1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2000-01  
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Contents >> Chapter 1 - Impact of ASAC on ABS Work Program and Outputs in 2000-01

Chapter 1 - Impact of ASAC on ABS Work Program and Outputs in 2000-01

The identification of statistical priorities for the ABS forward work program is the most important area of input from Council. In undertaking its role, Council recognises that Australia is very well served in terms of core economic and social statistics.

Therefore, the focus of Council is primarily on identifying new and significant emerging policy issues. Council begins the process by identifying major social, economic and political issues likely to be of policy significance over the next 3 to 5 years. This priority list is then considered in the context of the existing ABS statistical work program to highlight gaps and redundancies.

The effectiveness of Council as an advisory body to the ABS and the Minister, is best judged by the extent to which the ABS work program and outputs evolve to reflect the contemporary and emerging needs of the policy makers and other key users as identified by Council.

Some of the main themes that Council have been pursuing with the ABS in recent years, and the ABS responses in 2000-01, are discussed below.

Increasing use of administrative by-product and other external data sources

Council members have actively encouraged the ABS to increase its use of administrative data, and to enhance the national statistical service by improving the quality and accessibility of such data. Council has seen significant potential for the ABS to better utilise both public and private administrative and transactional data sources.

Some examples of progress in this regard are illustrated by the following developments during 2000-01:

  • the development of compendium publications which bring together data from a large range of ABS and external sources, especially State and Local Government data, to provide information at a regional level;

  • the release of an expanded Integrated Regional Data Base, Australia, which provided access to a broad range of information at a regional level, including over 930 non-ABS statistical series, from around twenty different organisations;

  • the release of a range of new statistical directories to provide users with information on sources of statistics, from both the public and private sectors for agriculture and rural statistics; and electricity, gas, water and sewerage statistics. Council has supported the development of statistical directories to assist users in identifying relevant data sources;

  • the further expansion in the range of ABS National Centres with the creation of the National Centre for Education and Training. Council has consistently encouraged the development of National Centres that specialise in particular subject matter fields to lead and coordinate the development of information plans not just within the ABS, but right across the public and private sectors;

  • the extensive work by ABS to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the introduction of The New Tax System and existing tax data sources; and

  • ABS working with Commonwealth and State agencies to identify Indigenous people in their administrative collections and to improve the quality of the resulting data. Priority areas have been births, deaths, health, education and training, and crime.

Increasing focus on services sector and in particular information technology

Data on the services sector has been high on Council's list of priorities for many years. The development in 1995 of a service statistics strategy was welcomed and strongly endorsed by Council, and the subsequent implementation of that strategy has seen a substantial expansion in the range of data available in respect of the services sector.

In particular, Council members encouraged the ABS to expand the range and depth of data on the information technology and telecommunications sector. There are major conceptual and technical problems in relation to service sector statistics and Council has noted that Australia is a world leader in this area.

Council was pleased to note that releases in 2000-01 included a range of publications which further expanded data on the important services sector.

These included:
  • Internet Activity, Australia, which contained details of Internet activity facilitated by Internet Service Providers in Australia. This publication provided a range of valuable information on developments in this area including the number of business and private Internet subscribers, the volume of traffic through ISPs to Internet subscribers, and the number of lines providing Internet connectivity to subscribers;

  • Use of Information Technology on Farms, Australia, which provided information on farm use of information technology on a regional basis, highlighting variations across regions;

  • Business Use of Information Technology, Australia, which summarised business use of information technology including use of Internet and e-commerce;

  • the publication of results from surveys of the cultural industries for reference year 1999-2000; and
  • the development of a range of producer price indexes to improve the measurement of price change in business and transport services.

Data on the services sector, remains a high priority for Council and it will encourage the ABS to continue to expand its coverage.

Industry classification

Related to the demand for service industry data, Council has highlighted the need for the ABS industry classification to reflect changes in industry structure in areas such as information and business services. Council has raised concerns in the past that international industry classifications reflect only the direct contribution of a particular industry to the economy, rather than incorporating many of the downstream effects that industries can have in other areas of the economy. Therefore, Council sees alternative industry views as important, including demand side views of industry.

Council was encouraged that the ABS presented in 2000-01, alternative views of industry that incorporate a broader view of industry in areas such as food; mining and resources; and waste management and recycling services. It encouraged the work by the ABS and Statistics New Zealand to commence a joint review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industry Classification (ANZSIC) in 2001. Since the last review of ANZSIC some ten years ago, many changes have occurred in the fabric of the economy, particularly in the rapid growth and diversification of service industries.

ABS household survey program

Council was pleased by the ABS decision in 1999 to review its Household Survey Program and welcomed the opportunities it had to contribute. This is a very important, and costly, collection which enables the Bureau to accommodate data requests from many government agencies and private researchers. The outcomes of the review were very positive and Council was very active in providing advice to ABS in assessing the balance between various fields of social concern in terms of frequency of data and detail of content. The first results of the revised program in 2000-01 include the release of:
  • Australian Housing Survey - Housing Characteristics, Costs and Conditions, 1999;
  • Australian Housing Survey - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Results; and

the development and commencement of the 2001 National Health Survey including an Indigenous component, and the 2001 Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey of discrete indigenous communities.

Australia's ageing population

In recent years, Council has identified issues associated with an ageing population as high on their list of priorities and welcomed the 1999 social report on Older People, Australia. An ageing population is recognised as an issue relevant to a range of policy departments, and Council has urged the ABS to continue to be pro-active in providing additional data to support policy development and decision making on the issue.

In previous years, Council noted that future provisions for retirement was a significant gap in ABS statistics. Areas of concern in respect of the issue included data on assets, wealth accumulation and the adequacy of superannuation cover. In March 2001, the release of a new ABS publication Employment Arrangements and Superannuation, provided information about the diversity of employment arrangements in the Australian labour market, and superannuation coverage in Australia. A further survey on retirement and superannuation was included in the household survey program for 2005-06 on the advice of Council.

The publication in 2000-01 of Population Projections, Australia 1999 to 2101, provided a longer timeframe of projections and contained an enhanced analysis on the impact of alternative scenarios, and is a key input to the debate on ageing in Australia. Council also considered a discussion paper from the ABS on issues surrounding an ageing population. The paper highlighted new and expanding areas of ABS data on this issue, including population projections of economic dependency.

Rural and regional statistics

The issues confronting rural and regional Australia have supported Council's long standing efforts to ensure that the ABS give greater emphasis and a sense of urgency to its collections in this sector. The establishment of a National Centre for Rural and Regional Statistics in the South Australian Office of ABS in 2000-01 is considered by Council as an important step in ensuring the appropriate focus to bring together the extensive array of regional data available from disparate sources. Council members noted that one of the major benefits of the ABS regional statistics initiative has been the increased focus on the administrative datasets held by government agencies as a regular source of detailed regional data. The nominees of Premiers and Chief Ministers on Council have assisted ABS work with State/Territory government agencies to improve the quality and reliability of their data holdings. Despite the progress, much remains to be done.

Greater emphasis on research and analysis of data rather than simply compiling estimates

In recent years, Council members highlighted the need for ABS to add value to its own information and that from other agencies. Council has also encouraged the ABS to conduct seminars on key issues in its analysis program.

The establishment of an Analytical Services Branch early in 2000 was strongly supported by Council at the time, and members were very pleased to see development initiatives start to come to fruition in 2000-01. Council was briefed on the significant work and consultation undertaken during 2000-01 on developing a new publication Measuring Australia's Progress (MAP). This publication is a major project that will bring together a range of indicators covering key aspects and indicators of national progress, together with analyses of historical trends and linkages. The first issue of MAP is scheduled for release in April 2002.

Another major achievement in the area of research and analysis, was the release of Australia's first Tourism Satellite Account in 2000-01. An extensive seminar program to assist users in understanding the concepts, sources and methods underpinning the information in the publication was undertaken. Council looks forward to similar techniques being adopted in respect of other industries and sectors such as information technology.

Labour market issues

Labour market issues have been a major priority of Council over many years. This reflects the national importance of labour market policies and the very extensive existing coverage by the ABS. The size of the ABS expenditure has been frequently queried by Council but cutbacks have not been achieved. The need to address emerging labour market issues with new indicators and to increase efforts to make users aware of the large array of data currently available and the frameworks within which the statistics are constructed is widely recognised but funding constraints have to be recognised.

Council members identified two major gaps in the existing suite of labour statistics. First, it was recognised that there was a need for information relating to the extent and nature of job gains/losses (in gross terms) and second, a need for statistics on the number of employees covered by minimum awards and enterprise/workplace agreements, and the differing rates of wage movement. On the issue of statistics on job gains/losses, there was a widespread interest among Council members for the ABS to undertake longitudinal type analysis, drawing upon administrative data as well as directly collected information. A number of occasional papers containing in-depth analyses of selected data from the longitudinal survey of employment and unemployment patterns have outlined the opportunities, and problems of longitudinal sources. On the second issue, the first statistics on employment and earnings by type of industrial agreement have been published.

Social capital

Council members have for some time identified social capital, social cohesion, alienation and related issues as statistical priority areas. In particular, Council members have indicated a need to define and measure social capital.

There has been a range of ABS publications over the years relevant to these issues including an ABS discussion paper - Measuring Social Capital: Current Collections and Future Directions. The paper has been circulated to a wide range of users to engender discussion and to seek input on options for future work on this issue.

Venture capital

In recent times, Council members have identified the need for information about the amount of venture capital invested and the number of start-ups in the industry. The December 2000 quarter edition of Managed Funds, Australia, included results of the ABS first-ever survey of venture capital activity.

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