1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2002-03  
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Contents >> Chapter 2 - Summary of Year's Activities

Chapter 2 - Summary of Year's Activities

During 2002-03, Council held two meetings, on 19 November 2002 and 29 May 2003. The full agendas for the meetings are provided at Appendix 2.

Key issues considered by Council during the year included:

  • ABS Forward Work Program 2003-04 to 2005-06
  • Information Development Plans
  • Development and Implementation of the National Statistical Service
  • National Ageing Statistics Unit
  • Supporting the Research Community
  • Education and Training Statistics
  • Labour Force Statistics.

ABS Forward Work Program 2003-04 to 2005-06

One of the key functions of Council is to advise the ABS on the annual and longer-term statistical priorities. At both the November and May meetings the ABS presented to Council papers relating to its forward work program.

At the November meeting Council considered ABS proposals for additions to the forward work program. Council supported the proposals brought forward with particularly strong support for:
  • the development of a business longitudinal database (sourced from administrative data)
  • establishment of a Children and Youth Statistics Unit and the continuation of the Ageing Statistics Unit
  • a proposed survey of business innovation and linking it to the business longitudinal database
  • work to improve estimates of Gross State Product
  • commitment of resources to an Indigenous Community Engagement Strategy and in particular the proposal to give something back to the Indigenous communities through the provision of easily accessible data and statistical training
  • the development of a National Centre for Environment Statistics
  • a range of initiatives to support the concept of the National Statistical Service.

In considering the ABS proposals, Council remains mindful of the reporting load on businesses, and particularly welcomed the proposed use of administrative data to develop the business longitudinal database. While the proposed survey of innovation will result in some increase in reporting load, Council also supported the discontinuation of the Business Expectations Survey, which resulted in an offsetting reduction in the compliance cost imposed on businesses.

At the May meeting ABS presented to Council two papers for consideration. The first provided a summary of ABS’ statistical activities relevant to the Key Whole of Government Priorities Statement by the Prime Minister to the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) and the Prime Minister’s National Research Priorities. The second paper summarised the key statistical priorities of state/territory governments as well as the ABS statistical activities relevant to these priorities. Both these papers highlighted the large array of statistical information compiled by the ABS and the need to raise awareness of the information available.

In considering the papers Council noted the need for, and importance of better statistical measures of outcomes as opposed to inputs. It also noted that there was a potential role for longitudinal studies to complement the extensive array of cross-sectional data to assist in addressing some of the key policy initiatives.

Council noted the large statistical program being undertaken by the ABS. It also discussed and noted the critical importance of Information Development Plans in identifying both key policy issues and key statistical gaps. Two policy issues identified by Council as most in need of improved statistical information were the factors discriminating successful businesses and the barriers to improved labour force participation. Strong emphasis was also given to ensuring the quality of population estimates, given their key role in determining funding and electoral matters.

2006 Population Census Planning

At the May meeting Council considered a paper by ABS on the strategy and timetable for the development and conduct of the 2006 census, and some of the data content issues that will be considered in the process.

Members supported the importance of obtaining data on ‘unpaid work’. However they encouraged ABS to give careful consideration to the definition of unpaid work and to explore the best method for collecting the data. In particular, Members expressed some concerns about the appropriateness of the population census for collecting data on unpaid work and of the subsequent utility of the data collected.

Council also noted that there is a substantial amount of data on unpaid work, caring and volunteering activities currently available through other ABS statistical publications. Council further noted ABS intentions to conduct a Time Use Survey in 2005-06.

Council strongly supported further investigations on the inclusion of a question on disability in the next census. Members commented that such data are required for the planning of government and non-government service delivery. At the same time the difficulties of framing an appropriate question were highlighted. Council expressed the view that careful consideration and testing of any question to assess its appropriateness would be required.

ASAC strongly encouraged the ABS to consult widely in the development of the census content.

Information Development Plans

A major development in the ABS in 2002-03, has been the concept of Information Development Plans (IDPs) in defined fields of statistics. The intention of the IDP is to provide a framework for looking at the key policy issues, the data requirements to address those issues, identifying the available data (both ABS and non-ABS data) and establishing what additional data are needed and who has carriage of providing the data.

During the year Council specifically considered a draft Information Development Plan for Education and Training Statistics, which is discussed below.

Council strongly supported the concept and development of IDPs. Council particularly welcomed the objective of establishing a shared understanding between all interested parties of the issues and a shared commitment to actions to be undertaken. Council emphasised the importance of correctly identifying up-front the key issues and what the policy questions were that needed answering.

Development and Implementation of the National Statistical Service

ABS with the strong support of Council has been actively moving towards the development of the concept of a National Statistical Service (NSS) which recognises that much statistical information resides in other government agencies, particularly administrative data, and in many cases is largely untapped. The main aim of the NSS is to provide users with reliable statistics that they require irrespective of the source.

During 2002-03 Council was provided with an outline of how ABS intends to advance the development and implementation of the NSS. Again there was strong support for the concept of the NSS particularly from the state/territory government members. Council did note that there were a number of issues to be resolved such as the costs and difficulties for agencies in developing existing administrative systems to fully tap their statistical potential.

Council noted that the development of IDPs would be a key and integral component in the development of the NSS. It also noted that an important element in progressing the NSS would be the development of strong partnerships and collaboration between ABS and other agencies.

Council strongly endorsed the directions ABS is proposing in respect of the NSS.

National Ageing Statistics Unit

Ageing has been, and continues to be, an issue high on the ASAC agenda. In response, the ABS has established the National Ageing Statistics Unit. At the May meeting Council was provided with information on the strategic direction, policy context, work program and governance arrangements for the National Ageing Statistics Unit.

Council had a very useful discussion of this key issue. The meeting identified a strong need for information to better understand the whole issue of an ageing Australia. This included transitions to retirement, labour force participation rates, factors influencing retirement intentions, the nature of mature age workers and the work they do, and the health issues and service requirements of older people. Ageing will continue to be a focus of attention for Council in 2003-04.

Supporting the Research Community

During 2002-03 the ABS reported to Council on a range of issues relating to microdata access. These issues mainly related to the potential threat to the confidentiality of the unidentified microdata by the increasing availability of external databanks.

Council noted and fully endorsed the ABS’ initiatives to put in place measures to ensure the continued availability of unidentified microdata files on CD-ROM, and was very pleased with the development of a web-based remote access data laboratory to provide more detailed data. At the same time Council recognised and strongly supported the obligation of the Statistician to ensure the confidentiality of individuals’ information.

Education and Training Statistics

Council noted the developments and improvements to the range of education and training statistics in 2002-03.

The development of a Framework for Education and Training Statistics, involving statistical leadership and consultation with a range of government agencies undertaking data collection in this area, including all state and territory education and training departments, has been an important focus of the Bureau’s National Centre for Education and Training Statistics. Council welcomed the release during 2002-03 of the Information Paper: Measuring Learning in Australia - A Framework for Education and Training Statistics.

At the November meeting, Council considered a draft Information Development Plan for Education and Training Statistics. The Plan identifies key issues and areas for consideration, presents agreed directions for improving the relevance, coverage, comparability and quality of statistics, and identifies responsibilities for progressing individual strands of work, and for monitoring overall progress. Council observed that the plan’s attention to the higher education sector was underdeveloped and that reliable data in respect of this sector is sorely needed. It also noted the need for more information on education as an industry, in particular measuring the efficiency of supplying education services.

Council were encouraged by ABS progress in this important area of statistics and look forward to the finalisation of the Information Development Plan for Education and Training Statistics.

Labour Force Statistics

Reliable and relevant information on the labour market continues to be a high priority issue for Council recognising the impact that access to the labour market has on the wider Australian community.

At the November meeting Council was presented with a stocktake of the labour force data currently available. Council acknowledges the very extensive range of labour force statistics produced by the ABS, including indicators of emerging labour market issues. However Council expressed the view that much of the data continues to be underutilised and there is scope for improved dissemination strategies. Two gaps identified by Council were information on the duration of vacancies and longitudinal data, especially on the employment status of individuals and firm employment.

Council welcomed the new quarterly publication Australian Labour Market Statistics that includes a range of information on employment and unemployment, underutilised labour, earnings, industrial relations and job vacancies as providing valuable additional data on emerging labour market priorities.


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