1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2004-05  
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Contents >> Section 2 - Special Articles >> Chapter 3 - International Engagement

Chapter 3 - International Engagement

INTRODUCTION

International engagement is of fundamental importance to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Under section 6 (1) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, one of the functions of the Bureau is to ‘provide liaison between Australia, on the one hand, and other countries and international organisations, on the other hand, in relation to statistical matters’.

The ABS is committed to international engagement and has stated in its Corporate Plan that it wishes to be ‘an active contributor to international statistical activities that are important to Australia or our region’.

The ABS’ international engagement aims to:

  • compare statistics between Australia and other countries, particularly those published by international agencies such as the OECD and the IMF
  • support high priority statistical programs such as the International Comparison Program
  • support Australia’s aid program and its objectives. The ABS undertakes an extensive amount of capacity building work aimed at improving the official statistics produced by developing nations. Our technical assistance program also contributes long term to the availability of comparable statistical information from countries in the Asia–Pacific region
  • contribute to the development of international statistical standards and to liaise with colleagues on emerging issues. This ensures standards and statistical developments reflect the Australian user interest, aid international comparability where that is meaningful, and provide a contribution to international datasets for cross-country studies
  • access research and investigations undertaken in other agencies to improve Australian statistics and statistical practice
  • develop the skills and experience of ABS staff so they can make an effective contribution to Australian statistics in the future
  • position the ABS to influence international statistical developments in areas of interest to Australia.
These objectives align with Principle 10 of the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics available on the United Nations web site at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/goodprac/bpaboutpr.asp?RecId=10

‘Principle 10 Bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.

The sharing of information and practices, as well as cooperation in the joint development of statistical standards, international statistical activities etc is an essential ingredient for continuous improvement of the quality and range of official statistics in all countries and the efficiency of their production. A lot of this cooperation is facilitated by various international activities supported by international statistical and other agencies and professional associations.

Technical cooperation, either organized bilaterally amongst agencies or organized through international organizations and activities, is important for the development of the range and quality of official statistics in the developing countries. Programs and institutions are available for statisticians to receive statistical training relevant to the production of official statistics.’

THE ABS AND INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT

The ABS’ international engagement takes the form of:
  • participation in international statistical meetings, conferences, seminars and working groups
  • bilateral exchange and cooperation with statistical agencies of developed countries
  • provision of data to international agencies
  • technical assistance to developing countries in our region.
  • The range of the ABS’ international contributions is expanded below.
ASSIST STATISTICAL CAPACITY BUILDING IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

The United Nations Statistical Commission has repeatedly emphasised technical cooperation efforts need to be nationally owned by the recipient, demand driven and tailored to the local needs, as well as effectively coordinated among the various international donors. It has also emphasised that capacity building efforts require further investment in those countries with the least developed statistical services.

For Australia, the single objective of our aid program, as stated by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), “is to advance Australia’s national interest by assisting developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development”. The policy objective is progressed through five guiding themes that link poverty reduction with individual aid activities: governance; globalisation; human capital; security; and sustainable resource management.

Statistics capacity building is mostly viewed as part of the ‘governance’ theme, though it impacts on the other guiding themes also. More specifically, statistical aid aims to provide statistics which will improve the planning and decision making in the recipient country, by governments and others, and thus in the longer term work to encourage development and alleviate poverty.

The aim of the ABS in providing assistance is to encourage developing countries to establish good statistical policies and methodologies through the transfer of ABS knowledge and practical skills. The ABS does not normally undertake statistical work for other countries. Rather, the aim is to help them to help themselves. Hence an important criterion which the ABS examines before responding to requests for assistance, is the expected long-term benefit that will result to the statisticians in the recipient country from the help provided. It is important for a country to ensure it has the capacity to maintain expertise developed as a result of assistance.

Australia’s aid program, sponsored through AusAID, is concentrated in South–East Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Island countries, with selective engagement in South Africa, Africa and the Middle East. The program’s focus on the Asia–Pacific region is an indication of Australia’s strong engagement with the region and commitment to working in partnership to meet its considerable development challenges.

Consistent with these priorities, the ABS gives priority in its technical assistance effort to the South Pacific and South–East Asian countries. Countries currently being assisted include East Timor, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, Tonga, Thailand and Vanuatu.

Requests for ABS assistance can be on an ad hoc basis in response to emerging needs, or form part of a formal and often long-term program of assistance. Currently the following formal programs of assistance are in place:

Australia — Indonesia Government Sector Linkages Program
Thailand — Strengthening of Macro-economic Statistics Project
Philippines — Australia Governance Facility

ABS technical assistance comprises four main categories:

a. ABS staff undertaking statistical consultancies or conducting training courses in another country (generally for one month or less)

b. ABS staff contributing to workshops or seminars arranged by international organisations

c. staff from other countries visiting the ABS for study tours or training

d. providing documentation on ABS practices.

The ABS works closely with Statistics New Zealand in providing technical assistance, and with the Statistics Program at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission) which coordinates technical assistance to Pacific Island countries in statistics across a wide range of subject matters.

Examples of Recent Assistance and Training Provided by the ABS

Thailand

In 2005 a significant program of assistance to Thailand was successfully concluded. The multi-year program of assistance to Thailand for Strengthening Of Macro-Economic Statistics (SOMES) resulted in significant improvements to the Thai statistical system. In the wake of the Asian economic crisis of 1997 to 1998, the Royal Thai Government saw the need to develop and use more accurate and timely macro-economic data and analysis to support informed decision making on issues of economic and social development policy. A program of assistance was delivered over the period 1999 to 2001. A second phase was delivered over the period 2002 to 2005 and included many individual Thai agencies involved in the production of national statistics. Economic statistics advisory and technical assistance services were undertaken both in Australia and in Thailand.

A considerable number of staff from the ABS and various Royal Thai Government agencies participated, contributing to ensuring future sustainability. Through this program, staff of the various agencies developed skills now being used to collect, compile and publish better and more timely macro-economic statistics for Thailand than would otherwise be the case.

The Thailand program ‘Strengthening Of Macro-Economic Statistics’ was particularly well received by AusAID and the Thai Department of Technical and Economic Cooperation (DTEC). Ms Raviprapa, from the Project Coordination Committee, commented that “the program was considered to be the most successful of AusAID’s current bilateral programs with Thailand”. Mr Thanop Panyapattanakul, the DTEC representative, endorsed Ms Raviprapa’s comments, “In my opinion, the AusAID/DTEC’s endorsement of the success of the program reflects the enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism of each Thai agency involved, the ABS and all contributing staff”.

Indonesia

The ABS has had a long and cooperative relationship with the Indonesian national statistical agency under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies identifying a number of areas including: economic and population statistics; data dissemination; and methodological issues.

In 2005, under the Government Sector Linkages Program, two significant programs of assistance to Indonesia were completed — Cooperation in Statistics in Indonesia Phase II and Phase III. The knowledge and skills gained are expected to contribute to the improvement in statistics in Indonesia in the medium to long term.

Timor L’Este

Recently the ABS provided significant assistance to Timor L’Este on its first population census since gaining independence.

Image: Mr Paul Lowe (front row, second left) with Timor L’Este population census collectors
Mr Paul Lowe (front row, second left) with Timor L’Este population census collectors


Asia and the Pacific

The ABS provided assistance to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in the field of disability statistics. This involved a number of countries including India and Fiji.

INFLUENCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTERNATIONAL STATISTICAL STANDARDS

Australia collaborates on international developments such as standards setting for key statistics. It helps ensure that such standards or statistical developments reflect the Australian user interest and aids international comparability where that is meaningful, including contributing to international datasets for cross-country studies.

Collaboration on the development of international standards has always been a key element of ABS international involvement. Examples of work in which the ABS is currently involved are:

System of National Accounts

Released in 1993, the System of National Accounts (SNA) — the international standard for national accounts statistics — has shown itself to be a robust and resilient publication. However changes in the economic environment take place continuously and this necessitates the updating of the 1993 SNA to maintain its relevance. A revised version of SNA93 is currently underway with a publication target date of 2008.

The ABS is heavily involved in the revision of SNA93. Much of the work will be progressed by an international expert group known as the Canberra Group on Non-financial Assets which is chaired by the ABS. The ABS is also represented on the high level group of experts who will provide advice on proposed changes to SNA93.

Balance of Payments Manual

The fifth edition of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Balance of Payments Manual (BPM5) was also released in 1993. The IMF has commenced a review of the BPM with a view to publishing a sixth edition, BPM6, in 2008.

The review will consider a range of matters in the areas of the theoretical framework, new and emerging issues, and clarifications of existing recommendations. Many of the matters to be considered are also relevant to the national accounts. Therefore in order to maintain consistency between the SNA and the BPM the two standards are being updated in parallel.

The ABS will also contribute significantly to the review of the BPM, including through its participation in the IMF’s Balance of Payments Statistics Committee.

Industrial Classifications

The ABS is actively involved in both the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) redevelopments.

The ISIC is updated every five years with the aim of maintaining relevance while avoiding major disruptions in the time series. The next update, due in 2007, will focus on promoting the degree of comparability across the activity classifications used around the world.

In collaboration with Statistics New Zealand, work is currently being undertaken to redevelop the ANZSIC and in so doing is aiming for international conformity at the second level of the ISIC hierarchy.

AUSTRALIA'S CONTRIBUTION TO INTERNATIONAL STATISTICAL DECISION-MAKING

Participation in international fora enables ABS staff to advocate the Australian perspective of statistical matters, to engage with subject leaders, and to remain abreast of international developments.

ABS involvement is actively sought in international meetings and workshops, working groups, and collaborations on statistical matters. The ABS participates in a number of international groups for development and improvement in specific aspects of statistics, and in a number of international statistical meetings, conferences, seminars and working groups, where the topics are important to the ABS specifically and where it can make a valuable contribution. These include:
  • United Nations Statistical Commission
  • United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Sub-Committee on Statistics
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
  • Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific
  • OECD Committee on Statistics
  • International Statistical Institute
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • A number of international groups on specific aspects of statistics, such as the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments Statistics Committee and the Advisory Group on National Accounts.
The ABS is a member of various governing and advisory bodies. For example, the ABS is playing a significant role in the International Comparison Program, a global statistical initiative established to produce internationally comparable price levels, expenditure values, and Purchasing Power Parity estimates. All the major international development agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Fund use Purchasing Power Parity to analyse economic and social conditions within their areas of concern. The ABS is actively involved in this program, with the Australian Statistician Chairing the Global Executive Board, a Deputy Australian Statistician coordinating the work in the Asia–Pacific region, and an Assistant Statistician on the Technical Advisory Board.

There was one disappointing development during the 2004–05. Despite the outstanding success of the ESCAP Sub-Committee on Statistics and its predecessor, the ESCAP Committee of Statistics, it was decided to discontinue it in the name of United Nations reform. Almost all Heads of National Statistical Offices attended these meetings, at their expense, and the meetings discussed, and agreed upon, statistical matters of regional importance. Australia has played an active leadership role on these Committees for about 20 years. Coordinated statistical effort in the region will diminish as a consequence.

BILATERAL EXCHANGE AND COOPERATION WITH STATISTICAL AGENCIES OF DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

In addition to participating in formal and informal international forums, the ABS maintains close relationships with a number of national statistical agencies in developed countries. These relationships provide opportunities for sharing experiences on the latest technologies and developments, or for benchmarking specific activities. Agencies with which the ABS maintains strong bilateral relationships include:
  • Statistics New Zealand
  • Statistics Canada
  • Korean National Office of Statistics
  • United Kingdom Office for National Statistics
  • Statistics Netherlands
  • Statistics Sweden
  • various United States statistical agencies
From time to time ABS staff are given opportunities to be employed in international agencies or national statistical organisations, usually on a short-term contract. These opportunities provide valuable professional development for the staff involved and assist in furthering global approaches to statistical matters.

PROVISION OF DATA TO INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES

The ABS fulfils Australia’s obligation to provide Australian statistics to various international organisations to meet the needs for data for economic and social analysis by the international organisations. The organisations include the United Nations and its specialised agencies (including the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labour Organization), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Monetary Fund.

CONCLUSION

The sharing of information and practices, as well as cooperation in the joint development of statistical standards, on production and dissemination of statistics, and the provision of technical assistance and capacity building, is an important and essential ingredient for continuous improvement of the quality and range of official statistics in all countries.

Australia benefits from its international involvement in many ways. Australian foreign policy objectives of strengthening democracy and promoting economic development and stability are supported when statistics in developing countries are improved. Our involvement in setting international statistical standards allows the ABS to: represent Australia’s interest; contribute to advancing methodological thinking; and strengthen Australia’s statistics while improving their international comparability.

Amongst the international statistical community Australia is considered an ‘excellent international citizen’. ABS input is valued for its methodological rigour, non-partisan approach and our willingness to provide energy and leadership to the wide range of international activities described in this chapter.

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