CONCEPTS, DEFINITIONS AND CLASSIFICATIONS
An important aspect of quality is that the concepts, definitions and classifications used in the body of statistics are relevant to, and understood by, users and that in order to achieve this national accounts statistics need to placed in an appropriate conceptual framework.
The framework used in the ABS in the compilation of national accounts statistics is based on the International System of National Accounts (SNA93). As mentioned in the Forward to the current edition (1993):
'... The System is a comprehensive, consistent and flexible set of macro-economic accounts intended to meet the needs of government and private-sector analysts, policy makers and decision takers. ... The System has been welcomed and unanimously approved by the Statistical Commission of the United Nations'.
The various editions of the System have been developed over many years and involved the input of international organisations, national statistics agencies, academic experts and users of economic data. Moreover, it is designed as a set of accounts relevant to the analysis of economic issues. The System is reviewed and updated periodically in order to accommodate the changing structure of economies and contemporary economic issues, such as productivity measurement and the growing importance of intangible assets. An update is currently underway and is expected to be completed in 2009.
As most countries follow the SNA93 standards for national accounts statistics, broad comparisons can be made between Australia's statistics and those of other countries. The Australian system of national accounts (ASNA) is the name given to the ABS's framework of national accounts statistics.
The conceptual framework and estimation methodology for Australia's national accounts statistics are explained in Australia's System of National Accounts, Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 5216.0) (CSM) which was published in December 2000. Since then, a number of changes have been made as a result of the availability of new data sources or the development of new data series or improved estimation methodologies. To keep users informed, these changes are documented as they occur in the ABS quarterly and annual publications, Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product (cat. no. 5206.0) and Australian System of National Accounts (cat. no. 5204.0) respectively. The intention for the future is to move towards a 'live' web-based version of the CSM that can be updated on a more regular basis.
The scope of the annual ASNA encompasses the full range of statistics that SNA93 recommends for a full national accounting system, including national and institutional sector balance sheets and supply and use tables. It goes beyond the core SNA accounts to provide additional data such as multifactor productivity and other analytical data including alternative measures of income. The SNA93 accounts are not followed in every detail, but these deviations are relatively minor and do not impact on major data items. Such variations are noted at appropriate points in the CSM publication. The ABS keeps these differences under review. One difference is that the ASNA does not contain a separate set of accounts for the non-profit institutions serving households sector, including them instead as part of the household sector. The ABS has chosen to provide information on non-profit institutions in a satellite account which will be updated periodically. This work should enable non-profit institutions serving households to be shown as a separate sector some time in the future.
All transactions in the ASNA are recorded on an accrual basis, as required by SNA93. This was assisted by the introduction of accrual accounting by the Commonwealth and state government jurisdictions.
The ABS places great emphasis on ensuring that its economic classifications align with SNA93 and other international standards to ensure comparability across its own economic collections and outputs as well as with those of other statistical organisations.
Standard classifications are an essential element for the compilation and presentation of statistics produced by national statistical offices. Their use ensures that statistics are comparable across industry and sector boundaries and can be aggregated from various collections. Within the conceptual framework, the ABS attempts to make the statistics as useful as possible by classifying the data in a number of ways to meet user requirements. The ASNA has a range of statistical economic classifications, including:
- Institutional sector classification
- Industry classification
- Product classification
- Functional classification
- Asset classification.
The SNA93 recognises that the core frameworks and classifications will not meet all possible needs for economic accounts data. It therefore recognised the need for 'satellite accounts' that can be used to focus on particular areas of the economy in more detail or to allow different concepts or coverage while retaining a link back to the core national accounts system. The ABS has developed a number of satellite accounts in response to user demand and cover the following topics:
- Information and communication technology
- Unpaid household work
- Non-profit institutions
- Energy use
- Distribution of household wealth
- Human capital.
For the national accounts statistics to remain as relevant as possible, resources are devoted to the development of new statistics. Research and development work is undertaken by a dedicated research unit within the national accounts program and also within the Methodology Division which also undertakes national accounts related projects. Work on special topics such as satellite accounts, volume indicators of non-market output, productivity and alternative measures of income has put the ABS close to the forefront of developments in these fields internationally. This work is continuing.
The relevance of ABS national accounts statistics is also enhanced by the frequent inclusion of feature articles on topics of interest in the quarterly and annual national accounts releases. A full list of articles is included on the ABS web site and includes topics such as the impact of the drought, the relationship between GDP and employment, accounting for the environment in the national accounts, the underground economy and GDP, long term trends in industry structure of the Australian economy and income, saving and wealth. The series of feature articles have recently been supplemented with a new web-based publication Spotlight on the National Accounts (cat. no. 5202.0) which is intended to introduce specific national accounts topics to a general audience.