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Chapter 2 - Summary of Year's Activities
During 2003-04, Council held two meetings, on 5 November 2003 and 25 May 2004. The full agendas for the meetings are provided at Appendix 2.
Key issues considered by Council during the year included:
2.1 ABS Forward Work Program 2004-05 to 2006-07
A key function of Council is to provide advice on current and emerging statistical priorities for the ABS forward work program. At both the November and May meetings the ABS presented to Council papers relating to its forward work program. A recurring theme in these discussions was the tight financial situation confronting the ABS over the triennial planning period and the very limited scope for new development work.
Council was further informed that in the absence of additional funding the ABS is likely to need to reduce its current work program to ensure that core statistics can continue to be produced to an appropriate quality standard.
Council's view is that it is imperative that the ABS expand its work program and role to meet emerging needs as it has the necessary expertise and infrastructure to ensure a coordinated national statistical service that can respond to the increasing information needs of government and the community. Council strongly encouraged the ABS to seek further budget appropriations from government so it could adequately fulfil its functions.
Within this context Council supported the proposed additions to the three year work program presented for consideration at the November meeting. The key proposals were:
Council noted that both the Personal Safety Survey and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey would be partly funded by other government agencies.
Council was also asked to consider some possible cutbacks in the work program including a reduction in the frequency of the average weekly earnings (AWE) collection from quarterly to biannual. ASAC had concerns regarding such a proposal due to the extensive use of AWE in legislation and contractual obligations. Given the concern expressed by members the Australian Statistician indicated that he would maintain the current quarterly frequency for this collection. Nevertheless the discussion was useful in highlighting the dilemma facing the ABS in terms of trying to identify existing work program that may be ceased to make way for new statistical initiatives.
At the May meeting Council noted that to ensure a satisfactory budgetary outcome for 2004-05 some proposed new statistical work may need to be deferred in addition to reductions in administrative and support activities.
Members discussed the relative priorities of a number of proposed statistical projects including additional work on nonprofit institutions statistics; establishment of a National Centre for Environment Statistics; continued development of National Statistical Service (NSS) initiatives; and investigatory work on census data linking. In general, members indicated that the 2001 Census data linking project was the highest priority, whilst of the options listed, further work on nonprofit institutions statistics was the lowest priority.
2.2 2006 Population Census Planning
At both the November and May meetings Council considered ABS papers regarding the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. Discussion focussed primarily on the proposed topics for inclusion in the census.
While Council agreed with the ABS priority ranking of new topics, there was some disappointment that a question on unpaid work could not be accommodated without increasing the size of the census form by another page. Council was advised that an extra page would not unduly impact on data quality but would require an additional $3 million to process. While Council is very cognisant of the reporting workload associated with the Census, the general view was that information from the census on unpaid work would be of considerable value. Council encouraged the ABS to seek additional funding to support the collection of these statistics in the coming census.
2.3 Development of the National Statistical Service
In recent years ABS has been discussing and developing the concept of a National Statistical Service (NSS) with a wide range of stakeholders. The NSS initiative recognises the extensive data holdings and statistical information already contained in the administrative systems of federal, state and local government organisations and provides a framework for improved quality, accessibility and utilisation of that information. It also recognises that increasingly agencies are producing statistical information for performance monitoring, and program and policy development and evaluation, a potential information base which needs to be better tapped.
Council considers the NSS to be a major initiative and strongly supports it, as the ultimate outcome will be a greatly increased range of information for informed decision making. In supporting the NSS, Council recognises that implementation of the NSS is likely to vary between the Australian and state/territory government agencies and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The ABS was encouraged to undertake some pilot projects with selected Australian and state/territory government agencies to maintain momentum for the initiative and demonstrate the value of the proposal.
During 2003-04 Council was kept informed and welcomed a number of significant developments in respect of the NSS. A particularly well received initiative was the concept of a National Data Network (NDN) which is envisaged to provide a range of data network services through a central website, as a major infrastructure component of the NSS. Members considered that there is a compelling need for the ABS to continue to take a lead role in developing the NDN and NSS.
2.4 Issues in Ageing Statistics
Understanding Australia's ageing population has been and continues to be a high priority issue for ASAC. At the November meeting Council considered an ABS paper which addressed some of the big policy questions in respect of ageing and identified the data sources currently available that would inform those questions.
The paper presented to Council identified four key policy themes:
i. labour force participation
ii. retirement and transition to retirement
iii. health and care costs
iv. social and community impacts of ageing.
Council largely endorsed the themes identified as being the key policy issues. It was noted that in order to adequately answer the questions identified there would be a need for some adjustment to existing ABS data collections.
2.5 Social Capital
In recent years ASAC members have brought the importance of social capital and the need for statistical information on this topic to the attention of the ABS. The topic has increasingly become an area of great interest to a large number of government, community and research organisations, with recognition of its positive contribution to a range of social concerns.
At the May meeting Council considered a paper which identified a range of policy issues relating to social capital, described the Social Capital Framework developed by ABS, and explored some of the data issues relating to the framework.
While recognising the difficulties in defining exactly what social capital represents and the data needed to measure it, Council noted its importance from a policy perspective in trying to understand why some communities function better than others. In particular, Council considered that the Social Capital Framework was a very valuable document to assist government agencies in assessing the issue.
The ABS was encouraged to continue its work in this field and to explore/examine the scope for addressing social capital issues at the community level. In particular Council noted and welcomed the results from the ABS General Social Survey which explored a number of issues relevant to social capital. However, Council also cautioned against pursuing an extensive data collection program, noting that the current investment of resources was appropriate.
2.6 Measuring Wellbeing and Progress
The inclusion of this item on the agenda during 2003-04 reflects the continuing interest of Council in developing a better understanding of, and measuring the concepts of, wellbeing and progress for the Australian community. At the May meeting Council was presented with two papers:
i. Policy Advice and Treasury's Wellbeing Framework prepared by the Commonwealth
ii. Approaches to Measuring Wellbeing and Progress prepared by ABS.
Both papers highlighted the complexities associated with defining and measuring the concepts of wellbeing and progress.
Council noted that the ABS' statistical framework for measuring wellbeing, the indicators used in the recently released ABS publication Measures of Australia's Progress and the Treasury's Wellbeing framework were each designed with different purposes in mind. Nevertheless they all contribute to an enhanced public discussion on Australia's progress and the wellbeing of the community.
Council especially welcomed the Treasury framework as a very positive development which demonstrated how economic analysis is broadening to explicitly recognise the social and environmental dimensions, as well as the economic dimension. The framework is a valuable tool in providing a transparent and explicit guide to the issues that might be considered in developing policy advice, and identifying the important trade-offs for wellbeing.
At the same time Council strongly supported the continued evolution of the Bureau's work on Measures of Australia's Progress, noting the substantial positive feedback that had been received on the recent publication.
2.7 Innovation and the Knowledge Based Economy
In recent years Council has drawn attention to the importance of information on the Knowledge Based Economy and innovation in the Australian economy. Council members commended the recently developed ABS framework for compiling Knowledge Based Economy/Society indicators, and in particular welcomed the continual updating of this experimental framework on the ABS web site as new/updated observations become available.
Whilst acknowledging the difficulties in delineating the appropriate indicators for a knowledge based economy framework and the definitional issues associated with the concept of innovation, Council supported the development by ABS of an Innovation Survey which included a broad concept of innovation.
The possible linking of innovation activity and business performance measures through a proposed business longitudinal database was also welcomed as a significant development.
2.8 Nonprofit Institutions Sector
At the November 2003 meeting Council had a very useful discussion regarding the issue of nonprofit institutions and their role in society and the economy. Two experts in the field Prof. Mark Lyons (University of Technology Sydney) and Prof. Myles McGregor-Lowndes (Queensland University of Technology) were invited to present a paper and to join Council for discussion of the topic. Council also considered a paper prepared by the ABS on data collected about the nonprofit sector.
Discussion of this item highlighted the significant contribution of the sector to the economy and society in general. Council expressed the view that the nonprofit sector's increasingly important role in government service delivery and in developing social capital/cohesion make it imperative that more information in terms of size, nature and structure of the sector is made available.
The recent release by ABS of a satellite account for the sector was considered a progressive step. However, Council encouraged the ABS to take a leadership role in exploring the possibilities for extending and increasing the data available for this important and growing sector.
2.9 Tourism Statistics
Following the release of the Government's Tourism White Paper in November 2003 which highlighted further information needed to support the tourism sector, Council examined the Bureau's directions in tourism statistics.
Whilst acknowledging that the ABS has historically provided a significant range of information relating to the tourism industry, Council noted the ABS initiatives proposed to address user's information needs. In particular Council supported ABS proposals for:
Council also noted that the ABS is working closely with Tourism White Paper Implementation Working Groups to help develop strategies and share responsibilities for future tourism statistics datasets.