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1: Integrity in statistical operations
The ABS Forward Work Program for 2002-03 to 2004-05 was published in hard copy and is also available on the ABS web site. The Forward Work Program demonstrates the open statistical process of the ABS by describing for each ABS program the resources, outputs, clients and uses of the statistical information, and the proposed main medium term developments over the next three years.
The ABS regularly publishes information about new statistical standards, frameworks, concepts, sources and methodologies in a range of information papers and other publications in hard copy, or electronically. Their publication is one element in ensuring that the public are informed about the statistical process. Many of these publications are listed in this Annual Report, including new and updated versions. Details of major revisions to published data are described in the explanatory notes of the relevant publication.
The ABS continues to advertise all scheduled release dates for publications up to twelve months in advance. Daily press and media releases inform users of publications being released each day. This information is also available on the ABS web site. Release of all publications is subject to a strict embargo policy that ensures impartiality, an essential element of integrity.
In addition the ABS has contributed its own policies on collection and dissemination of statistics to the United Nations web site on Good Practices in Official Statistics.
Performance Indicator 1.1.3: Trust and cooperation of providers
The Census and Statistics Act 1905 (C&S Act) obliges ABS staff to maintain the secrecy and security of all data provided to the ABS under the C&S Act, and held by the ABS. Staff sign an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy under the terms of the Act to ensure that they are fully aware of the requirements on them. There have been no known cases of an ABS officer breaching the undertaking of fidelity and secrecy.
The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, whether it is provided in response to an ABS survey or as administrative data, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release. The ABS also audits the use of confidentialised unit record files (released under the provisions of Clause 7 of the Ministerial Determination) to ensure that the requirements relating to the management and use of the files (which are agreed to by users in a legally binding undertaking), are complied with.
The efficiency of ABS operations and the quality of the data collected are enhanced through maintaining the trust and cooperation of the providers of data. Integral to that process has been the development of the Business Surveys Charter, careful form design and close liaison with business and other representative groups. ABS is conscious however, that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the load placed on businesses in providing that information. The ABS has actively and successfully worked to reduce the reporting load on businesses during 2001-02 through the increasing use of administrative data and by consolidating a number of business surveys into a single survey. More information on provider load is outlined under Performance Measure 7.4.
In spite of these initiatives, in the past year 550 of the 100,000 businesses selected in ABS economic surveys wrote to the ABS about respondent load issues. This was down from 748 complaints from businesses in 2000-01. A response was sent to each of the complaints. Two businesses further requested, as provided for in the ABS Business Surveys Charter, that the Complaints Review Officer review either the process or the outcome of the initial complaint. As a result of these reviews, revised arrangements were negotiated for the suitable delivery of information to the ABS.
TABLE 1: COMPLAINTS FROM DATA PROVIDERS
A recent survey following up perception issues after the 2001 Census indicates that levels of community trust in the Census, and therefore the ABS, remain high. In addition, the ABS enjoys a very positive relationship with the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner.
2: Relevance of ABS output
The ABS directs its efforts to the best interests of the Australian community. To aid this, it ensures that data needed for policy and research purposes are available when required. Good statistical planning, which requires a keen understanding of the current and future needs of users, is essential.
The ABS also recognises that, in order to be relevant to informed decision making, debate, and discussions, its statistics must be timely and relatable to other data. To support this, they are placed in an appropriate statistical framework. The ABS also provides analyses and explanations to help the interpretation of its statistics.
Performance Measure 2.1: Statistical output which meets the needs of key users of economic and social data in terms of:
Performance Indicator 2.1.1: Support to decision making
Performance Indicator 2.1.2: Demonstrated by a high level of use
Performance Indicator 2.1.1: Support to decision making
The ABS provides official statistics across a wide range of economic and social matters, for government, business and the Australian community.
Collections undertaken by the ABS include:
In addition, as part of the national statistical service the ABS cooperates with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies, to release statistics required by key users which are collected as a by-product of administrative systems.
Apart from the extensive range of existing publications and data which provide support to decision makers on a range of ongoing policy issues, the ABS continues to monitor and anticipate users’ needs in terms of new surveys, statistics, and research. The ABS is assisted in this regard by ASAC identifying major social, economic, and environmental issues of policy significance over the coming three to five years. This priority list is used as one check on the ABS priorities as identified in the forward work program.
Ensuring ABS outputs provide support to decision making is also achieved by extensive consultation with state/territory governments and other program-specific user groups. A number of key outcomes were completed in 2001-02 as a result of these processes and are listed in Performance Measure 2.2.
Some of the key areas where the ABS has responded to current and emerging issues and conducted research or new surveys include:
An important component of the ABS output strategy, particularly in respect of social surveys, has been to support secondary analysis of ABS data through access to Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURFs). In 2001-02 the ABS released 178 CURFs. The ABS recognises the continuing and very important role that secondary data analysis has in terms of research and policy analysis, and hence has established a small project team to identify a range of release practices which will enhance ongoing analysis of microdata.
Chapters 6 and 7 contain detailed information about the many components of the ABS statistical work program, and improvements to the coverage of official statistics.
Performance Indicator 2.1.2: Demonstrated by a high level of use
The ABS delivers results from all statistical collections, as soon as practicable after the reference period, and makes them available to all users at the same time.
The ABS provides statistics and related information to users via many mechanisms, including:
Access to ABS statistical information continues to increase with significant rises in the use of the ABS web site and the web site-based AusStats subscription service. The ABS web site had over 2 million ‘hits’ per month in 2001-02, a threefold increase since 1998-99. Particular emphasis has been given to the expansion of data that is available on the ABS web site free of charge, such as basic community profiles derived from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. The AusStats service has also expanded with the media and LEP member libraries granted access to the service. Subscribers to ABS@ now total eight with the addition of Parliament House, Canberra. The service, which is replicated daily into the intranets of key client organisations which have paid an annual fee for that service, enables staff in those organisations to access ABS information. The information presented reflects the move from traditional paper-based publications to electronically disseminated information, justifying the resources allocated to further developing and improving this medium in the future.
Table 2: ACCESSES TO SELECTED DISSEMINATION SERVICES
(b) Relates to total number of organisations using the service (including some state and territory governments).
(c) Where the number of subscribers is shown this refers to 30 June.
(d) Service commenced on 1 October 1998.
(e) Various organisations which are licensed to re-sell ABS data.
The ABS provides free access to much of its data through the ABS web site, public libraries, media releases, media enquiries, and the distribution of ABS reports to media offices and to Members of Parliament. Table 3 below shows the level of media reporting (by medium) over recent years. In 2001-02, there was a significant increase in reporting on radio, television and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines. This increase in activity is predominantly attributed to the conduct of, and subsequent launch of results for, the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
Table 3: MEDIA REPORTING, BY PLACEMENT
The ABS conducts small client satisfaction surveys as part of its collection benchmarking studies. The satisfaction surveys assess a number of attributes of the outputs from ABS business surveys, including:
Recent client satisfaction surveys confirm that the ABS is performing well in meeting the needs of its clients.
The ABS maintains a Client Service Charter which describes the relationship between the ABS and users of its products and services. During 2001-02 three complaints from clients were recorded in response to the charter. The complaints related to the ABS charging policy (two) and the late delivery of consultancy material (one). Each complaint was responded to in a timely manner.
Performance Measure 2.2: Openness of planning process
ABS planning processes and decisions are open, relevant and independent. The ABS manages this by maintaining a rolling three-year forward work program, published on the ABS web site, which develops and allocates resources to program outputs. The external dialogue which forms such an important element of the ABS planning process is also critical to ensuring the relevance of ABS statistical output. In establishing its forward work program, the ABS is advised by the following user groups:
Extensive consultation is also undertaken with key users in the development of specific collections once a decision has been made to include the collection in the forward work program. The information obtained through these forums is supplemented with information gathered from bilateral discussions with key clients, conferences and seminars, outposted statistical officers, and day-to-day contact with clients in the course of disseminating and advising on the use of data.
Some of the key outcomes in 2001–02 from the user consultation process include:
3: Appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies
Performance Measure 3.1: Lead the development of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation within the broader Australian statistical system
An important ABS activity is the development and implementation of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, which are applied, as appropriate, to all ABS statistical collections, including business and household surveys. A number of publications outlining statistical standards were issued during the course of the year.
The ABS is active in encouraging other Commonwealth and state government agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities.
Activities and achievements during 2001-02 included:
In addition, as part of its plan to develop a National Statistical Service, the ABS is in the process of promulgating best practice guidelines to:
The guidelines will also describe how the ABS can help organisations in these tasks.
To ensure a strong professional statistical focus at senior levels in its work, the ABS established a Methodology Division in 1995–96. The Methodology Division has three key roles in ensuring the adoption of professional statistical principles/methods:
Supporting the work of the Methodology Division has been the formation of a Methodology Advisory Committee consisting of professional statisticians external to the ABS, which meets twice-yearly and provides a forum for peer review of statistical developments in the ABS. Other subject specific advisory boards are also often consulted about methodology issues related to their main focus.
Performance Measure 3.2: Contribute to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and implement them as appropriate
The ABS is an active member of the international statistical community, contributing significantly to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation, where appropriate, in Australia. Some of the involvement that the ABS has had during 2001–02 includes contributions to:
In addition to contributing to the development of new international standards and frameworks, the ABS has also implemented, or is in the process of implementing, several of these including:
The ABS also provides assistance to statistical agencies in developing nations in implementing the latest international standards. Assistance in 2001-02 included:
ABS officers held prominent positions on a number of international committees and steering groups during 2001-02. These included:
4: Improving coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies
Performance Measure 4.1: Statistical Clearing House activity
The primary objective of the Statistical Clearing House (SCH) is to reduce the reporting burden placed on business providers by Commonwealth agencies (including the ABS). The SCH pays particular attention to eliminating duplication in business surveys, and ensures that surveys conducted follow good statistical methodologies and practices. In view of its statistical expertise and statutory coordination role, the ABS was empowered to administer the clearance process.
The number of survey reviews at various stages of completion on 30 June 2002, for the 2001-02 financial year, is presented in the table below. Of the 115 completed reviews, all but five have resulted in approval to proceed. However, SCH intervention has resulted in 44 instances of improved survey design and/or reduced provider load. For 2001-02, the annual load imposed on providers by non-ABS surveys reviewed by the SCH has been estimated at 21,700 hours.
Table 4: STATISTICAL CLEARING HOUSE - REVIEW OF STATISTICAL COLLECTIONS, 2001-02
The SCH’s Commonwealth Register of Surveys of Businesses (available on the Internet at <www.sch.abs.gov.au>) provides access to information on collections that have already been conducted, including survey design standards and best practices for organisations developing surveys. There are 537 surveys currently on the Statistical Clearing House web site.
Performance Measure 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
Under section 6(c) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, a key function for the ABS is to improve coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies.
In accordance with the Act, the ABS continues to develop the concept of the National Statistical Service by broadening the concept of ABS statistical responsibilities to include not only statistics collected by the ABS, but also data produced or available from other government and non-government agencies. The ABS provides leadership to Commonwealth and state agencies in making better use of their administrative data so that it can provide another source of quality data for statistical purposes. The ABS encourages agencies to adopt a holistic approach to improving the quality of statistics available to users through the application of similar methodologies to administrative and statistical data.
One of the ways the ABS achieves its objective of providing leadership is by outposting statistical officers to state/territory and Commonwealth Government departments and agencies with a view to facilitating the access to, and the understanding of, statistics, and strengthening statistical coordination across these bodies. Seven Commonwealth agencies were assisted by nine outposted statistical officers during 2001-02. ABS regional offices provide outposted officers, usually in the form of short term secondments, to give statistical and technical assistance in particular projects undertaken by state/territory governments. In most regional offices, state/territory government agencies were assisted by outposted ABS officers in 2001-02.
Table 5: ABS OUTPOSTED OFFICERS, 2001-02
Examples of new partnerships with Commonwealth, state and local government agencies to identify and utilise a greater range of administrative data currently under way are:
Some of the key achievements in assisting state/territory government agencies through statistical consultation, statistical analysis, modelling of existing ABS or client data, and statistical training or seminars for clients and users, during the year included:
Performance Measure 4.3: Identifying, storing, and disseminating statistics from other official bodies
As part of its commitment to provide an expanded and improved national statistical service, the ABS plays a significant role in identifying, storing and disseminating statistics from other official bodies.
The release of Information Paper: Improvements in ABS Economic Statistics [Arising from The New Tax System] (cat. no. 1372.0) details changes to the scope of ABS business frames and the effect that has on economic statistics, resulting from tax reform related developments. The changes were implemented in June 2002.
A number of information papers were released in 2001-02 detailing the uses of, and experimental estimates arising from, the combination of Australian Taxation Office data with ABS data. These papers were:
The Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB), Australia (cat. no. 1353.0), provides clients with access to a broad range of information about Australia’s regions. The Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB) contains over 15,000 data items of which over 1,900 are sourced from 34 non-ABS statistical series. In the year 2001-02 the IRDB was expanded with the inclusion of several new data series, two of which are on land use and salinity risk from the National Land and Water Resources Audit, and updates to existing data on agriculture, income, health and aged care.
In 2001-02 the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Tasmanian and Northern Territory ABS Regional Offices published updates of Regional Statistics (cat. nos 1362.1-8 series) bringing together data from a large range of sources.
The ABS has established a number of National Centres covering specific areas of statistical activity. The Centres coordinate data collection activities within the ABS, and across other public agencies, and provide a statistical service which includes provision of statistical information, training of data providers, advice on statistical standards and development of quality control procedures.
National Centres have been established for:
Some of the key achievements of the National Centres during 2001-02 were:
In recent years, the ABS has also produced a range of statistical directories to provide users with information on sources of statistics (both from the public and private sectors) for particular topics. Such directories include: