Chapter 3 - Other Issues Impacting on the ABS
Apart from the content of statistical collection and analysis activity, from time to time Council also considers other key issues facing the ABS. Issues and concerns focussed on this year include the following items.
Reducing the Compliance Cost of Business
A continuing focus of the ABS is to reduce the statistical reporting load imposed on businesses. Council is well aware of the pressures on the government and the ABS to reduce compliance costs to business, and strongly supports the ABS' efforts to reduce the statistical reporting load imposed on business.
In considering the issue Council noted that the ABS accounted for only a small proportion (estimated by the 1996 report of the Small Business Deregulation Task Force at 1%) of total compliance cost and even a significant reduction in ABS reporting workload would not impact greatly on the total compliance cost confronting business. It was further observed that the total reporting load on businesses imposed by the ABS in 2000-01 was about 428,000 hours, a reduction of 43% since 1995-96.
Council observed that it is important for the ABS to demonstrate to data providers the value of participating in ABS surveys and encouraged the ABS to continue to pursue its initiatives in this regard. Council also noted that there might be scope for the ABS to use external communications consultants to ensure that the appropriate messages are conveyed to businesses.
It was noted by Council that the use of tax data is not likely to achieve all of the savings initially expected, because of the compromises the Australian Taxation Office has had to make regarding their data requirements. Council also noted that the reduction in reporting load often does come at a cost, usually in the form of less detailed statistics, particularly geographic information.
Council has strongly encouraged the ABS to do what it can to reduce compliance cost whilst ensuring the integrity and quality of the statistical service.
Supporting Secondary Data Analysis
Council recognised the need of analysts and researchers for access to microdata, which are collected in the main from household surveys, and the community expectations and ABS obligations to ensure the confidentiality of these data. Currently the ABS releases unidentified microdata in accordance with the provisions of the Statistics Determination which requires the Statistician’s approval. ABS' concerns regarding the increasing availability of databases of basic household demographics, which may compromise the confidentiality of ABS unidentified microdata if they are matched against those databases, was noted by Council. At the same time some members questioned the likelihood of such matching occurring.
This is one of the most important issues facing the Bureau at this time and generated extensive discussion. A number of Council members emphasised that access to unidentified microdata should continue to be provided by the ABS, and reinforced that microdata was crucial to government and academic research and analysis. Some members reminded Council that individual privacy and confidentiality of data provided was a growing concern in Australia and internationally. Council concluded that it was extremely important that the ABS must ensure that confidentiality of data provided to the ABS would not be compromised. Specifically, Council acknowledged that the ABS' guarantee of the protection of the confidentiality of information is the basis on which the ABS achieves such high response rates and retains the confidence of the Australian public, and that maintenance of that confidence was critical.
Council supported the work being undertaken within the ABS to enhance release practices, including tightened legislative and administrative arrangements so as to ensure that this valuable service to researchers and policy analysts could continue in a manner suitable for all users, whilst meeting the confidentiality obligations of the ABS.
Productivity Commission Report on Cost Recovery
Council was pleased to hear that current ABS practices in terms of cost recovery were consistent with the recommendations of the recently released Productivity Commission Report on Cost Recovery.
The issue presented to Council for consideration was whether the basic ABS statistical product set, which the Productivity Commission report proposes should be funded from government appropriations, should be extended. On this issue Council were very supportive of any move to make all ABS publications available free on the web.