1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2007-08  
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INTRODUCTION

The ABS:

  • is the central statistical authority for the Australian Government

  • provides statistical services for the state and territory governments

  • collects, compiles, analyses and disseminates statistics and related information

  • ensures the coordination of the statistical activities of, and provides advice and assistance to, other government agencies, and

  • provides liaison between Australia and other countries and international organisations on statistical matters.

    The ABS is required to report against the outcomes and outputs specified in the 2007–08 Portfolio Budget Statements, presented to the Parliament in May 2007. As noted in Chapter 2, Overview of the ABS, the ABS has one outcome and one output group (Australian Bureau of Statistics—national statistical service). There are two sub-groups in the output group— Economic Statistics and Population and Social Statistics.

    The Portfolio Budget Statement for the ABS sets out performance indicators, used to evaluate the outcomes for the ABS. Four of these are against the overall outcome, and three are against the output group, as shown in table 8.1 below.

    Table 8.1: Performance indicators for the ABS


    Performance information for Outcome 1Performance information for Output 1.1

    1. Integrity in statistical operations
    2. Relevance of ABS output
    3. Appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies
    4. Improving coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies
    1. Improve the quality of outputs
    2. Increase the quantity of outputs
    3. Achievement of cost effective outputs
    A summary assessment against each of the performance indicators is outlined below. Some topics are explained in more depth in the subsequent Chapters. These include:

  • Engagement with users and assistance to producers of statistics

  • Provider/respondent relationships

  • Quality and timeliness

  • Communication of statistics

  • Extended analysis of statistics

  • Statistical standards and infrastructure

  • International engagement, and

  • Effectiveness of activities.



    SUMMARY OF PERFORMANCE INFORMATION FOR OUTCOME 1

    1. Integrity in statistical operations

    1.1 An objective statistical service, as demonstrated by:

    Release of reliable/accurate statisticsdo

    During 2007–08, the ABS reviewed its approach to quality assurance and has commenced implementing a range of measures aimed at maintaining a low incidence of statistical errors. For example, the ABS introduced Quality Declarations on its website from October 2007. Quality Declarations describe the quality of the statistical release, allowing users to determine the ‘fitness for purpose’ of the product being viewed. In addition, the ABS releases information on any errors found in the statistics it produces.

    The ABS continues to refine its products to ensure they remain relevant. For example, during 2007–08, the ABS continued implementing a revised classification of industry, Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification, 2006 (cat. no. 1292.0), which will enable ABS statistics to better reflect the economy in the real world.

    For further information see Chapter 11, Quality and timeliness, Chapter 12, Communication of statistics and Chapter 14, Statistical standards and infrastructure.

    Open statistical process

    In 2007–08, the ABS undertook extensive user consultation on a range of statistical developments. For example, the ABS periodically undertakes a major review of its household survey program to ensure that emerging issues are being adequately addressed and ongoing measures remain relevant to users. The latest review commenced in 2006, and the priorities identified through the consultation undertaken have been developed into a broad survey program that has generally been supported by key stakeholders.

    Methodological developments were open to scrutiny, through information papers and the Methodological Advisory Committee. The Committee meets twice a year and consists of external professional statisticians, who provide peer review for the ABS.

    For further information see Chapter 9, Engagement with users and producers of statistics, Chapter 11, Quality and timeliness and Chapter 12, Communication of statistics.

    Trust and cooperation of providers

    The ABS recognises its obligation to respondents in statistical collections, and has produced service charters relating to both business surveys and household surveys. Continuing high response rates demonstrate a good level of cooperation by providers. The ABS works hard to secure the trust and confidence of data providers, and endeavours to reduce the burden placed on them by expanding the use of administrative data.

    The Census and Statistics Act 1905 requires the ABS to publish and disseminate compilations and analysis of statistical information, and to maintain the confidentiality of information collected under the Act. The ABS meets the confidentiality requirements of the Act by ensuring information provided is: securely maintained; only used for statistical purposes; and used only in unidentifiable microdata files to support research and analysis. In addition, the ABS ensures identifying information provided by a household is not revealed.

    For further information see Chapter 10, Provider/respondent relationships.

    2. Relevance of ABS output

    2.1 Statistical output which meets the needs of key economic and social data in terms of:

    Support to decision-making

    In 2007–08, the ABS continued to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion by increasing accessibility to the outputs of statistical activities. For example, an extensive range of ABS statistics were used to inform the Australia 2020 Summit in April 2008 to help shape a long-term strategy for the nation’s future.

    For further information see Chapter 12, Communication of Statistics.

    Demonstrated by a high level of use

    The ABS website remains the primary point of access point for ABS information. Website users accessed ABS web pages 140 million times in 2007–08. This is an increase of 37.7% over 2006–07 and 79.4% over 2005–06.

    The National Information and Referral Service (NIRS) is the main entry point to the ABS for basic information and statistical enquiries from external customers. The number of emails received by NIRS in 2007–08 was approximately 10% higher than 2006–07, while the number of calls answered has slightly decreased. In 2007–08 reflecting the greater availability of free statistics
    on our website.

    For further information see Chapter 12, Communication of Statistics.

    2.2 Openness of planning process

    The ABS mission statement and corporate plan provide the context and high level framework for making decisions on the ABS’ forward work program. While much of the ABS work program remains constant from year to year, the planning process requires the agency to examine the environment in which it is working and identify future statistical needs.

    The ABS undertakes user consultation regularly to gather views about aspects of the ABS’ work. For example, in 2007–08, the ABS consulted with major stakeholders of the Survey of Education and Work. The feedback from this consultation was used to improve the survey (to be conducted in 2009), to better reflect current issues in education and training.

    For further information see Chapter 9 Engagement with users and producers of statistics, Chapter 17, ABS corporate governance and Appendix 2, User groups advising the ABS.

    3. Appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies

    3.1 Lead the development of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation within the broader Australian statistical system

    The ABS develops national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, which are applied, as appropriate, to all ABS statistical collections, including business and household surveys. For example, during 2007–08: the ABS released a (draft) of the second edition of the Australian Culture and Leisure Classification for public consultation; finalised the Local Government Purpose Classification; and released a discussion paper Defining Sport and Exercise: a Conceptual Model (cat. no. 4149.0).

    The ABS takes a leading role by encouraging other Australian, state and territory government agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities.

    For further information see Chapter 14, Statistical standards and infrastructure.

    3.2 Contribute to the development of key international standards, frameworks and methodologies, and implement them as appropriate

    The ABS supports sound methodological approaches to the development of standards, aids international comparability and helps ensure that such standards and statistical developments reflect Australian user interests. User interest in these types of studies continues to develop.

    During 2007–08, the ABS continued to be involved in the review of key international macro-economic standards which began in 2003. This review focused on maintaining the relevance of economic statistics in a changing environment, as well the appropriate alignment of various economic standards. The ABS expects to implement the revised standards with the 2008–09 release of the annual national accounts. Also during 2007–08, the ABS continued to work on implementing the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification 2006 (ANSZIC 2006).

    For further information see Chapter 14, Statistical standards and infrastructure.

    4. Improving the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies

    4.1 Statistical Clearing House activity

    The Statistical Clearing House (SCH) pays particular attention to eliminating duplication in business surveys, and ensures that surveys conducted follow good statistical methodologies and practices.

    In 2007–08, the SCH approved 80 surveys to proceed. Of the 80 approved surveys during 2007–08, 27 were high profile reviews and 14 surveys were approved with conditions attached.

    For further information see Chapter 9, Engagement with users and producers of statistics.

    4.2 Assisting other official bodies with integration of administrative and statistical data, including outposting ABS officers, and providing training on statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies

    The ABS provides assistance through outposted officers and training courses, and by supporting projects on statistical developments. In 2007–08, ABS officers were outposted to seven Australian Government departments, and 18 state and territory government departments.

    The National Statistical Training Institute (NSTI) in the ABS, along with the State and Territory Statistical Services units in each regional office, coordinated the development and presentation of a wide range of training courses on statistical issues in 2007–08. The NSTI conducted a number of training courses for users and producers of ABS statistics during 2007–08, including the ‘Turning data into information’ course, which was attended by 477 participants from other Australian government agencies.

    The ABS supports projects on statistical developments. For example, in 2007–08, the ABS worked closely with the Department of Climate Change and other stakeholders to assist in the development the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System, which will be introduced from July 2008. This reporting system will be the primary data source for Australia’s future energy and emissions statistics.

    For further information see Chapter 9, Engagement with users and producers of statistics.

    4.3 Identifying, storing and disseminating statistics from other official bodies

    The ABS works closely with a range of partners to extend the use of statistics by: exploring information needs; examining potential data sources; and advising on issues around the collection of statistics.

    For example, during 2007–08 the ABS worked closely with the Bureau of Meteorology to discuss the development of National Water Account and National Water Information Standards under the Water Act 2007. The ABS and Bureau of Meteorology met several times during 2007–08 to ensure duplication in data collection and dissemination activities are minimised, as the standards are developed.

    For further information see Chapter 9, Engagement with users and producers of statistics.

    SUMMARY OF PERFORMANCE INFORMATION FOR OUTCOME 1, OUTPUT GROUP 1.1


    1. Improve the quality of outputs

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

    Timeliness

    The timeliness of statistical information can be measured by the gap between the reference period (the period the data relate to) and the date of release of results. The ABS continues to adhere to pre-announced release dates and make improvements, where possible, to the timeliness achieved.

    The high standard of timely release of statistical tables was maintained in 2007–08. In addition, elapsed time between the end of the reference period and the supply of confidentialised unit record file (CURF) data has significantly improved over recent years.

    For further information see Chapter 11, Quality and timeliness.

    Statistical reliability

    The ABS aims to produce high quality statistics that can be used with confidence. In 2007–08, the ABS continued to take steps to maintain and improve the reliability of statistics. The ABS regularly reviews the methodologies used to produce statistics, providing the opportunity to make improvements and incorporate new approaches, where appropriate.

    For example, the ABS minimises the impact of non-sampling errors by use of best practice procedures in questionnaire design, interview procedures, data validation and repair, and processing. Any significant changes to questionnaire wording or data collection methods are carefully trialled and evaluated before they are implemented.

    For further information see Chapter 11, Quality and timeliness.

    Response rates

    The ABS has maintained high response rates for both household and business surveys. For example, the Manufacturing Survey has a target response rate of 90%. In 2007–08, the response rate for the survey was 92%. The ABS works hard to improve response rates, where needed. For example, as part of the 2007 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, a follow-up study is being conducted to further the ABS’ understanding of non-response issues, improve response management in the future, and enhance the reliability of future data.

    For further information see Chapter 10, Provider/respondent relationships.

    Accuracy

    The accuracy of statistical information is the degree to which the information correctly describes the phenomena it was designed to measure. Descriptions of accuracy, as well as extensive information on the statistical methods used in collections, are routinely provided in concepts, sources and methods publications, the explanatory notes in publications, and through the Statistical Clearing House.

    In 2007–08, the ABS continued to work towards ensuring statistics released were accurate. For example, the information paper Changes to Weights of the Price Indexes for the Output of the General Construction Industry, 2008 (cat. no. 6406.0), outlines methodological changes to producer price indexes.

    For further information see Chapter 12, Quality and timeliness.

    2. Increase the quantity of outputs

    2.1 Increase the range of statistics disseminated

    The ABS releases a wide range of information from its collections through electronic and paper publications, spreadsheets and datacubes. The ABS released an extensive range of statistics in 2007–08. The number of publications released in 2007–08 was 818, an increase from 711 (or 14.2%) in 2006–07. This was due to the increase in the amount of Census publications that were released on the ABS website in the year.

    During 2007–08, the ABS released 17 new CURFs, including Expanded CURFs. There are currently 91 (latest edition) CURFs available and 112 CURFs (includes Editions) available on the Remote Access Data Laboratory RADL™.

    For further information see Chapter 12, Communication of statistics.

    2.2 Innovative outputs

    In 2007–08, the ABS continued to make statistical outputs more accessible. For example, a number of improvements were made to the ABS website during 2007–08 including an improved free email notification service, which enables customers to receive updates on particular topics. In addition, a century of Year Book Australia, from the first in 1908 to 2008 are now available online.

    During 2007–08, the ABS has continued to develop RADL™ , with a focus on improved useability and functionality, using feedback from customers as an important driver for enhancements. For example, RADL™ now supports the SAS, SPSS and Stata statistical languages.

    For further information see Chapter 12, Communication of statistics.

    3. Achievement of cost effective outputs

    3.1 Conduct efficiency reviews and audits, and implement their recommendations

    The ABS endeavours to find ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. A number of processes, systems and controls have been implemented, for both statistical and non-statistical activities, to assist the ABS to meet these goals of greater efficiency and effectiveness. These include the strategic audit and review program, operational and statistical reviews, as well as special initiatives such as the operations research initiative.

    During 2007–08, the Data Collection Methodology (DCM) section was established. The section’s role is to support the design and evaluation of questionnaires, letters and data collection procedures. DCM combined two units from separate divisions, bringing together the experts on business surveys and household surveys. The synergy created by the single larger group allows for more effective and efficient survey support

    For further information see Chapter 16, Effectiveness of activities.

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

    Many of the reviews and audits conducted seek to ensure that the ABS achieves cost-effective outputs, either as a primary or secondary objective. A key approach in achieving this is reviewing ABS activities, which provides the opportunity for the agency to understand and learn from best practice, and to improve its performance.

    Key reviews conducted in 2007–08 include one of clearance documentation and related aspects of the clearance process (i.e. the process to obtain approval for release of ABS statistics) for business surveys, and a review of the testing of the Business Continuity Plan.

    For further information see Chapter 16, Effectiveness of activities and Chapter 17, Corporate governance.

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

    The ABS selects and engages consultants in a way that provides value for money. During 2007–08, the total expenditure on consultancies was $677,999. Twenty-four new consultancies were engaged to carry out projects, or provide professional and technical advice that could not be provided by ABS staff. The total expenditure of these was $584,843. Six consultancies had been let in previous years, and continued into 2007–08, with an expenditure of $93,156 during 2007–08.

    The ABS engages consultants for a number of reasons, including: the need for specialised skills; access to the latest technology and experience in its application; the need for independent studies; and a lack of in-house resources.

    For further information see Appendix 3, Consultancy services.

    3.4 Minimise respondent load

    The ABS endeavours to minimise respondent load by promoting efficiency and effectiveness of ABS operations, and the ABS survey program. Information is not requested unless the collection is of high priority for the national statistical program. To further reduce respondent load, forms are carefully designed and thoroughly tested for ease of use.

    For business surveys, there is close liaison with representative groups, in relation to both the survey program and the demands on businesses. In addition, the ABS is a partner in the Standard Business Reporting (SBR) project, which is an Australian Government initiative to reduce the business-to-government reporting burden. The project aims to reduce the cost incurred by small and medium sized businesses when providing financial data to government departments.

    For household surveys, the ABS seeks to ensure that information is obtained from selected dwellings with minimum inconvenience. For example, ABS interviewers are trained to be flexible and organise interview times that are most suitable for respondents, as well as enter responses directly into a notebook computer in an efficient manner.

    For further information see Chapter 10, Provider/respondent relationships.


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