1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2003-04  
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5. Increase the quantity of output

Performance Measure

5.1 Increase the range of statistics disseminated

5.2 Innovative outputs


During 2003-04 the ABS continued to increase its outputs by increasing the range of statistics disseminated and producing new and innovative products.

5.1 Increase the range of statistics disseminated

The following table, which details ABS printed and electronic publication releases by subject matter and frequency for 2001-02 to 2003-04, presents some crude indicators of the volume of outputs by the ABS. The total number of publications released in 2003-04 was 727, of which 307 were published in electronic format only. The main reasons for the decrease in the number of releases in 2003-04 were the reduction in census related publications and the reduction in state specific publications now that state data are increasingly incorporated in the national releases.

Table 8: ABS releases(a) classified by subject matter, year and frequency (number)
Subject Matter/ Year
Annual
Quarterly
Monthly
Other
Total

Economic and Finance Releases
2001-02
13
54
60
8
135
2002-03
23
58
86
3
170
2003-04
9
40
61
11
121
Industry Releases
2001-02
27
123
80
29
259
2002-03
17
123
75
20
235
2003-04
15
91
70
27
203
Population and Migration Releases
2001-02
21
5
14
27
67
2002-03
46
4
18
99
167
2003-04
35
4
18
56
113
Labour Releases
2001-02
5
45
60
13
123
2002-03
9
42
69
12
132
2003-04
6
41
52
12
111
Social Analysis Releases
2001-02
12
4
-
12
28
2002-03
14
4
-
27
45
2003-04
13
4
-
64
81
Other General Releases
2001-02
36
19
79
116
250
2002-03
31
24
42
15
112
2003-04
34
19
36
9
98
Total
2001-02
114
250
293
205
862
2002-03
140
255
290
176
861
2003-04
112
199
237
179
727

(a) Includes catalogued publications and other products, but excludes reprints and corrigenda.

Note: Releases in 2002-03 have been revised to include products delivered electronically.

The other volume indicator is information on the ABS web site. In contrast to the reduction in publications, the number of web pages at the ABS web site has increased by over 50% in 2003-04 from 195,000 pages to 308,000 pages.

However, the above are crude volume measures, and the extent to which the ABS has extended the range of statistics disseminated is best demonstrated by the large range of new publications or products released during 2003-04. These included:

  • Household and Family Estimates, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3236.0.55.001), provides estimates and projections of Australia's households, families and living arrangements from 2001 to 2026. The projections are based on assumptions about changing living type arrangements of the population.
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0), which presents summary results from the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (formerly the Indigenous Social Survey), and brings together a wide range of information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Australia. Some time series information, as well as information at a state/territory level, is also provided.
  • Foreign Ownership of Australian Exporters and Importers - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5496.0.55.001), presents experimental estimates of the value of exports and imports of goods and services by foreign owned businesses in Australia. Details are available for the country of ownership, numbers of foreign owned traders, commodities traded, and the value of trade between foreign owned businesses in Australia and the country of their foreign parent.
  • Government Finance Statistics, Australia, Quarterly, Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5519.0.55.001), is a new quarterly publication that provides users and economic commentators with a better understanding of the behaviour of key government aggregates in the quarterly national accounts.
  • National Regional Profile - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 1379.0.55.001), presents a statistical summary of key economic and social information for various levels of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification. It includes data from a variety of non-ABS sources as well as data from various ABS censuses and surveys. The Profile is available for statistical local areas, local government areas, statistical subdivisions, statistical divisions and states and territories.
  • ACT and Region … A Statistical Atlas (cat. no. 1381.8), presents colour maps of key population, family and housing characteristics of Canberra. The data represents all statistical local areas (suburbs) of Canberra and the surrounding region.
  • Census of Population and Housing: Australia's Youth (cat. no. 2059.0), contains 2001 census data on a cross-section of topics for persons aged 15 to 24 years. Topics include - population, mobility, living arrangements, Internet and computer usage, education, working life and cultural diversity. Also included are some state/territory analysis, as well as sub-state data. The format is a mix of tables, commentary, graphs and maps.
  • Deaths From External Causes, Australia (cat. no. 3320.0), presents an overview of deaths from external causes of injury in Australia. It investigates injuries experienced by special populations at risk from injury. Differentials in injury death rates by remoteness categories as well as by state/territory are presented.
  • Drug-induced Deaths, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3321.0.55.001), provides updated information about drug-induced deaths for the period 1991-2001. In particular, changes in drug-induced death rates between 1999 and 2001 are analysed. Information is presented by age, sex, state and whether the death was accidental or of suicidal intent.
  • Short-term Visitor Arrival Estimates, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3401.0.55.001), contains modelled estimates of short-term visitor arrivals to Australia based on passport transactions for the current month and passenger card disaggregations from earlier months.
  • South Australia's Baby Boomers: A Profile - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4149.4.55.001), presents a range of information relating to South Australia's baby boomers. Includes chapters on demographics, cultural diversity, family, housing, education and work, health and community life.
  • General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0), provides results of the first General Social Survey, which focuses on the relationships between characteristics from different areas of social concern, rather than in depth information about a particular field. Topics include health, housing, education, work, income, financial stress, broad assets and liabilities, transport, family and community, and crime.
  • Domestic Water Use, Western Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4616.5.55.001), presents data on water-using appliances and the water-use behaviour of households in Western Australia.
  • Detailed Energy Statistics, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4648.0.55.001), contains information on energy use across the non-household sectors of the domestic Australian economy. Energy use data are available at a national and state level; supply data is available at a national level.
  • Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. nos 4713.0-8.55.001), provides around 50 tables of information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians based on the 2001 census. These tables complement the information presented in the national hard copy report Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (cat. no. 4713.0). A similar electronic publication is released for each state/territory.
  • National Health Survey: Mental Health, Australia (cat. no. 4811.0), provides information on the mental health of Australians, collected in the ABS 2001 National Health Survey (NHS). It includes information on self-reported long-term mental and behavioural problems, use of medication for mental wellbeing, levels of psychological distress, role limitations due to emotional problems, and a quality of life measure.
  • National Health Survey: Private Health Insurance, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4815.0.55.001), provides national statistics about the types and levels of private health insurance cover held by Australians, cross classified with demographic characteristics, self-assessed health status, health-related actions, hospital admissions and selected long-term conditions.
  • Health Risk Factors, Australia (cat. no. 4812.0), presents findings from the 2001 NHS in relation to several behavioural risk factors (smoking, physical activity, body mass, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption and alcohol consumption) as well as biomedical risk factors (high cholesterol and high blood pressure).
  • Breastfeeding in Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4810.0.55.001), provides information on the level and trends in breastfeeding in Australia using data collected from the 2001 NHS, with some time series comparisons from the 1995 NHS.
  • Asthma in Australia: A Snapshot - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4819.0.55.001), provides a brief overview of the differentials in prevalence, asthma management and quality of life of people with current and long-term asthma, using data from the 2001 ABS NHS.
  • Diabetes in Australia: A Snapshot - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4820.0.55.001), presents a brief summary of the differentials in prevalence, risk factors, actions taken after diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, and resultant conditions from diabetes mellitus, using data from the 2001 ABS NHS.
  • Community Preparedness for Emergencies, NSW (cat. no. 4818.1), provides data for households in New South Wales relating to preparedness for emergencies such as fire, floods or storms. Includes information about the presence of safety features such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire blankets, and other indicators of preparedness. Also included are data on household experience of emergencies.
  • Regional Wage and Salary Earner Statistics, Australia - Electronic Publication (cat. no. 5673.0.55.001), provides estimates of the total number of wage and salary earners and their characteristics for various levels of the Australian Standard Geographical Classification, including statistical local areas and local government areas, in each state/territory of Australia, for the year 2000-01.
  • Agricultural State Profile - Electronic Delivery (cat. nos 7123.1-7.55.001), presents an overview of the agricultural industry in all states/territories. The publication includes farm numbers, agricultural production and the state's agricultural contribution to the economy. Some data are provided at the statistical division level.
  • Household Telephone Connections, Queensland (cat. no. 8159.3), provides information on persons in households who have mobile phones, the number of telephone connections per household, the type of connections (such as phone, fax, Internet), and the number of telephone connections listed in the residential White Pages.
  • Bicycle Usage, Queensland (cat. no. 9215.3), provides information about bicycle ownership and use in the Queensland population. It includes estimates of the number of bicycles per household; the number of people who have cycled in the last 12 months; and the frequency and reasons for cycling.

5.2: Innovative outputs

In addition to the new statistics released in the publications listed in Performance Measure 5.1, the ABS has conducted research which has led to the release of innovative new estimates, classifications and publications. The research undertaken included:

  • an online web site survey to collect demographic and behavioural information on, and expectations of, visitors to the ABS web site. To evaluate the ongoing web improvement efforts further surveys are currently being planned
  • an analysis of the ABS' Information Consultancy client base to assist in improving the service to clients
  • extensive regional office consultation with state governments to determine their priority statistical needs

A major innovation during 2003-04 was the introduction of the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) which enabled the release to users of more detailed confidentialised unit record files. Some of the releases using the RADL were:
  • Census of Population and Housing: Household Sample File (Expanded Data File) - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 2037.0.55.001)
  • Time Use Survey, Confidentialised Unit Record File via Remote Access Data Laboratory - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4152.0.55.001)
  • Crime and Safety Survey: Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4509.0.55.002)
  • National Health Survey (Indigenous): Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4715.0.55.001)

Some of the other innovative outputs released by the ABS in 2003-04 included:
  • Occasional Paper: Perspectives on Women's Employment in Regional Australia, 2001 Census - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 1380.0.55.001), provides an insight into the different employment conditions experienced by women in regional Australia by examining characteristics such as age, employment status, income, qualifications, occupation and industry of employment.
  • Occasional Paper: Health Risk Factors - a Guide to Time Series Comparability from the National Health Survey, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4826.0.55.001), presents results on health risk factors such as alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, exercise level, and body mass index which are measured in the three NHSs (1989/90, 1995, and 2001). In some cases, the ability to compare health risk factors over time may be affected. This paper is designed to assist data users to compare health risk factors over the three NHSs.
  • Information Paper: Mesh Blocks (cat. no. 1209.0). The ABS proposes to introduce a new micro-level geography into the Australian Standard Geographical Classification in 2006. Mesh Blocks are intended to become a new building block of statistical and administrative geography. This Position Paper summarises the findings of an expert panel which advised the ABS on the ideal design criteria for Mesh Blocks, and sought feedback on the Mesh Block concept.
  • Working Papers in Econometrics and Applied Statistics: No 2004/1 Measuring the Stock of Human Capital for Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 1351.0.55.001), provides experimental measures of the stock of human capital for Australia employing a lifetime labour income approach. Using the full Australian census data for 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996 and 2001, this study provides five snapshots of age-earnings profiles for four categories of educational attainment for both men and women over this twenty year period.
  • Measures of a Knowledge-based Economy and Society, Australia - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 1377.0), is a web-based compendium of statistics on the knowledge-based economy and society. The structure of the product is based on the framework proposed in the ABS publication Discussion Paper: Measuring a Knowledge-based Economy and Society - An Australian Framework (cat. no. 1375.0).
  • Information Paper: Measuring Social Capital - An Australian Framework and Indicators (cat. no. 1378.0), presents a descriptive framework for the measurement of social capital, together with a proposed set of indicators, background and definitional material. The framework and indicators shown will be the basis for ABS work in the analysis of existing data sources and in future collection work.
  • Census of Population and Housing: Socio-Economic Indexes for Area's (SEIFA), Australia - Technical Paper - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 2039.0.55.001), describes the decision tree used for selecting variables representing disadvantage; describes the validation used for SEIFA 2001; outlines some of the issues to consider when using SEIFA; and discusses some of the characteristics of SEIFA 2001.
  • A range of specially commissioned analyses using the 2001 census. These included:
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless (cat. no. 2050.0),
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: Indigenous Australians in the Contemporary Labour Market (cat. no. 2052.0)
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: Indigenous Australians in the Contemporary Labour Market (cat. no. 2052.0)
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: Australians' Ancestries (cat. no. 2054.0),
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: The Micro-Dynamics of Change in Australian Agriculture: 1976-2001 (cat. no. 2055.0),
      • Australian Census Analytic Program: Australia Online: How Australians are Using Computers and the Internet (cat. no. 2056.0)

  • Demography Working Paper: 2004/1, Review of Interstate Migration Method - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3106.0.55.001), which discusses and reviews the methodology used in deriving estimates of interstate migration for the purposes of compiling state/territory population estimates.
  • Information Paper: Multiple Cause of Death Analysis - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3319.0.55.001), investigates the potential of Multiple Cause of Death data by analysing several important associated causes of death. These include ischaemic heart disease and diabetes, and suicide and substance use.
  • Information Paper: Sexual Assault Information Development Framework (cat. no. 4518.0), contains an information development framework for data relating to sexual assault. It provides a conceptual framework, lists data currently available, identifies gaps in data and conclusions about developing information to meet the priority needs.
  • Information Paper: Measuring Crime Victimisation, Australia: The Impact of Different Collection Methodologies - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 4522.0.55.001), examines the effects of the different methodologies that are used in the collection of information on crime victimisation.
  • Australian National Accounts: Tailored Tourism Satellite Accounts - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5249.0.55.001), is tailored for client requests relating to the Tourism Satellite Accounts provided electronically to clients.
  • Information Paper: Foreign Direct Investment Data Collection: Overcoming Hurdles and Obstacles in FDI Measurement and Collection - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5370.0.55.001), provides information collected and disseminated by the ABS as part of the compilation of a full set of Balance of Payments and International Investment Position accounts. This paper describes the broad framework within which international investment data are collected and compiled in Australia and covers some of the more detailed definitions and interpretations of foreign direct investment, differentiates direct from portfolio investment, and provides an interpretation of some of the terms and definitions in the international standards.
  • Economic Activity of Foreign Owned Businesses in Australia, 2000-01 (cat. no. 5494.0). While traditional balance of payments statistics provide data on the level of foreign investment in Australia in terms of both debt and equity, they do not compile statistics on indicators of economic activity such as employment, business income, expenses, etc. The ABS undertook a study examining the feasibility of synthesising these data by matching data from the regular Economic Activity Survey with data from the Survey of International Investment and information sourced from Internet searches. This Information Paper summarises the results of this experimental exercise.
  • Australian System of Government Finance Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5514.0.55.001), provides a detailed account of the concepts underlying government finance statistics, the sources of data employed and the methods used to compile the statistics.
  • Information Paper: Forthcoming Changes to Labour Force Statistics (cat. no. 6292.0), contains details on the implementation of concurrent seasonal adjustment and the normal five-yearly rebenchmarking of the Labour Force Survey and improvements to regional labour force estimates by introducing regional population benchmarks.
  • Framework for Australian Tourism Statistics - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 9502.0.55.001), provides guidelines which encourage consistency and compatibility in the collection and publication of tourism statistics in Australia. It provides a 'common language' for all users and collectors of tourism statistics.

6. Improve the quality of outputsPerformance Measures

6.1 Achieve or exceed timeliness, statistical reliability, response rates and accuracy objectives:

  • Timeliness
  • Statistical reliability
  • Response rates
  • Accuracy

6.2 Conduct ongoing research and reviews of quality, and implement their recommendations:
  • Outlines of ABS statistical reviews
  • Innovative practices - improvements to existing collections as a result of research and development

The quality of ABS outputs is critical to ensuring informed decision-making. The ABS measures the quality of its outputs with reference to their timeliness, statistical reliability, collection response rates and accuracy.

6.1 Achieve or exceed timeliness, statistical reliability, response rates and accuracy objectives:

  • Timeliness
  • Statistical reliability
  • Response rates
  • Accuracy

Timeliness

The timeliness of ongoing series is measured by the gap between the reference period and the date of publication of results. The ABS continues to adhere to pre-announced release dates and make improvements, where possible, to the timeliness achieved. Table 9 presents information on timeliness for ABS monthly and quarterly publications for Main Economic Indicator (MEI) statistics, and other general releases.

The average number of days elapsed between the end of the reference period and the release of data for MEI statistics has increased slightly in 2003-04. This reflected the introduction of some new publications into the MEI group rather than any decline in timeliness of ongoing MEI publications. The average release time for other general issues (quarterly) has also increased from last year and is primarily due to an increase in elapsed days to release more comprehensive tourist accommodation small area data. However there was an improvement in the release time for other general issues (monthly), due to some publications now being released in electronic format only.

Although not included in the table below the annual Government Finance Statistics, Australia (cat. no. 5512.0) publication released in April 2004 was the earliest published in terms of elapsed days since the introduction of accrual accounting for government finance statistics.

Table 9: Time between end of reference period and release of data (average number of elapsed days)
Main economic indicator statistics
Other general releases
Year
Monthly
Quarterly
Monthly
Quarterly
2000-01
29
45
33
75
2001-02
29
51
34
78
2002-03
28
49
33
74
2003-04
29
51
26
85


Statistical reliability

One measurable component of reliability is revisions to data. Revisions are generally measured by their size and frequency over time. The ABS aims to minimise revisions as much as possible through effective sample and methodological design. It is also ABS policy to inform users of any significant revisions and where appropriate to revise past time series and advise users accordingly.

In the February 2004 issue of Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0) the ABS introduced a number of improvements to its labour force statistics. From this issue estimates are compiled using updated population benchmarks based on results from the 2001 census. Estimates for the past five years have been revised as a result.

The table below describes the revisions to quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past several years. In particular, it shows the difference between the first estimate of GDP, and that estimate one year later in terms of the mean revision and the mean absolute revision, expressed as percentage points. The figures continue to show that revisions to quarterly GDP in recent years remain relatively small (mean absolute revision). The zero result in the mean revision figures since 1999-2000 denotes that the revisions to quarterly GDP over each particular year are offsetting.

Although the revisions to quarterly GDP are quite small, efforts to further improve the estimates are ongoing. In 2003-04 Quarterly Supply and Use (QSU) tables were introduced to assist in the compilation of the quarterly national accounts. The QSU tables will lead to improvements in the national accounts as they enable inconsistencies between the measures of GDP to be identified and investigated more systematically, and at a greater level of detail, than is possible by simply examining the aggregates. This in turn should lead to less revision as published estimates are subject to the confines of the supply-use framework.

Table 10: Revisions to gross domestic product, percentage change(a)

Difference between first estimate and estimate one year later

Year
Mean absolute revision % points
Mean revision % points

1998-99
0.2
0.1
1999-2000
0.1
0
2000-01
0.2
0
2001-02
0.2
0
2002-03(b)
0.2
0

(a) Seasonally adjusted chain volume measure. (b) Figures based on three quarters of GDP data.

Table 11 shows the revisions to the quarterly current account deficit averaged over the financial year for 1998-99 to 2002-03. Similar to the GDP table, the mean revision shows the percentage difference between the first estimate of the current account deficit, and that estimate one year later, averaged over the four quarters for the year. The mean absolute revision shows the average absolute values of the mean revision. The revisions to the current account deficit are expressed in percentage terms however, rather than percentage points as is the case with the revisions to GDP.

The table shows a decreasing trend in the revisions to the quarterly current account deficit since 1999-2000. The smaller the revision the more reliable the estimates are likely to be. Although the latest mean absolute revision is considered very good at two per cent, earlier years' figures of around five per cent were also considered acceptable. Between 1998-99 and 1999-2000, as the mean revision percentages indicate, the revisions were largely offsetting. Since 2000-01 the revisions to the quarterly current account deficit have been mainly in the same direction.

Table 11: Revisions to current account deficit, level estimates(a)

Difference between first estimate and estimate one year later

Year
Mean absolute revision %
Mean revision %

1998-99
4.0
-0.2
1999-2000
5.4
0.3
2000-01
4.3
-1.2
2001-02
3.1
-2.9
2002-03(b)
2.0
-2.0

(a) Original data. (b) Figures based on three quarters of the data.

Response rates

The ABS has consistently had very high response rates. Past international benchmarking studies have shown these response rates compare very favourably with other international statistical organisations.

Since response rates vary little over time, especially for sub-annual surveys, it is more appropriate to report against target response rates rather than changes in the rates from year to year. Table 12 shows that response rates for selected economic collections either achieve or exceed the target response rates set by the ABS. Response rates for both the Australian Industry survey and the Manufacturing survey conducted in 2003-04 are not yet final. However, past experience has shown that these figures either remain stable or may rise as the surveys are finalised.

It is important to note that in regard to the business surveys, follow up procedures tend to focus on the more significant businesses, that is, those with typically high sales or employment relative to the rest of the industry. For example, the response rate for businesses in the manufacturing survey might be 91 per cent, but the businesses that have responded may comprise 96 per cent of the total employment in the industry.

Table 12: Response rates for selected economic indicators

Survey
Target Response
Rate (%)
2002-03
Actual Response
Rate (%) (a)
2003-04
Actual Response
Rate (%) (a)

Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0)
97
97
97
Wage Cost Index, Australia (cat. no. 6345.0)
98
99
98
Retail Trade, Australia (cat. no. 8501.0)
95
96
95
Australian Industry (cat. no. 8155.0) (b)(c)
85
(d)85
(d)91
Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia (cat. no. 5625.0)
80
89
89
Business Indicators, Australia (cat. no. 5676.0)
80
88
87
Building Activity, Australia (cat. no. 8752.0)
95
96
96
Manufacturing Industry, Australia (cat. no. 8221.0) (b)
90
89
(d)91

(a) Average response rates over the year for the periods available. (b) Annual surveys. The response rates refer to surveys conducted in the year listed, but for which the reference period is one year prior. (c) The response rate for this survey is based on the Economic Activity Survey direct collection. The publication is expected to be released in December 2004. (d) Response rates were not finalised as at the end of June 2004.

The response rates for selected social surveys are listed in Table 13 below. The Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (published in Disability, Australia (cat. no. 4446.0)) had a response rate of 89 per cent, which was higher than the target response rate and the response rate achieved for the same survey conducted in 1998. Results from the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey were released in 2003-04. The response rate for the survey was 81 per cent which, although lower than the target response rate, was considered acceptable. The response rate was also lower than the similar survey - National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey - conducted in 1994, however this survey had a slightly different sample coverage.

Table 13: Response rates for selected social surveys

Survey
Target Response
Rate (%)
Previous Survey
Actual Response Rate (%)
2003-04 Actual
Response Rate (%)
Disability, Australia (cat. no. 4446.0) (a)
84
84
89
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0) (b)
85
90

(a) The publication Disability, Australia (cat. no. 4446.0) presents preliminary results from the 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. The survey was previously conducted in 1998. (b) The previous survey conducted in 1994 was the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS). The sample for the 1994 NATSIS covered adults and children plus some selections from non-private dwellings whereas the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey was designed to cover persons aged 15 plus and in private dwellings only.

Accuracy

While all ABS outputs maintain high levels of accuracy in all tables, graphs and text, two types of error are possible in estimates based on sample surveys: sampling error and non-sampling error. Sampling error occurs because a sample rather than the entire population is surveyed. One measure of the likely difference resulting from not including all units in the population in the survey is given by the standard error. It is ABS policy that standard errors are included in survey publications, along with the descriptions of other types of errors to which outputs may be subject. Non-sampling error arises from inaccuracies in collecting, recording and processing the data and can occur in any statistical collection. The ABS ensures non-sampling error is minimised by careful design of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and efficient data processing and editing procedures.

The following example illustrates the use of the standard error in quantifying sampling error for unemployed persons in the Labour Force Survey. The published original level estimate for unemployed persons in Australia in June 2004 was 561,700. The calculated standard error for this estimate was 9,100. The standard error is then used to interpret the level estimate. For example:

    i. there are approximately two chances in three that the real number of unemployed persons falls within the range of 552,600 to 570,800 (i.e. 561,700 plus or minus 9,100)
    ii. there are approximately 19 chances in 20 that the real number of unemployed persons falls within the range of 543,500 to 579,900 (i.e. 561,700 plus or minus 18,200).

The magnitude of standard errors varies between collections due to factors such as the sample size and the value of the estimate in question. Therefore, it is impossible to compare standard errors between different surveys, or even between variables within the same survey. The relative standard error, obtained by expressing the standard error as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers, is a much more useful measure in that it provides an immediate indication of the percentage errors likely to have occurred due to sampling, and thus avoids the need to refer also to the size of the estimate. The relative standard error is also a good indicator for comparing the accuracy of estimates between surveys.

The tables below only present a summary view of the accuracy for key aggregates from a number of major ABS publications as expressed by their Relative Standard Errors (RSEs). The low relative standard errors in both tables highlight the accuracy of ABS' statistical collections. More details are available from the publications, or the concepts, sources and methods publications associated with the collections themselves.

Table 14: Range of relative standard errors for selected economic indicators(a)

SurveyKey Aggregate
2002-03
Relative Standard Error (%)
2003-04
Relative Standard Error (%)

Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0)Unemployed Persons in Australia
1.5
1.6
Retail Trade, Australia (cat. no. 8501.0)Total Retail Turnover in Australia
0.9
0.9
Australian Industry (cat. no. 8155.0) (b) (d)Total income (all industries)
0.6
0.6
Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia (cat. no. 5625.0)Actual new capital expenditure, Australia
1.7
1.3
Business Indicators, Australia (cat. no. 5676.0)Company gross operating profit
1.1
1.1
Building Activity, Australia (cat. no. 8752.0)Value of work done
0.7
0.7
Manufacturing Industry, Australia (cat. no. 8221.0) (b) (c)Sales and services income
1.1
0.6

(a) Where the survey is more frequent than annual the relative standard error is an average over the year for the available periods. (b) The relative standard errors refer to surveys conducted in the year listed, but for which the reference period is one year prior. (c) Both figures are preliminary. (d) At the time of publishing the relative standard errors for Australian Industry were not finalised.

Table 15: Range of relative standard errors for selected social surveys

SurveyKey Aggregate
Previous Survey
Relative Standard Error (%)
2003-04
Relative Standard Error (%)

Disability, Australia (cat. no. 4446.0) (a)No of persons with a disability
0.5
1.2
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0) (b)Identifies with clan, tribal or language group
3.1
2.4

(a) The publication Disability, Australia (cat. no. 4446.0) presents preliminary results from the 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. The survey was previously conducted in 1998. Note there was a different standard error estimation method used between the 1998 and 2003 survey. For this reason the relative standard errors are not directly comparable.
(b) The previous survey conducted in 1994 was the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey.

Improvements have been made to the way in which users are informed on the accuracy of data presented in ABS economic publications. The improvements are outlined in the feature article 'Expanding the Use of Indicators of Sampling Error in ABS Economic Statistics Publications' which was published in the August 2003 issue of Australian Economic Indicators (cat. no. 1350.0). Essentially a new annotation has been created to be applied to estimates within publication tables to give an indication of the RSEs. Previously there were two annotations '*' and '**' which indicate RSEs between 25 and 50 per cent and greater than 50 per cent, respectively. The new annotation '^' is unique to tables in economic statistics publications and is intended to alert users to estimates which have an RSE between 10 and 25 per cent.

6.2 Conduct ongoing research and reviews of quality, and implement their recommendations:

  • Outlines of ABS statistical reviews
  • Innovative practices - improvements to existing collections as a result of research and development

Outlines of ABS statistical reviews

The ABS reviews its statistical collections regularly to ensure that its statistics are of good quality and continuing relevance. Some reviews cover all aspects of a particular collection, from user requirements, through to data collection, processing, analysis and dissemination. Other reviews focus on particular elements of collections, such as the methodology.

In reviews of statistical collections, external users are widely consulted and, in some instances, external users assist the review team. Internal reviews cover both the effectiveness and efficiency of various ABS activities. Reviews in 2003-04 included:

  • commencement of a review of the treatment of salary sacrificing and other forms of non cash employee remuneration in ABS earning statistics
  • a review into the quality of the local government frames the ABS uses to select councils and other local government units for inclusion in various surveys. The outcome of the review has led to an improvement in data quality and more representative selections of local government units in ABS surveys
  • an evaluation of the 2001 census development, field operations, processing and dissemination, and infrastructure was completed in 2003-04. Recommendations from the evaluation will be incorporated in the 2006 census procedures
  • a number of issues and options surrounding the Survey of Motor Vehicle Use have arisen as a consequence of stakeholder comments in the process of IDP discussions. These issues will be explored in detail in a forthcoming review of the Survey of Motor Vehicle Use
  • an assessment of the quality of the Geocoded National Address File and its potential for statistical applications.

Also as a result of a review completed in 2002-03 the ABS discontinued the publication of the Experimental Composite Leading Indicator of the Australian business cycle. The final update of the composite leading indicator was published in the September 2003 issue of Australian Economic Indicators (cat. no. 1350.0). A feature article describing the decision to cease its publication was released in the same issue.

Innovative practices - improvements to existing collections as a result of research and development

Apart from the ongoing reviews of ABS statistical collections, research and development in subject matter areas continues to result in innovative practices for the collection and compilation of data. The results of innovative practices are twofold. Firstly, it leads to more reliable and accurate statistics. And secondly, it may lead to reduced provider load.

The Agriculture, Mining, Manufacturing, and Economic Activity surveys benefited from the continued implementation of taxation data during 2003-04 as strategies are developed to use the Australian Business Register as the source of the population for these surveys. Progress also continued on incorporating Business Activity Statement data into the estimation and sample design of the monthly retail business survey. Both strategies are expected to lead to improvements in the statistical collections.

A new methodology has been developed and implemented for estimating net overseas migration. The new methodology takes account of changes in international travellers' actual travel behaviour from their originally stated intentions and is outlined in a technical note to the publication Australian Demographic Statistics (cat. no. 3101.0).

A review of the Household Expenditure Survey was undertaken to identify areas for improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of the survey. These changes will be implemented over the 2003-04 and 2009-10 survey cycles. Outcomes of the review included proposals to extend Household Expenditure Survey data content, improvements to survey instrument design and editing, and increased use of automated facilities for data capture and editing.

The ABS is in the process of phasing in computer assisted interviewing to the Monthly Population Survey. Approximately 70 per cent of the sample has been phased in, with the remaining sample expected to be converted to computer assisted interviewing in early 2004-05. Business process reengineering of survey field collection structures and systems is under way and is expected to deliver substantial improvements in data quality, survey efficiency and management arrangements.

Preparations for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing are well advanced. It is proposed that census forms will be available electronically and will be able to be returned via the Internet for those who choose to use this method. Testing of the census field systems incorporating the return of the census forms by the Internet are continuing.

7. Achievement of cost effective outputs

Performance Measures

7.1 Conduct efficiency reviews and audits, and implement their recommendations

7.2 Test operating efficiencies of statistical activities by benchmarking internally and externally

7.3 Market test a number of non-statistical activities to identify possible outsourcing opportunities

7.4 Minimise provider load


The ABS regularly reviews its statistical and non-statistical activities to ensure that it is achieving cost effective outputs. Review of statistical activities in particular, is one method of ensuring that business provider load is minimised.

7.1 Conduct efficiency reviews and audits, and implement their recommendations

Efficiency reviews and audits may be initiated by senior management and by the ABS Audit Committee so as to assess whether resources are being used effectively and efficiently to achieve the ABS' objectives.

Major reviews addressing efficiency issues commenced or completed during 2003-04 included the following areas:

  • publishing and electronic dissemination
  • marketing
  • data management useability
  • household interviewer pay system
  • movement of sensitive material.

The main outcomes of the above reviews were improvements to operations through more efficient use of staffing resource, including the centralising of functions in a single office.

In addition to the efficiency reviews listed above, the ABS undertook a number of other reviews including a quality review of the Input Data Warehouse project and a review of the non-response follow up procedures for business surveys. These reviews aim to achieve efficiency gains via improvements to collection strategies, methodologies, use of information technology, use of contractors, and/or substituting/complementing existing data with administrative data sources.

7.2 Test operating efficiencies of statistical activities by benchmarking internally and externally

Benchmarking is a key part of the ABS strategy to assess the value for money of its statistical and non-statistical outputs, to understand and learn from best practice and to improve performance. The ABS views the process of benchmarking as an ongoing exercise, enabling the organisation to achieve continuous improvement across a variety of its outputs.

Benchmarking currently being undertaken within the ABS includes comparisons between ABS statistical collections; comparisons between the operations of other international statistical agencies and the ABS; and comparisons of corporate service functions between other Australian government agencies and the ABS. These are outlined below.

Comparisons between ABS statistical collections

During 2003-04 internal benchmarking was conducted for all areas in the Economic Statistics Group (ESG). The benchmarking exercise was conducted in respect of 2002-03 and continued to examine the financial framework stemming from organisational changes from the Business Statistics Innovation Program. The aim of this exercise was to identify areas of efficiency through cost savings and modifications in the cost structure for each area in ESG in order to provide the efficiencies necessary to meet ongoing resource constraints. Part of the improvements from the previous year's benchmarking was to collect a list of performance indicators which included response rates, imputation contributions, standard errors for key variables, costs, and provider load information. The final report for that exercise is currently being compiled.

The 2002-03 internal benchmarking exercise was reviewed in December 2003. One of the recommendations, apart from suggesting additional analysis, was to adopt a rolling program of themes within the benchmarking exercise to answer specific questions of interest (such as concentrating on editing practices for a particular year). The other recommendation was that ESG should adopt an effort recording system to improve the quality and consistency of benchmarking reporting. The first iteration of this system is presently being rolled out across ESG.

Comparisons between the operations of a number of international statistical agencies and the ABS

The ABS continues to benchmark its functions and services against a range of international agencies. The ABS has found that the most effective mechanism for benchmarking functions and services arises from bilateral discussions with particular agencies. Detailed comparisons of particular statistical or non-statistical work programs often result from such discussions, and following more detailed comparisons, the ABS reviews practices and methods as necessary with the aim of achieving the best outcomes and outputs possible from its resource allocation.

Bilateral discussions were conducted in 2003-04 with Statistics Sweden and Statistics New Zealand. Both discussions proved very fruitful. Bilateral discussions with Statistics Canada are planned in 2004-05.

An international benchmarking activity was undertaken in 2003-04 to investigate comparisons of the Information Consultancy Services and the National Information Referral Service. Two other benchmarking projects covering Corporate Governance and Planning, and the National Heath Survey, originally planned for 2003-04, were cancelled. The main reason for the cancellation of these two projects was resource constraints confronting the other international statistical agencies.

Comparisons of corporate services functions between other Australian government departments

The ABS continues to participate in benchmarking studies with other Australian government departments.

In 2003-04 the ABS was involved in a single benchmarking activity conducted by the Australian National Audit Office - Performance Management in the Australian Public Service. The ABS provided input into the study in the form of survey participation and by providing comments on drafts. The final report is yet to be released.

The ABS participated in the Comcover Annual Risk Management Benchmarking Program in 2003-04. The benchmarking, which aims to gauge the progress of agencies in their risk management practices, involves the completion of an online questionnaire and the provision of supporting documentation. Results from the benchmarking are yet to be released.

7.3 Market test a number of non-statistical activities to identify possible outsourcing opportunities

Over the past few years the ABS has outsourced a number of key functions including:

  • printing and distribution services
  • a range of training courses relating to information technology
  • leadership and management training
  • internal audit
  • staff counselling services
  • legal advice
  • building maintenance
  • the supply and distribution of stationery.

While no specific outsourcing opportunities were identified in 2003-04, the ABS will continue to investigate additional outsourcing opportunities as they arise.

7.4 Minimise provider load

In order to fulfil its mission of providing information to support discussion, debate and decision making, the ABS is required and empowered to collect information from businesses. At the same time the ABS is conscious that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the load placed on businesses in providing that information.

The following graph shows the provider load (measured in thousands of hours taken to complete statistical forms) imposed on businesses by the ABS for 1995-96 through to 2003-04.


Figure 1: Provider load imposed on businesses by the ABS (hours '000)

Graph: Figure 1: Provider load imposed on businesses by the ABS (hours '000)


(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.
(b) Higher provider load estimates for 2001-02 reflect the conduct of the five-yearly Agricultural Census.

The ABS continues to focus on reducing provider load on businesses. This is consistent with government policy, the ABS Corporate Plan and the recommendations of the Australian Government's 1996 Small Business Deregulation Task Force. The task force found that the ABS only accounted for about one percent of total business compliance costs. However, since 1995-96 total ABS provider load on businesses has been substantially reduced. The average total load on all businesses for the past five years has been around 435,000 hours, or 33 per cent lower than for 1995-96. For small businesses, the average total load over the past five years has been around 187,000 hours, or 42 per cent lower than in 1995-96. These decreases in total load have occurred at the same time as the number of businesses has been increasing.

One of the continuing initiatives which will lead to a reduction in provider load in the future will be the utilisation of Australian Taxation Office data, in particular the Business Activity Statement (BAS). BAS data are being used in the estimation method and sample design of the Retail Business survey. The new process will allow a reduced number of businesses to be included in the survey without any subsequent deterioration in the quality of the retail trade series.



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