1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2006-07  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2007   
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Contents >> Chapter 2 - Summary of Activities for 2006-07


The Council held two meetings during 2006–07:

    • 28 November 2006, and
    • 5 June 2007.
Detailed agendas for the meetings are provided at Appendix 2.

The Council considered a number of issues during 2006–07 including the following:


The Council discussed the ABS’ forward work program at both meetings in 2006-07.

At these meetings, the Australian Statistician indicated that there were increasing pressures on the ABS budget to continue the current work program. There were also many demands to expand the work program.

The Council recognised that for the ABS to continue to work within its budget it would require some reductions in its current work program. It therefore supported the ABS in seeking additional funding to enable it to take on new work, while maintaining its current statistical work program.

The Council considered the following areas where there was considered a need for an expansion in the work program:
    • the household survey program, in particular, for surveys addressing population wellbeing
    • environment statistics
    • rural and regional statistics, and
    • statistical leadership.
The Council supported the need to review the longer term program of household surveys to determine where the greatest gains could be made. It suggested that a stronger focus on administrative data or value-adding processes may, in some topic areas, deliver more benefits than conducting more surveys or increasing samples.

The Council recognised the environment statistics as an emerging area of high priority, where it suggested that the ABS has significant scope to demonstrate leadership across the wide spectrum of data requirements – scientific, economic, and behavioural.

Rural and regional statistics were also identified as a priority, but members considered that the ABS needed to identify and target those areas which will deliver the greatest returns on investment.


The Council considered an update on recent developments of the National Statistical Service (NSS). It noted that the statistical leadership is developing both centrally and regionally, and the ABS needs to be more aware of regional efforts.

Council members strongly supported the development of a community of statisticians, and encouraged the ABS to include the private sector in the community. Council agreed that, as part of the development of the community of statisticians, there was a need to look at the synergies between producers and consumers of data. Council also suggested that the ABS needs to promote the NSS more widely in the community, and to clarify the difference between the ABS and the NSS.

The Council welcomed the move of the National Data Network from the current demonstration phase to a production network. Progress on the development of Information Development Plans (IDPs) was also discussed. The Council supported IDPs as they are considered to be important for identifying data gaps, but showed concern that resource issues were holding back the development of IDPs. The ABS advised the Council that although resource intensive, further action will continue to be undertaken on IDPs as resources become available.


The Council considered updates on the review at both meetings, as well as in its deliberations on the ABS Forward Work Program. The review, which is looking at the household survey program for the next 12 years, has two components: topic content, which addresses the high priority needs of users, and a survey model, which is looking at improving efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness.

The ABS advised the Council was that it was considering three scenarios in the review:

    • a reduction in the current program, if there were to be no additional base funding to cover real world cost increases in obtaining responses from householders
    • if that base funding is obtained, a fully funded program similar to that currently run, but with some modifications (less frequency for some collections and greater frequency for others, such as a families survey), or
    • assuming substantial additional funding, a fully funded expanded program to fill major gaps identified.
There was a consensus by Council members that the first scenario would be a retrograde step, and while the second option was not as ideal as the third, members acknowledged the budget constraints currently facing the ABS.

The Council discussed the various options for undertaking household surveys, and explored some of the issues involved in household survey operations by the ABS.

The Council noted the consultative process currently being undertaken by the ABS, and looked forward to further updates on the review.


At the November 2006 meeting, the ABS advised the Council that it was reassessing the directions for Indigenous statistics to ensure they are in line with the current national, state and territory priorities, and is currently consulting with a range of stakeholders. The Council supported the consultation process and suggested the ABS consider using Indigenous medical services, and community organisations working with Indigenous people, as resources.

The Council’s views were sought on the key strategic areas for Indigenous statistics, which were developed in consultation with the new ABS Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The key areas identified include:
    • engagement with Indigenous communities, policy makers, researchers and other users of Indigenous statistics

    • understanding and measuring Indigenous wellbeing

    • early intervention and resilience

    • Indigenous engagement in economic activity

    • improved reporting and analysis of comparisons over time, and

    • regional data: improved capacity to support regional and small area analysis.
The Council supported the key areas identified. A number of other areas, where additional data are required, were also identified including: Indigenous literacy, Indigenous economic activity data, and the impact of participation in sport on health outcomes for Indigenous people.


The ABS informed the Council that the field of environment statistics is relatively new compared with economic and social domains, and that information needs, opportunities, gaps, standards and methodologies are all evolving. The ABS advised members that it is looking to build a program of dedicated data collection activities, drawn together into a comprehensive set of environmental accounts, to inform discussion and debate on issues such as water, land use, energy and emissions.

The Council urged the ABS to be assertive in its quest for additional funding for environmental work, noting a range of potential options. The Council also advised that the ABS must be able to market itself as the premier agency for environment statistics.

The ABS appreciated the Council’s support and encouragement to improve Australia’s system of environment statistics. The Council will continue to receive updates on the ABS environmental statistics strategy.


Rural and regional statistics were identified as one of the priorities in the ABS Forward Work Program, and Council expressed a strong interest in the proposed program for rural and regional statistics. The Council noted that there is an increasing demand for information at the regional and small area level, for a variety of government and community uses, and the potential for administrative data to be used to meet users’ needs. The Council agreed that the opportunity existed for the ABS to be an effective national statistical leader in the further development of rural and regional statistics, through the implementation of data sets, standards and presentation tools.

The ABS advised the Council that the most important part of the ABS’ role will be in supporting other agencies to manage their data into a form that supports the effective use of these tools, and the integration of the data with other available statistics on a regional and small area basis.

The Council considered an overview of the breadth of the proposed program for rural and regional statistics, noting the different components covering statistical leadership, infrastructure (both statistical and information technology related), and data development and production. The ABS demonstrated a prototype presentation tool, which has been developed in line with the information technology infrastructure element of the rural and regional statistics program to allow users to discover, access, manipulate and display small area statistics at whatever geographic level they are interested.

The Council agreed that community expectations are the driver behind rural and regional statistics, and advised that the ABS needs to respond to this challenge. The main strategic issues for the ABS are that demand and supply of small area data is broadly based and, although a number of government departments also have small area data, they are usually coded to different geographical sites. The Council suggested that the ABS would need to show leadership in this area.

The Council strongly supported further development of rural and regional statistics, noting that small area statistics are increasingly important to a broad range of uses and users. The ABS indicated that considerable time and resources were needed to develop the prototype, and a critical aspect of the project was the implementation of mesh blocks to data holdings, as geographical boundaries are constantly changing. Once this is achieved, the necessary data development activities could then begin to create new regional level statistical series.


The Council’s views were sought on changes and developments in the field of agricultural statistics. The ABS informed members that coding to mesh blocks and an improved sampling frame was introduced for the 2005–06 Agricultural Census, which will create many opportunities, including the potential to integrate social data collected in the population census.

The ABS advised the Council that the Agriculture Information Development Plan had identified a wide range of unmet data needs, and that these issues would be progressed as resources permit. The Council supported the forward work plan for agriculture, and identified the need to collect additional information on social issues for the agricultural sector, such as responses to drought and other disasters, to assist in informing social policy. The Council requested that water availability and the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector be considered for future collections.

Council supported the approach outlined by the ABS to produce geographical output, and emphasised the importance of maintaining time series for statistical divisions. The ABS advised that it will provide data to ‘bridge’ between the 2005–06 Agricultural Census and previous series for main commodities, in an attempt to maintain a consistent time series. It also advised that data from the collection will also be coded to mesh blocks allowing results to be available in a range of regional structures.


The ABS advised the Council of the activities being undertaken to facilitate the release of a large range of both ABS and non ABS data on a set of common geographic boundaries.

The first step had been the development of mesh blocks, and the Council was advised that this is proceeding well.

The Council acknowledged the ABS’ leadership in this area, and the importance of this leadership in assisting jurisdictions to make the most of the mesh block structure. A six monthly review of mesh blocks was suggested by members, and identifying lessons from other jurisdictions could also prove useful.

The ABS advised the Council that it would work with other government agencies on an individual basis, with respect to mesh block coding, but that whole of jurisdiction solutions were preferred, rather than agency based solutions.


At the June 2007 meeting, the ABS provided the Council with an update on changes to the calculation of population estimates, in particular, the changes to the calculation of net overseas migration statistics. The ABS informed the Council of key issues in relation to the census count, birth registrations, Indigenous identification in death registrations, and overseas and interstate migration arising from the 2006 Census Post Enumeration Survey.

The Council supported the overseas and interstate migration initiatives and felt that great advances had been made in Indigenous population estimates.


At the November 2006 meeting, the ABS informed the Council of the success of the 2006 Census, with high levels of public cooperation and relatively few collection incidents. The census media coverage had been very positive during the days before and after the census. The ABS asked the Council to consider and comment on a paper on strategic options for expanding the content of the 2011 Census, and improving data quality, efficiency and timeliness.

The Council was particularly interested in the public reaction to the eCensus as it was the first time that online lodgement of census forms had occurred, and highlighted potential cost savings associated with higher use in the future. The ABS noted that an increase in the use of eCensus could potentially improve the timeliness of the first release of census data. The Council supported the decision made by the ABS to find ways to encourage households to complete an eCensus, and suggested identifying the characteristics of people who used the 2006 eCensus.

The ABS advised the Council that demand to expand census content and include additional topics remains high. The ABS indicated they were mindful of increased respondent load which may reduce cooperation from the public, and that public reaction to increasing the content for the 2011 Census would be carefully assessed.

The Council supported the decision by the ABS that raising awareness of the enumeration strategy for Indigenous communities would be a priority for the 2011 Census.

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