian National Accounts (Cat. no. 5251.0), Upgraded Australian National Accounts (Cat. no. 5253.0) and Upgraded Australian National Accounts: Financial Accounts (Cat. no. 5254.0). Although there are some areas where the ASNA does not follow SNA93 treatments precisely, to all intents and purposes the ASNA can now be considered to be on an SNA93 basis. The main reasons for not implementing all SNA93 recommendations are that the data required to support a recommendation are unavailable or that a recommendation is not significant in the Australian context.


The central concept in a national accounting system is economic production. Production is a physical process, carried out under the management of an institutional unit, whereby labour, accumulated capital assets and knowledge are used to transform inputs of goods and services into outputs of other goods and services. Production is not confined to the production of goods by farms, mines, factories, etc. It also includes the provision of services of all kinds which either add to the value of goods (such as transport and merchandising services), or are directly bought and sold in the market in their own right (such as the services of doctors, teachers and entertainers).

All goods and services that are produced as outputs must be able to be sold in markets or at least be capable of being provided by one institutional unit to another, with or without charge. SNA93 defines the 'production boundary' to include:

'...all production actually destined for the market, whether for sale or barter. It also includes all goods and services provided free to individual households or collectively to the community by government units or non-profit institutions serving households.'

In principle, production should be valued at market prices, which are generally transaction prices. In the absence of market transactions, valuation is made according to costs incurred or by reference to market prices for analogous goods or services.

Most goods and services provided by general government bodies (as distinct from public enterprises such as government railways) are not normally sold but are nevertheless regarded as part of production. In practice, they are valued at a cost comprising the total of the wages and salaries paid to the employees of general government bodies and the cost of purchased goods and services used including an allowance for the consumption of fixed capital. Similar considerations apply to non-profit institutions-for example, clubs, trade unions, chambers of commerce and churches-whose costs are largely or wholly met by members and benefactors so that the goods and services produced need not be sold at a commercially determined price. As with general government bodies, the production of non-profit institutions is valued at cost in the national accounts.

Imputations are made for some goods and services which are not sold in the market place and therefore are not amenable to direct measurement. Imputation is confined to a small number of cases where a reasonably satisfactory basis for the valuation of the implied transaction is available, and where their exclusion could result in distortions in the accounts. In the ASNA, imputations are made for the following:

  • Rent of owner-occupied dwellings. The imputation of rent to owner-occupied dwellings enables the services provided by dwellings to their owner-occupiers to be treated consistently with the marketed services provided by rented dwellings to their tenants. This treatment is considered necessary because, if a large number of rented houses were sold to their occupiers and if estimates of imputed rent were not calculated for owner-occupied dwellings, then there would be an apparent decrease in gross domestic product without any decrease in the provision of housing services. In effect, owner-occupiers (like other owners of dwellings) are regarded as operating businesses; they receive rents (from themselves as consumers), pay expenses, and make a net contribution to the value of production which accrues to them as owners.
  • Income received in the form of imputed contributions by government employers to unfunded superannuation schemes and imputed property income on the accumulated financial assets of households in those schemes.
  • Income received in kind. Fringe benefits provided by businesses to their employees include the private use of company cars, rent subsidies, low interest loans, etc.
  • Value added by owner-builders in the construction of dwellings and alterations and additions to dwellings that are within the scope of building work covered by the ABS Building Activity Collection.
  • Goods and services produced by persons in the course of their normal occupation and consumed by them are included where practicable (e.g. an estimate is made for farm production consumed on the farm).
  • Goods produced by persons outside their normal occupations and consumed by them, that is, 'backyard production'.
  • Services provided by financial institutions over and above explicit charges made.

Among other unmarketed services for which imputations are sometimes mooted, one of the most important is the unpaid services of persons working in the home. Consistent with the recommendations of SNA93, the ASNA estimates of production do not include these services. However, in recognition of the importance of the issue of unpaid household and volunteer work, the ABS issued an Information Paper in February 1990 entitled Measuring Unpaid Household Work: Issues and Experimental Estimates (Cat. no. 5236.0). In September 1994 an Occasional Paper was released entitled Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, 1992 (Cat. no. 5240.0) which provided a more comprehensive measure of unpaid work and was based on data from the 1992 Time Use Survey conducted by the ABS. This was updated and further extended in October 2000 with the release of the 1997 issue of 5240.0 using data from the 1997 Time Use Survey. SNA93 recommends that estimates of the value of unpaid household work should be compiled in satellite accounts. These are accounting statements separate from, but consistent with, the gross domestic product account and other existing accounts, providing supplementary information which can be used in conjunction with the data in the existing national accounts. The ABS has not yet compiled such a satellite account.

Production, and associated income flows should conceptually be measured on an accruals basis. Under this basis, transactions between institutional units are recorded when something of economic value is provided by one party to the other. This may or may not coincide with a cash transaction. Transactions internal to one institutional unit are equivalently recorded when economic value is created or transformed. For the most part, transactions in the ASNA are recorded on an accrual basis. However, in some areas, it is only possible to record transactions on a cash basis. Many-but not all-of the transactions of general government are recorded on this basis.


An important objective of the ASNA is to measure the value of economic production in Australia in a given period. In doing so, care must be taken to avoid double counting. Many goods and services are bought by enterprises for use in their own productive activities. If the value of all goods and services produced were added together there would be serious duplication because some goods and services would be added in several times at successive stages of production. In the national accounts it is the value added in production which is important.

This is the essence of the concept of gross domestic product (GDP) which is formally defined as:

'...the total market value of goods and services produced in Australia after deducting the cost of goods and services used up in the process of production (intermediate consumption), but before deducting consumption of fixed capital.'

GDP is defined geographically; it is the value added in production in the economic territory of Australia regardless of whether the factors of production are owned by Australians or by non-residents. Economic territory is defined in paragraph 14.9 of the SNA93 which states:

'The economic territory of a country consists of the geographic territory administered by a government within which persons, goods, and capital circulate freely. In the case of maritime countries, it includes any islands belonging to that country which are subject to exactly the same fiscal and monetary authorities as the mainland, so that goods and persons may move freely to and from such islands without any kind of customs or immigration formalities. The economic territory of a country includes: (a) the airspace, territorial waters, and continental shelf lying in international waters over which the country enjoys exclusive rights or over which it has, or claims to have, jurisdiction in respect of the right to fish or to exploit fuels or minerals below the sea bed; (b) territorial enclaves in the rest of the world (clearly demarcated areas of land which are located in other countries and which are used by the government which owns or rents them for diplomatic, military, scientific or other purposes-embassies, consulates, military bases, scientific stations, information or immigration offices, aid agencies, etc.-with the formal agreement of the government of the country in which they are physically located).'

An alternative aggregate measure is gross national income (GNI), which is equal to GDP less primary incomes payable to non-residents plus primary incomes receivable from non-residents. Thus GNI is equal to primary incomes receivable by resident institutional units, regardless of where the production takes place.

To ensure that GDP is a measure of economic production that is free of duplication, national accountants draw a distinction between intermediate and final purchases. All goods and services which are used up in the course of production by resident producers are intermediate purchases (and are referred to as intermediate consumption). Purchases of capital goods and finished goods and work in progress going into inventories are the only purchases of goods by resident producers that are regarded as parts of final demand.

The 'gross' in GDP indicates that no deduction is made for consumption of fixed capital; in other words, the gradual using-up of the economy's productive assets is not accounted for in GDP. A product figure net of capital consumed (i.e. net domestic product) would recognise capital consumption as a necessary cost of producing the economy's goods and services and would therefore be a purer measure of production. However, because of the difficulties involved in measuring capital consumption (and more particularly variations in methods used between countries), GDP has remained the major summary measure of economic activity.


There are three ways of measuring gross domestic product: by summing the value added at each stage of production; by summing the incomes generated by production; and by summing final expenditures on goods and services produced.

The production (value added) approach

This approach to measuring economic production is usually applied to industries. The unduplicated value of industrial production can be measured by taking the value of goods and services produced by an industry (i.e.output) and deducting the cost of goods and services used up by the industry in the production process (i.e.intermediate consumption). GDP is then obtained by summing the output of all industries. As industry output is measured at basic prices, which exclude taxes less subsidies on products, these taxes less subsidies must be added to the sum of industry value added to obtain GDP at market prices.

The income approach

Another way of measuring GDP is to sum the incomes accruing from domestic production. These income components consist of compensation of employees, gross operating surplus, gross mixed income and net taxes on production and imports. Compensation of employees, gross operating surplus and gross mixed income are known as factor incomes.

The expenditure approach

The third measure of economic production is the sum of all final domestic expenditures on goods and services (i.e.expenditures on intermediate consumption are ignored), plus the value of exports, and minus the value of imports.

The national accounts distinguish three broad categories of final domestic expenditures. The first is the final consumption expenditure of households, private non-profit institutions serving households, and general government. Examples are households' purchases of food, clothing and medical care and governments' outlays on public order and safety. The second category is gross fixed capital formation by producers. It covers expenditure on durable assets (such as machinery and equipment and buildings and structures) which render services over many years. The third category is inventories, which consists of increases/decreases in producers' stockholdings of raw materials, work in progress and finished goods.

The national income, expenditure and product accounts have now been integrated with annual, balanced supply and use tables, a type of input-output table. One of the strengths of this approach is that it provides a single measure of GDP. During the compilation of the supply and use tables, the supply of all the commodities produced in an economy is confronted with demand, and the incomes earned from production are confronted with the value of production. This confrontation leads to a balancing of supply and use, and income and production-as a consequence, the same estimate of GDP is now obtained regardless of which of the three measurement approaches is adopted. Balanced supply and use tables have been compiled both in current prices and in the prices of the previous year, and as a result the annual chain volume measures share the consistency properties of their current-price counterparts.

Balanced supply and use tables have been produced for the years 1994- 95 up until the year preceding the most recently compiled financial year. For years prior to 1994- 95, and for the most recent financial year, the estimates of GDP compiled using the three approaches are not balanced. For these years, statistical discrepancies have been included to achieve a notional balance.


There are several price-induced distortions in basic source data for which allowances can be made by the national accountant to put the national accounts on a more appropriate conceptual basis and to better meet the needs of many users of the data. A distinction can be made between two types of adjustment. The first concerns the compilation of volume estimates. Changes in the value of production over time are a function of movements in prices and changes in quantities. For many uses it is the change in the quantity of production which is of major interest. Therefore the development of time series which remove the effect of price changes is an important part of a national accounting system. In the past, constant price estimates were provided as a measure of volume. These have now been replaced by annually-reweighted chain volume measures. In general, chain volume measures provide better indicators of movement in real output and expenditure than do constant price estimates because they take account of changes i
n price relativities that occur between one year and the next. A full discussion of the concepts and methods underlying ABS chain volume measures is contained in the Information Paper, Introduction of Chain Volume Measures in the Australian National Accounts (Cat. no. 5248.0), published in March 1998.

The second type of adjustment, which is relevant to the current-price estimates, concerns what is commonly known as 'inflation accounting' and has a parallel in some of the issues surrounding the adoption of current cost accounting in commercial accounts. It relates to price-induced distortions in the measurement of income, saving and inventories, with the price adjustment involving the expression of the aggregates in terms of the average prices applying in each accounting period. Examples include the inventories valuation adjustment and the treatment of the consumption of fixed capital.


According to the standards of historical cost accounting, businesses measure the value of inventories as the lower of cost or net realisable value. In times of rising prices, the change in the book value of inventories from one period to the next will reflect an element of holding gain in addition to any physical change. This holding gain will also be reflected in business income and saving. In the ASNA, the element of holding gain is excluded from increase in inventories, income and saving by way of the inventory valuation adjustment.


According to the standards of historical cost accounting, businesses allocate the original purchase cost of an asset over the estimated life span of the asset. In periods of rising prices the book value of depreciation will understate the real cost of productive activity and therefore result in an overstatement of business income and saving. The book value of depreciation is adjusted to a current market price basis in the ASNA in order to reflect the fall in value of the asset at the prices current in the period for which the estimates are being made. This is referred to as consumption of fixed capital.

No adjustment is made in the ASNA income accounts for the effect of price change on monetary assets and liabilities, although it is recognised by national accountants that this can have important implications for some types of analyses. As discussed below, the impact of price change on monetary assets and liabilities is reflected, implicitly, in the balance sheets and, explicitly, in the reconciliations between the balance sheets and transaction accounts.


Input-output tables are essentially a disaggregation of the gross domestic product account which is described in Appendix 2. The gross domestic product account represents a fully consolidated measure of economic production for the economy where only transactions representing final production are shown and intermediate production is netted out. Input-output tables on the other hand bring back into focus inter-industry flows of goods and services, thereby providing a more complete description of the process of economic production. They provide detailed information about the supply and disposition of commodities in the economy and the structure and inter-relationships of industries.

The ABS publishes detailed input-output statistics in Australian National Accounts: Input-Output Tables (Cat. no. 5209.0).


To this point, the discussion has centred around the measurement of the production of goods and services and the links with the income and expenditure of the various sectors of the economy. These are recorded in the production accounts (and input-output tables) and the income accounts and capital accounts of the system, all of which may be referred to as the 'real' accounts. The financial accounts on the other hand address the issue of transactions in financial assets and liabilities. The financial accounts show the changes in assets and liabilities that flow from production decisions in the real economy and, in concept, represent an elaboration of net lending in the capital accounts (where net lending represents the difference between a sector's saving and investment). As all transactions on the real side of the accounts have an exact counterpart on the 'financial' side, the surplus or deficit (net lending) of a sector can be measured from each side i.e. from the financial side as well as from the real side. Any differences in practice due to deficiencies in data sources are reflected in a statistical discrepancy. The major focus in financial accounts is on the different types of financial instruments and their flows between the various institutional sectors (including the rest of the world).

The ABS publishes detailed financial accounts statistics in Australian National Accounts: Financial Accounts (Cat. no. 5232.0).


National and sector balance sheets record, at particular points in time, values of tangible and intangible assets owned by a nation and its institutional sectors, and the outstanding financial claims between institutional sectors. For any one sector, the total value of all assets held less the value of financial liabilities (including equity capital issued by the sector) is equal to net worth. In a closed economy, national net worth (or national wealth) would be equal to the sum of net tangible and intangible assets. In an open economy, national net worth is equal to the sum of net tangible and intangible non-financial assets and financial claims on non-residents less the sum of liabilities to non-residents (including domestic shares held by non-residents).

The change in balance sheet values from one period to the next is necessarily linked to the flows shown in the capital and financial accounts given that stock is equal to the net accumulation of past flows. Produced tangible assets enter stock through gross fixed capital formation and exit through the consumption of fixed capital or scrapping. Non-produced tangible assets and intangible assets also enter the balance sheets as a result of transactions (flows) appearing in the capital accounts. The balance sheets also reflect the impact on stocks of financial assets and liabilities arising from transactions in financial assets and liabilities recorded in the financial accounts.

Although the difference between opening and closing balance sheet values is consistent with flows shown in the capital and financial accounts, there are other factors which can lead to a change in balance sheet values. As balance sheet values are measured at current market prices, changes in valuation will result in a different balance sheet position. Balance sheet values are also affected by such things as catastrophic losses, uncompensated seizures, and write-offs of financial claims. None of these things is recorded in the transaction accounts. Balance sheets also reflect net changes in the value of certain tangible assets that are not accounted for in the capital accounts. Included are natural growth less depletions of timber tracts and forests, and new finds less depletion of sub-soil assets. All non-transaction changes in balance sheet values are reflected in an accumulation and revaluation account. This account, in association with the capital and financial accounts, provides a complete picture of the processes involved in moving from the balance sheet position at the beginning of the period to that at the end of the period.

In March 1995 the ABS released an Occasional Paper, National Balance Sheets for Australia: Issues and Experimental Estimates, 1989-1992 (Cat. no. 5241.0) to provide a progress report on development work being undertaken and to encourage comments from users about the concepts, sources and methods employed in their derivation. This was followed in March 1997 by Australian National Accounts: National Balance Sheet, 30 June 1995 (Cat. no. 5241.0). The main balance sheet tables are now included in this publication. Additional and more detailed balance sheet information is available on AusStats.

The estimates for non-produced assets (subsoil assets, timber and land) are the result of ABS estimation techniques (including the application of net present value techniques) that are still considered experimental. The estimates are reliant on many data sources. Important are data sourced from relevant government agencies in particular Geoscience Australia for sub-soil assets data. It is recommended that interpretation of the monetary value of non-produced assets be undertaken in conjunction with the physical stock data which are provided in the additional tables included on Ausstats.

Experimental estimates have also been compiled for a real/volume national balance sheet in which the current price estimates are adjusted for price change. An article describing these experimental measures was included in the March quarter 2001 release of Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expendiutre and Product (Cat. no. 5206.0).


Information contained in the national accounts can be used, along with other information, to obtain estimates of multifactor productivity. For a short description of these estimates, along with a description of the closely-related capital stock estimates, the reader should consult the feature article in the 1997-98 issue of 5204.0. For a more complete understanding, the feature article should be read in conjunction with Chapter 27 of Australian National Accounts: Concepts, Sources and Methods (Cat. no. 5216.0) and the Occasional Paper Estimates of Multifactor Productivity, Australia (Cat. no. 5233.0).