The ABS undertakes a large number of collections that directly feed into the national accounts compilation process. National accounts requirements are a key consideration in the design of these surveys. Additionally, a range of non-ABS data, such as data from the taxation system, the financial institution regulation system and government financial reporting data are either integrated into the survey outputs or are used independently to compile the national accounts. As external data sources are beyond the control and responsibility of the ABS they can potentially have issues for quality assurance and measurement. This is often addressed by the ABS and the external source entering into explicit arrangements concerning roles and responsibilities of the respective agencies, questionnaire content and design, timely data and transference procedures, editing and querying protocols and appropriate feedback loops to the source agency.
The quality of ABS statistics is dependent on the application of good statistical methods during the selection and collection phases of a survey. The ABS puts substantial effort into developing standards in terms of classifications, concepts, data item definitions and question modules. All ABS surveys must use these standards. The collection instrument must be well tested and evaluated and this process is supported through documented standards in forms design, and forms evaluation.
A high proportion of information used in compiling the Australian national accounts comes from surveys that use the ABS Business Register to provide the statistical frame from which representative samples are drawn. The ABS Business Register is based on the Australian Taxation Office's Australian Business Register (ABR) which contains all businesses that have an Australian Business Number (ABN). It is expected to be comprehensive because, with very limited exceptions, businesses are required by law to obtain an ABN. The ABS has adopted a strategy of building and maintaining its own records for large and complex businesses with information for the remaining businesses sourced from the ABR. Although the ABS Business Register is comprehensive and current, there are known to be some problems with the quality of the industry coding which would have implications for the quality of the data for individual industries used in the national accounts. There have also been some issues surrounding the institutional sector coding which the ABS is in the process of improving.
Sample design and estimation systems are developed by specialist areas in accordance with internationally accepted practices. Accuracy is considered in terms of both sampling and non-sampling error. The ABS publishes information on the RSEs for its various sample surveys. These can provide an indication of the accuracy of the national accounts components to which they relate. However, because of the transformations of survey data and the aggregations that are made in order to compile the national accounts, it has not been possible to systematically calculate the impact that RSEs have on the various national accounting aggregates.
An important potential source of non-sample error can result from the inability of some data providers to report on the correct basis. The data requirements underlying the national accounts are complex and, although every effort is made to match survey data items with business accounting practices, it is inevitable that some data providers will include in their survey responses items that should not be included, and exclude items that should be included. Survey forms are tested with a small number of providers before they are approved for use. Sophisticated techniques are used to edit provider responses, but errors can continue to go undetected. Data providers can make errors with regard to the content, timing and valuation of their transactions. Because the national accounts is a closed system, such errors can lead to inconsistencies, affecting the coherence of the accounts.
Although the ABS uses best practices in survey design and operation, given the data intensive needs of the national accounts system and the cost and respondent load imperatives that apply in survey design, it will often be the case that national accounts compilers have to make do with data that are of acceptable but less than ideal quality. This is more so for data at a finer level of detail where the standard errors are often higher. In some cases only limited detail might be collected or only collected infrequently (such as product details). Ensuring that the quality of input data is adequate to meet national accounts requirements remains an ongoing challenge. The national accounts process itself is designed to mitigate input data problems through data confrontation and balancing in the supply and use tables that are used to benchmark the national accounts (see Chapter on Coherence of the national accounts). However, good quality input data are essential to good quality national accounts data.
From time to time the ABS reviews its economic survey strategy to ensure that it meets needs within the constraints of resource availability. The national accounts requirements for data are regarded as of very high importance. The Business Statistics Innovation Program and the Annuals Integration Project are recent examples of wide-ranging reviews aimed at improving the targeting and quality of economic collections by the ABS.