1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2004-05  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/10/2005   
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Other Developments in 2004-05

LEGISLATION AND GOVERNANCE

There were no changes made to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 or the Census and Statistics Act 1905 during 2004–05.

The ABS held two meetings of the Australian Statistical Advisory Council (ASAC) in 2004–05 and one meeting of the State Statistical Forum. These meetings are important to the ABS as they help to identify major economic, social and environmental issues which are of policy significance in the coming three to five years.

During 2004–05 the number of ASAC members increased. The increased membership is expected to provide the ABS with a broader representation of users of statistics.

ASAC assists by advising the ABS on work priorities. Some of the topics discussed which were of particular interest to ASAC were: an update on the 2006 Census of Population and Housing: the strategic positioning of the ABS into the 21st century; electronic dissemination strategies; children and youth statistics; and crime and justice statistics.

During 2004–05 the ABS Audit Committee met four times, providing assurance to the Australian Statistician that: a comprehensive control framework is in place and working effectively for all business systems; the operation and management of all ABS systems are sufficiently adequate to ensure the ABS complies with all its legislative and other obligations; and externally published information generated by these systems is of appropriate quality and conforms with legislative and other obligations. Internal audits undertaken during 2004–05 included reviews of: the management of personal computers and notebooks; the census payroll system; pre-release of statistics; accounts receivable/payable; and clearance procedures for non-standard outputs.

Through a tender process, Acumen Alliance Pty Ltd was chosen to provide the ABS with internal audit services for the next three years commencing July 2005.

DISSEMINATION SERVICES

The ABS continues to provide users with statistics and related information from all its statistical collections as soon as practicable after the collection of the data.

ENHANCEMENTS TO THE ABS WEB SITE

The ABS web site remains the primary access point for the majority of users of ABS information. In 2004–05 there has been a continued increase in content and improved functionality on the ABS web site. The web site now consists of approximately 285,000 pages and during 2004–05 the web site users were responsible for around 60 million page views. This is an increase of approximately 30 per cent on 2003–04.

During the year web related developments included: preparations for the release of publications free on the ABS web site from 1 July 2005; a new home page; introduction of a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) facility; improvements to the ABS web site search engine; and release of the CensusAtSchool initiative.

IMPROVING ACCESS TO THE CONFIDENTIALISED UNIT RECORD FILES

During 2004–05 ABS staff conducted Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURF) workshops in all state and territory capital cities. Existing and potential CURF users from the government and university sectors were provided with information regarding all aspects of CURF access and were also invited to provide feedback on existing ABS systems and procedures.

The Remote Access Data LaboratoryTM (RADLTM) has undergone further development with significant improvements in system usability and in the automatic output clearance functionality. Development of systems associated with the RADLTM will allow operations for ABS staff members to be simplified. There are now 441 registered clients from 51 organisations.

A further enhancement to unit record data access is the establishment of the ABS Data Laboratory (ABSDL); a secure room or area on ABS premises where clients may access CURFs in an interactive and secure manner. The ABSDL network consists of locked down desktop terminals and a central server where the CURF data is stored. Respondent confidentiality is maintained through a manual output clearance service provided by the Methodology Division. During 2004–05 the system and procedures underwent pilot testing with selected clients and the complete system will be implemented on 1 July 2005.

DISSEMINATION CHANNELS

The continued move towards greater use of electronic services over traditional hard copy publications has enabled the ABS to provide users with timely statistical information while reducing the cost of dissemination. The ABS Email Notification Service provides clients with links to ABS publications, shortly after the daily 11:30 am release.

In 2004–05 a number of key clients such as the Australian, state and territory government agencies have continued to make extensive use of ABS@, which enables them to access a comprehensive range of ABS statistics through internal Intranets.

There was continued promotion of ABS products and capability in 2004–05. Promotion focused upon increasing the use of key products and services such as the publications Year Book Australia (cat. no. 1301.0) and Australian Social Trends (cat. no. 4102.0), and continued promotion of the wider ABS capability.

STATISTICS FOR SCHOOLS

There has also been continuing work with the schools’ sector to increase the use of ABS data and to improve the statistical literacy of students. An expanding range of curriculum support material, including lesson plans, is being provided to schools. Since its release at the end of 2002–03, an increasing number of teachers are now using the ABS’ school-specific electronic product, Census for Schools, in geography, mathematics and other classes. The ABS has begun development of a national CensusAtSchools initiative to coincide with the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.

2005 YEAR BOOK AUSTRALIA

The Hon. Chris Pearce, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, launched the 2005 edition of Year Book Australia (cat. no. 1301.0) on 21 January 2005 at ABS House. The 2005 edition had as its theme the ABS’ celebration of 100 years of official statistics. This provided the opportunity to include, where available, lengthy time series of key economic and demographic statistics, often dating back 100 years.


Image: The Hon. Chris Pearce, MP, and Mr Dennis Trewin at the launch of the 2005 Year Book Australia.
The Hon. Chris Pearce, MP, and Mr Dennis Trewin at the launch of the 2005 Year Book Australia.

PRICING REVIEW

The review of ABS pricing is continuing and will effectively be finalised by September 2005. The ABS will be following the Australian Government Guidelines on Cost Recovery and Competitive Neutrality. For most products and services there will be no change to the current ABS pricing policy.

HUMAN RESOURCES

AGREEMENT MAKING

Two industrial agreements were listed for certification with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission during 2004–05: ABS Interviewers Certified Agreement 2005–2008; and Data Processing Centre, Certified Agreement 2005–2007. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission will certify these agreements in July 2005.

In preparation for the employment of non-ongoing employees to staff the Data Processing Centre for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing, the ABS Interviewers Certified Agreement 2005–2008 was negotiated with the Community and Public Sector Union under section 170LL of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. This is a ‘greenfields’ agreement as no employees have yet commenced.

The Population Survey Interviewers Certified Agreement 2003–2005 expired on 31 March 2005 and a new agreement, ABS Interviewers Certified Agreement 2005–2008, was developed in consultation with the interviewers and their representatives under section 170LK of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. This agreement was voted on, and accepted by a majority of interviewers on 24 June 2005.

LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

There has been a significant increase in ABS staff training attendance over the past 12 months, despite a heavy work program and declining employee numbers. There have been substantial efforts made to improve both the range and relevance of learning activities provided to ABS employees. A capability framework has been developed which describes the skills, behaviours, knowledge and attributes required of all staff in the ABS. In combination with a new learning infrastructure the framework will further improve employee understanding of, and access to, learning, and make a significant contribution to workforce capability profiling and planning. The Learning and Development function continues to examine ways to improve the effectiveness of learning in the ABS. The objective is that all learning activities have a clear line of sight to the achievement of the ABS Corporate Plan through the building of organisational capability to respond to business challenges both now and in the future.

In order to put greater emphasis on statistical skills, a few years ago the ABS established a National Statistical Training Institute. During 2004–05 the Institute significantly increased the number of courses available as well as extending availability to those external to the ABS.

CONSULTATION IN THE ABS

A number of consultative forums exist within the ABS to provide staff with an opportunity to contribute to a range of issues. An overarching annual National Forum consists of representatives from all ABS consultative forums and unions. The most recent National Forum was held in March 2005. Key issues discussed were: ABS restructures; ABS Certified Agreement 2003–2006; remuneration and progression through the salary range; preventing and settling disputes; the ABS Employee Survey 2004; the ABS Diversity Plan and its implementation; progress of the Capability Framework; and recruitment — selection and placement processes.

EMPLOYEE OPINIONS SOUGHT

In October 2004, the ABS ran a comprehensive survey of employee opinions covering a number of areas affecting their employment. The final response rate was a very pleasing 97.2 per cent.


Image: ABS Managers show their support for the 2004 Employee Survey
ABS Managers show their support for the 2004 Employee Survey

Areas where employees are relatively more satisfied include flexibility of employment conditions, physical environment, working relationships and social environment. Areas that have been identified as warranting priority attention include: levels of satisfaction with the use being made of employee skills/challenging work; information sharing; deadline and workload pressure; and remuneration.

The data reporting phase is complete, and action has been initiated to gain information from staff about the underlying causes in areas of relative dissatisfaction and what they think the solutions might be. Based on this input appropriate actions can be put in place to address issues. Consultation with staff is both at a national level and an operational level.

RECRUITMENT

Recruitment and retention of staff are a priority for the ABS. A number of factors, including additional funding into the ABS through the 2005 Federal Budget, have led to a situation where the ABS needs to recruit significant numbers of new employees in early 2005–06, particularly in Central Office.

The ABS is an organisation which has historically relied heavily upon ‘growing its own’ through a strong learning and development program available to its base level and graduate recruits. However, there is now recognition the ABS will need to recruit capability at all levels of the organisation if it is to meet higher demands for additional employees. To achieve this, the ABS is: expanding the range of tools available to recruitment panels to test for skills and expertise; streamlining recruitment processes; making advertisements more attractive to non-ABS applicants; and making staff selection a priority across the organisation.

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

In 2004–05 ABS Information Technology (IT) continued to actively contribute to improving business outcomes through: improvements to business processes; the expansion of ABS services; and realising efficiency savings. Hardware and software changes have maintained and improved the reliability and availability of ABS systems through consolidation of servers and the introduction of clustering and failover mechanisms, and through a new storage area network and associated backup and recovery mechanisms. Systems downtime remains at exceptionally low levels.

The integrity and confidentiality of information continues to be a strong focus and there have been no significant IT security incidents. During the year the ABS obtained independent security certification of the ABS network, implemented an external firewall and upgraded anti-virus, intrusion detection and SPAM filtering capabilities. The ABS has established and leveraged secure virtual private network access, and has established a role to manage initiatives in identity management and simplified sign-on.

The ABS has a focus on business process improvement supported by business process management infrastructure and techniques. A number of areas in the ABS have commenced using the approaches and tools. For example, the Business Statistics Innovation Program has used a partnership between business staff, methodologists and technologists to identify all relevant opportunities for innovation and improvement. Several key components have been released into production, including new tools for statistical estimation, an input data warehouse, quality management systems, and a provider management system. The program also uses advanced telephony to support a recently established service centre.

The ABS is becoming more interested in the use of Open Source technology and its potential to provide government and business with cost effective functionality for statistical and information management purposes. A key initiative is the National Data Network, a national platform for acquiring, sharing and integrating data relevant to policy and research.

The ABS is an active contributor to whole of government IT strategy in the areas of information and technical interoperability.

INTERNATIONAL INVOLVEMENT

In 2004–05 the ABS continued its important and valued role in the international statistical community through:
  • active contribution to the international statistical activities that are important to Australia and our region
  • active and often high level membership of the international statistical community (including influencing the development of international statistical standards and indicators)
  • targeted and tailored technical assistance to national statistical agencies in the Asia–Pacific region.
The global launch of the International Comparison Program (ICP) — a statistical initiative established to produce internationally comparable price levels, expenditure values, and Purchasing Power Parity estimates — took place in February 2005. All 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. Purchasing Power Parity takes into account the cost of a common basket of goods in the countries being compared. The ICP offers them a powerful tool for comparative research on economic and social development. The ABS is actively involved in this program with the Australian Statistician as the Chair of 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.

The ABS has had a long association with BPS — Statistics Indonesia (BPS) in relation to exchanging statistical information and in increasing the statistical capacity of the Indonesian Statistical Office. It has provided significant statistical training and capacity building in 2004–05. Following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami — in which BPS lost two district offices with many of their staff and families affected — the ABS provided immediate assistance through the donation of information technology equipment. In June 2005 the ABS was involved in the Department of Treasury instigated fact-finding delegation to Indonesia to advance the Treasury Portfolio Government Partnerships Fund which is designed to provide significant Tsunami recovery aid to Indonesia.

INTERNATIONAL MEETINGS

The ABS participated in a number of important international meetings and conferences in 2004–05. A highlight of the year was the joint hosting of the 55th Session of the International Statistical Institute.

During the year the ABS conducted high level bilateral discussions with Statistics Canada. These meetings provided opportunities for the chief executives and senior staff of both agencies to pursue statistical and management issues of common concern and to enhance working arrangements between the agencies.

Other international meetings and conferences in which the ABS participated included the:
  • 53rd Plenary Session of the United Nations Conference of European Statisticians, held in Switzerland, where the ABS is leading work on developing international guidelines on confidentiality and microdata access
  • second meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Committee on Statistics, held in Switzerland immediately after the 53rd Plenary Session of the United Nations Conference of European Statisticians
  • third management seminar of the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific, a subsidiary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, for the Heads of National Statistical Offices in Asia and the Pacific, held in Thailand
  • 36th Session of the United Nations Statistics Division — Statistical Commission, held in New York.
A number of other conferences associated with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development were also attended. Representatives of the ABS also attended meetings of the International Association for Official Statistics and the Pacific Regional Meeting of Heads of Planning and Heads of Statistics.

In addition, the ABS participated in expert group meetings on a number of areas such as: statistical classifications and standards; national accounts; and prices and population censuses, including the 22nd Population Census Conference, attended by all countries in the Asia–Pacific region as part of the lead up to the 2010 round of population censuses. The ABS provides the Chair for a number of these expert group meetings.

VISITS TO THE ABS

The ABS received a number of visits from other national statistics offices, statistical agencies and international statistical organisations during the year including Canada, Israel, Malaysia, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, EuroStat, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and the United Nations.

STATISTICAL TRAINING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

The ABS provides a valuable contribution to international statistical training, including through the United Nations Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP). The ABS concluded its membership of the SIAP Governing Board in late 2005 when the five-year term of the then Governing Board members ended.

The ABS provides international statistical assistance to countries in the Asia–Pacific region which seek ABS advice and support, and which are high priority for the Australian Government. A multi-year program of assistance to Thailand for strengthening of macro-economic statistics was concluded during the year, resulting in significant improvements to the Thai statistical system. The ABS continued its program of assistance to BPS — Statistics Indonesia in a number of statistical areas.

In addition to planned programs of assistance, the ABS provided statistical advice and capacity building in response to various requests from countries in the region and from international statistical organisations. This included assistance to:
  • India on its business register
  • UNESCAP in the field of disability statistics
  • South Africa on its consumer price index
  • Timor L’Este on its first population census since gaining independence
  • Thailand on data management systems
  • Mongolia on legislation and statistical management.

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