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SUMMARY OF ACTIVITIES FOR 2006-07
The Council considered a number of issues during 2006–07 including the following:
FORWARD WORK PROGRAM
The Council discussed the ABS’ forward work program at both meetings in 2006-07.
At these meetings, the Australian Statistician indicated that there were increasing pressures on the ABS budget to continue the current work program. There were also many demands to expand the work program.
The Council recognised that for the ABS to continue to work within its budget it would require some reductions in its current work program. It therefore supported the ABS in seeking additional funding to enable it to take on new work, while maintaining its current statistical work program.
The Council considered the following areas where there was considered a need for an expansion in the work program:
The Council recognised the environment statistics as an emerging area of high priority, where it suggested that the ABS has significant scope to demonstrate leadership across the wide spectrum of data requirements – scientific, economic, and behavioural.
Rural and regional statistics were also identified as a priority, but members considered that the ABS needed to identify and target those areas which will deliver the greatest returns on investment.
The Council discussed the various options for undertaking household surveys, and explored some of the issues involved in household survey operations by the ABS.
The Council noted the consultative process currently being undertaken by the ABS, and looked forward to further updates on the review.
INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS - STATISTICAL DIRECTIONS AND PRIORITIES
At the November 2006 meeting, the ABS advised the Council that it was reassessing the directions for Indigenous statistics to ensure they are in line with the current national, state and territory priorities, and is currently consulting with a range of stakeholders. The Council supported the consultation process and suggested the ABS consider using Indigenous medical services, and community organisations working with Indigenous people, as resources.
The Council’s views were sought on the key strategic areas for Indigenous statistics, which were developed in consultation with the new ABS Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The key areas identified include:
• understanding and measuring Indigenous wellbeing
• early intervention and resilience
• Indigenous engagement in economic activity
• improved reporting and analysis of comparisons over time, and
• regional data: improved capacity to support regional and small area analysis.
IMPROVING AUSTRALIA’S ENVIRONMENT STATISTICS
The ABS informed the Council that the field of environment statistics is relatively new compared with economic and social domains, and that information needs, opportunities, gaps, standards and methodologies are all evolving. The ABS advised members that it is looking to build a program of dedicated data collection activities, drawn together into a comprehensive set of environmental accounts, to inform discussion and debate on issues such as water, land use, energy and emissions.
The Council urged the ABS to be assertive in its quest for additional funding for environmental work, noting a range of potential options. The Council also advised that the ABS must be able to market itself as the premier agency for environment statistics.
The ABS appreciated the Council’s support and encouragement to improve Australia’s system of environment statistics. The Council will continue to receive updates on the ABS environmental statistics strategy.
RURAL AND REGIONAL STATISTICS
Rural and regional statistics were identified as one of the priorities in the ABS Forward Work Program, and Council expressed a strong interest in the proposed program for rural and regional statistics. The Council noted that there is an increasing demand for information at the regional and small area level, for a variety of government and community uses, and the potential for administrative data to be used to meet users’ needs. The Council agreed that the opportunity existed for the ABS to be an effective national statistical leader in the further development of rural and regional statistics, through the implementation of data sets, standards and presentation tools.
The ABS advised the Council that the most important part of the ABS’ role will be in supporting other agencies to manage their data into a form that supports the effective use of these tools, and the integration of the data with other available statistics on a regional and small area basis.
The Council considered an overview of the breadth of the proposed program for rural and regional statistics, noting the different components covering statistical leadership, infrastructure (both statistical and information technology related), and data development and production. The ABS demonstrated a prototype presentation tool, which has been developed in line with the information technology infrastructure element of the rural and regional statistics program to allow users to discover, access, manipulate and display small area statistics at whatever geographic level they are interested.
The Council agreed that community expectations are the driver behind rural and regional statistics, and advised that the ABS needs to respond to this challenge. The main strategic issues for the ABS are that demand and supply of small area data is broadly based and, although a number of government departments also have small area data, they are usually coded to different geographical sites. The Council suggested that the ABS would need to show leadership in this area.
The Council strongly supported further development of rural and regional statistics, noting that small area statistics are increasingly important to a broad range of uses and users. The ABS indicated that considerable time and resources were needed to develop the prototype, and a critical aspect of the project was the implementation of mesh blocks to data holdings, as geographical boundaries are constantly changing. Once this is achieved, the necessary data development activities could then begin to create new regional level statistical series.
The Council’s views were sought on changes and developments in the field of agricultural statistics. The ABS informed members that coding to mesh blocks and an improved sampling frame was introduced for the 2005–06 Agricultural Census, which will create many opportunities, including the potential to integrate social data collected in the population census.
The ABS advised the Council that the Agriculture Information Development Plan had identified a wide range of unmet data needs, and that these issues would be progressed as resources permit. The Council supported the forward work plan for agriculture, and identified the need to collect additional information on social issues for the agricultural sector, such as responses to drought and other disasters, to assist in informing social policy. The Council requested that water availability and the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector be considered for future collections.
Council supported the approach outlined by the ABS to produce geographical output, and emphasised the importance of maintaining time series for statistical divisions. The ABS advised that it will provide data to ‘bridge’ between the 2005–06 Agricultural Census and previous series for main commodities, in an attempt to maintain a consistent time series. It also advised that data from the collection will also be coded to mesh blocks allowing results to be available in a range of regional structures.
The ABS advised the Council of the activities being undertaken to facilitate the release of a large range of both ABS and non ABS data on a set of common geographic boundaries.
The ABS advised the Council that it would work with other government agencies on an individual basis, with respect to mesh block coding, but that whole of jurisdiction solutions were preferred, rather than agency based solutions.
At the June 2007 meeting, the ABS provided the Council with an update on changes to the calculation of population estimates, in particular, the changes to the calculation of net overseas migration statistics. The ABS informed the Council of key issues in relation to the census count, birth registrations, Indigenous identification in death registrations, and overseas and interstate migration arising from the 2006 Census Post Enumeration Survey.
The Council supported the overseas and interstate migration initiatives and felt that great advances had been made in Indigenous population estimates.
At the November 2006 meeting, the ABS informed the Council of the success of the 2006 Census, with high levels of public cooperation and relatively few collection incidents. The census media coverage had been very positive during the days before and after the census. The ABS asked the Council to consider and comment on a paper on strategic options for expanding the content of the 2011 Census, and improving data quality, efficiency and timeliness.
The Council was particularly interested in the public reaction to the eCensus as it was the first time that online lodgement of census forms had occurred, and highlighted potential cost savings associated with higher use in the future. The ABS noted that an increase in the use of eCensus could potentially improve the timeliness of the first release of census data. The Council supported the decision made by the ABS to find ways to encourage households to complete an eCensus, and suggested identifying the characteristics of people who used the 2006 eCensus.
The ABS advised the Council that demand to expand census content and include additional topics remains high. The ABS indicated they were mindful of increased respondent load which may reduce cooperation from the public, and that public reaction to increasing the content for the 2011 Census would be carefully assessed.