5514.0.55.001 - Australian System of Government Finance Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2005  
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Contents >> Chapter 3 Data Sources and Collection Methods



3.1 The underlying data sources for the compilation of GFS in Australia are the accounting systems supporting the financial accounts maintained by public sector entities. This accounting information is analysed, classified and rearranged on a GFS basis using the input classifications set out in Appendix 3.

3.2 In the past, the ABS compiled GFS by analysing the published accounts of public sector entities, classifying the data on a GFS basis and entering the data directly into its computer processing systems. This methodology was supplemented in some cases by directly collecting data using ABS questionnaires. The methodology began to change after the May 1991 Premiers’ Conference agreed that all jurisdictions would include uniform data classified on a GFS basis in their budget documents. From that time, the Commonwealth Department of Finance and Administration and each of the state and territory treasuries, with ABS guidance and assistance, compiled GFS for their jurisdiction’s non-financial public sector (then the scope of the GFS system) for incorporation in their budget documents. The ABS was able to use these data to compile GFS on an annual basis for the national and state levels of government.

3.3 More recently, jurisdictions have been compiling financial reports in compliance with the Australian Accounting Standard AAS 31, ‘Financial Reporting by Governments’, which requires reporting for the ‘whole of government’. In GFS terms, whole of government covers general government, public non-financial corporations and public financial corporations (i.e. the public sector). Thus with ABS assistance on conversion of AAS 31 data to the GFS standard, jurisdictions are now able to regularly provide public sector data on a GFS basis.

3.4 With these developments the opportunities for the ABS to obtain GFS-classified data in electronic form have increased considerably. Now, for the major part of the national and state levels of government, accounting data at unit level are converted to a GFS basis by each jurisdiction and the converted data are supplied to the ABS as electronic data files. The ABS role is evolving to one of assisting these departments with the GFS conversion, coordinating the provision of data files, and editing the data before they are aggregated as GFS. The amount of information received in this way is expected to increase. At present, only some quarterly data, and other data for some local governments and public corporations, are obtained by other means (e.g. dispatch of questionnaires, analysis of financial statements). For these data, the ABS performs the GFS conversion before incorporating the data in national statistics.


3.5 GFS are collected and compiled in three phases: quarterly, forward annual estimates and final annual data. The phases are determined by the ABS publication programme for GFS, which is discussed in Chapter 5, and the national accounting requirement for quarterly data. The phasing also enables progressive refinement of the data over the cycle.

3.6 The first phase in the cycle is the collection of quarterly data to produce quarterly estimates of public sector activity for incorporation in the Australian national accounts. The quarterly collection is confined to general government units and public non-financial corporations. Other ABS sources are used to produce national accounts data for public financial corporations. The quarterly collection is not a full enumeration in as much as smaller units are omitted and less than the full range of annual data are collected from units included in the collection. Specifically, balance sheet data and some cash flow data are not collected. Estimates are made for missing quarterly data.

3.7 The collection and compilation of forward estimates for the coming financial year is the next phase in the cycle. They are currently published by the ABS as a single electronic release in Government Financial Estimates (ABS Cat. no. 5501.0.55.001), which is known as the ‘GFE’. This release presents statistics for the general government sector only.

3.8 The final phase of the cycle is the collection and production of final annual statistics. These represent the most detailed and complete set of statistics for a financial year. They are based, wherever possible, on final audited data. The final statistics are published in Government Finance Statistics (ABS Cat. no. 5512.0), which is also known as the ‘GFS’. This release presents statistics for both the general government sector, as well as for the non-financial public sector and the total public sector.



3.9 The source records for the GFS system are increasingly becoming available in centralised computer systems that maintain records for all units forming the major part of the public sector in each jurisdiction. In such circumstances the ABS no longer has to obtain data from individual units but can use data, relating to individual units, collected by central agencies in each jurisdiction. In most cases, these data have been converted to a GFS basis before being received by the ABS. However, at the present stage of development there are variations between jurisdictions, levels of government and collection phases in the availability of unit data from central agencies. Table 3.1 summarises the current situation regarding the use of central and individual data sources.


3.10 In conjunction with the evolution of centralised data sources there has also been a continuing change towards collection of data in electronic form. The most common and preferred method is electronic transfer of computer files. Electronic transfer also occurs in the form of spreadsheet files and some data are transferred on floppy disks. It should be noted that, particularly for final annual data, the data received electronically are checked against published accounting statements, preferably those that have been subject to official final audit. Where data are not available from central agencies (e.g. some quarterly data and most data for local government), the collection methods range from electronic transfer in various forms, through use of questionnaires, to ABS analysis of published accounting statements.

3.11 Table 3.1 summarises the current situation regarding use of the various collection methods. It should be noted that the table refers only to primary data sources and collection methods and does not reflect supplementary use of published accounting statements for editing and verification purposes.




Sources PhaseSectorCentral Individual Electronic transferFormsStatements

CommonwealthQuarterlyGG Yes Yes
PNFC Yes Yes
GFE GG Yes Yes
PFC YesYes
State Quarterly GG all others (b)SA all others (b)SA
GFE GG All All
PNFC All All
PFC All All
GFS GG All All
PNFC All All
PFC All All
Local (c)Quarterly GG All All All
PNFC All All All
GFS GG All All
PNFC All All

(a) As at 30 June 2005.
(b) 'all others' refers to all states with the exception of SA.
(c) The local level of government does not exist in the Australian Capital Territory.
Key: GFE = Government Financial Estimates (ABS Cat. no. 5501.0.55.001) forward estimates; GFS = Government Financial Statistics (Cat. no. 5512.0), final annual data; GG = general government; PNFC = public non-financial corporations; PFC = public financial corporations; NSW = New South Wales; V = Victoria; Q= Queensland; WA = Western Australia; SA = South Australia; T = Tasmania; NT = Northern Territory; ACT = Australian Capital Territory.

3.12 In Table 3.1 there are no entries under the quarterly collection for public financial corporations because, as previously noted, these corporations are not included in the quarterly collection.

3.13 Table 3.1 indicates that quarterly Commonwealth data are supplied electronically for general government units and the ABS collects quarterly data from public non-financial corporations via forms. DOFA currently transfers GFE data electronically to the ABS for all Commonwealth general government units. For GFS, DOFA supplies data for general government, public non-financial corporations and public financial corporations within the one electronic file.

3.14 At the state and territory level, quarterly general government data are currently collected via electronic transfer from all treasuries except SA . For public non-financial corporations, quarterly data are available centrally from the Queensland, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory treasuries. All other quarterly state public non-financial corporations data are collected from individual units either electronically or via standard forms.

3.15 In all jurisdictions, GFE data for general government are currently available electronically from the treasuries. For GFS treasuries supply data for general government, public non-financial corporations and public financial corporations electronically.

3.16 The ABS works in partnership with Local Government Grants Commissions and Departments of Local Government (and their equivalents) to collect local government finance data.

3.17 GFE data for local government are estimated by means of ‘shell estimation’, which is explained in Chapter 4.

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