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ABS data, analysis, and interpretations are objective, and the ABS always publishes its statistics in ways which explain and inform without advocating a particular position.
The ABS statistical system is open. The ABS sets and publishes, in advance, the dates for the release of all its statistics. Pre-embargo access to statistics is strictly controlled under publicly known arrangements. The methodologies and approaches followed are based on sound statistical principles and practices, disseminated widely, and open to scrutiny.
1.1 An objective statistical service, as demonstrated by:
Release of reliable/accurate statistics
Key measures for demonstrating reliable/accurate statistics include high response rates, extent of revisions, low sample errors and the timeliness of ABS statistics. Performance Measure 6.1 demonstrates that the ABS has maintained high response rates in its major economic and social surveys and provided statistics which are subject to low sample errors and relatively minor revisions. During 2003-04 there was a marginal decline in the timeliness of ABS quarterly main economic indicators.
A key element of this performance indicator is the availability of information to enable users to make their own assessment of quality. Information on these aspects of reliability and accuracy, as well as extensive information on the statistical methods used in collections, are routinely provided in concepts, sources and methods publications, the explanatory notes in publications, and at the Statistical Clearing House web site http://www.nss.gov.au/nss/home.nsf/pages/About+SCH.
Open statistical process
The Australian Statistician determines which statistics are to be collected after full discussion with users, clients and the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC).
The ABS continues to maintain close contact with its users through a variety of mechanisms, including:
The ABS Forward Work Program for 2004-05 to 2006-07, published in hard copy and also available on the ABS web site, demonstrates the open statistical process by describing ABS outputs, clients and uses of statistical information, as well as the proposed main medium term developments over the next three years.
The ABS is open about the methods used in producing statistics. ABS' Methodology Division is responsible for providing specialist services to meet new and ongoing demands in statistics. One of its key roles is establishing standards and advising statistical areas on appropriate statistical methods and being the ABS' conscience on the quality of statistical outputs. Supporting the work of the Methodology Division is the Methodology Advisory Committee (MAC) consisting of professional statisticians external to the ABS. MAC meets twice-yearly and provides a forum for peer review of statistical developments in the ABS. Some of the issues considered by MAC in 2003-04 include:
Information about new statistical standards, frameworks, concepts, sources and methodologies is regularly published 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.
Some specific examples of the open statistical processes in 2003-04 include:
Ongoing ABS research work is often published in professional papers and/or presented to conferences in Australia and abroad. The papers are also generally available from the ABS web site. These papers and conferences provide the ABS with valuable peer review and suggestions in the development of new statistical products. A full list of papers presented in 2003-04 is provided at Appendix 16. Some of the topics presented at conferences include:
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.
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. As part of its internal audit program, the ABS regularly 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 most recent audit report, issued in April 2004, confirmed that users of confidentialised unit record files are complying with the conditions specified in the undertakings.
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. The ABS is conscious that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the load placed on businesses in providing that information. With this in mind, the ABS has actively and successfully worked to reduce the reporting load on businesses during 2003-04 through a range of methods such as increasing the use of administrative data. More information on provider load is detailed under Performance Measure 7.4. Initiatives such as providing a range of relevant census outputs to all small-medium businesses included in ABS collections have been successful in the past as a means of maintaining the goodwill between the ABS and its data providers.
Each year over 100,000 businesses are selected in ABS economic surveys. In 2003-04, a total of 397 businesses wrote to the ABS concerning reporting workload issues. This was down from the 427 complaints received by the ABS in the previous year. Every complaint is responded to in writing by the ABS and, as provided for in the ABS Business Surveys Charter, if the complainant is not happy with the response they can take the matter to the ABS Complaints Review Officer. During 2003-04, one complainant asked the Complaints Review Officer to review their initial complaint. The complaint was thoroughly investigated and ABS officers subsequently met with representatives of the company involved to discuss their concerns. The matter was resolved amicably and the complainant was appreciative of the process and the final outcome.
In relation to its household survey program the ABS continues to have the trust and cooperation of the public and as a result is able to achieve high response rates (see Performance Measure 6.3). This was in spite of the Household Income and Expenditure Survey being the subject of a negative, and inaccurate, media report in December 2003. While the report received widespread coverage it had little impact on ABS response rates, including the Household Income and Expenditure Survey.
The ABS continues to enjoy a positive relationship with the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner. The Australian Statistician and Deputy Australian Statistician met with the Privacy Commissioner in 2004. The meeting agreed that the continued transparency of ABS' work was important.
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 able to relate to other data. To support this, they are placed in an appropriate statistical framework such as the System of National Accounts. The ABS also provides analyses and explanations to help the interpretation of its statistics.
2.1 Statistical output which meets the needs of key users of economic and social data in terms of:
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 Australian, state and territory government 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.
Ensuring ABS outputs provide support to decision making is also achieved by extensive consultation with state/territory governments. Each year a meeting of state/territory government representatives known as the State Statistical Forum (SSF) is held at the ABS. The objective of the forum is similar to ASAC in that it identifies major policy issues over the coming three to five years, however, the SSF has a narrower focus with the emphasis being on the issues which directly affect the state/territory governments.
The ABS maintains a close relationship with what are termed 'Lifeline' and other key Australian government clients. These clients have a major influence on the ABS' work program. Some are also sponsors of user funded surveys which allows the ABS to meet their more narrow or priority needs while at the same time expanding the ABS statistical program.
Some of the key areas where the ABS is responding to current and emerging issues and conducting research or new surveys include:
An important component of the ABS output strategy has been the release of Confidentialised Unit Record Files (CURFs) to enable users to undertake more detailed analysis of data. The release in November 2003 of the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) has further extended the availability of ABS data for use by policy makers and researchers.
In 2003-04 the ABS released 212 CURFs, up from the 170 released in 2002-03. There were 226 registered users from 39 organisations approved to access RADL as at 30 June 2004.
Mr Richard Bridge, Department of Education, Science and Training, and Ms Bronwyn Driscoll, Assistant Statistician, Integration, Coordination and Innovation Branch at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of the 2003 Innovation Survey.
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.
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:
Free access to ABS data is also provided through media releases, media enquiries, and via the distribution of ABS reports to media offices and to members of parliament.
Accesses to ABS statistical information increased further during 2003-04. This is particularly evident in the use of the ABS web site and the web site based AusStats subscription service. The 25 per cent increase in web site accesses and the almost 50 per cent increase in the number of downloads from Ausstats in 2003-04 follow on from a substantial increase in previous years and reflects, in part, the expanding range of data available on the web site. Users of ABS data have been assisted by the recent implementation of an email notification service. The service, which allows users to be notified as soon as nominated ABS publications are released, had over 2,600 subscribers as at 30 June 2004.
The LEP is a partnership between the ABS and libraries which assists in the provision of ABS information to the community by providing LEP member libraries with free access to published ABS statistics. A recent initiative of the ABS is the provision of free online access to ABS publications on the ABS web site to LEP member libraries. This initiative, known as eLEP, is an example of ABS' innovative service provision and the roll out of eLEP has continued at a very pleasing rate over the last financial year. The success of the LEP was reiterated in a report into Libraries in the Online Environment by the Senate Reference Committee of the Environment, Communication, Information Technology and the Arts which stated that the LEP "...was warmly regarded by all".
Subscribers to ABS@ remain at ten although at 30 June 2004 the New South Wales, Western Australian and Tasmanian governments are all well advanced in their consideration of this facility. The service, 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.
Over the past three years there has been a significant drop in the number of publication subscribers. The main reason is that the ABS has reduced the number of publications to which clients may subscribe with many subscribers electing to access ABS information through eLEP, AusStats and the ABS' e-commerce system, while others avail themselves of the increasing amount of information becoming available via the ABS web site.
The ABS is undertaking a number of other projects aimed at expanding the use of ABS data while also taking a more active role in determining ways to improve the statistical literacy of students. These include working with the schools' sector to expand the range of curriculum support material provided and agreeing to coordinate the implementation of a national 'CensusAtSchools' initiative to coincide with the next Census of Population and Housing.
(b) Numbers as at 30 June.
(c) Includes 38 secondary distributors who include ABS data on their non-charging web sites. (d) Includes 54 secondary distributors who include ABS data on their non-charging web sites.
Table 3 below shows the level of media reporting (by medium) over recent years. Since 2000-01, reporting about the ABS and its statistics on radio, television and the Internet, and in newspapers and magazines, has increased significantly. This increase is predominantly attributed to the conduct of the 2001 Census of Population and Housing and the ongoing release of census datasets and increased coverage of population matters, such as Australia's population reaching 20,000,000 on 4 December 2003. The ABS changed monitoring methods for the newspaper and magazine placements during 2003-04 and therefore the figure for this item is not directly comparable to previous years.
The Australian media has rapidly increased its use of AusStats, especially since 2002 when it was decided to provide complimentary access to the media for the purposes of reporting. As shown in Table 4, usage of AusStats by media more than doubled between 2002-03 and 2003-04. Targeted marketing and ongoing training programs were also introduced and have boosted usage.
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:
In addition, as part of the consultations surrounding the development of 2006 Census of Population and Housing content, the ABS has established groups to advise on such topics as disability and ethnicity, as well as the Indigenous enumeration strategy.
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.
A key function of the ABS is to ensure appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies. The ABS' role in respect of statistical standards and providing advice and assistance in relation to statistics is detailed in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 as a specific function of the ABS.
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 Australian and state government agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities.
Activities and achievements during 2003-04 included:
3.2 Contribute to the development of key international standards, frameworks and methodologies, and implement them as appropriate
The ABS continues to be an active member of the international statistical community, contributing significantly to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies. Some of the involvement that the ABS has had during 2003-04 included 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, some of these including:
The ABS also provides assistance to statistical agencies in developing nations in implementing the latest international standards. Assistance in 2003-04 included:
Mr Dennis Trewin, Australian Statistician (seated left), and Mr Byambatseren Pandii, Chairman of the Mongolian Statistical Office (seated right) at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for ongoing cooperation between the statistical agencies.
ABS officers held prominent positions in a number of international groups concerned with development of standards during 2003-04. These included:
Under section 6(c) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, a key function for the ABS is to 'ensure coordination of the operations of official bodies in the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics and related information'. It achieves this by managing the reporting load placed on businesses by Australian government agencies, and through the development of the National Statistical Service which aims to deliver the statistics required by key users, no matter what the source.
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 Australian government 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 2004, for the 2003-04 financial year, is presented in the table below. Of the 120 completed reviews, all but four have resulted in approval to proceed. However, SCH intervention has also resulted in 81 instances of improved survey design and/or reduced provider load.
For 2003-04, the annualised load imposed on providers by non-ABS surveys reviewed by the SCH has been estimated at 41,572 hours, which represents less than 10 per cent of the total load imposed by the ABS. The annualised load for non-ABS surveys has increased by more than 10 per cent since 2002-03 despite a fall in the number of reviews completed by the SCH. One of the reasons for this is because of the large number of surveys reviewed in 2002-03. As the annualised load refers to the total number of surveys in the field with SCH approval, there is a lagged impact relating to one-off surveys approved in the latter part of 2002-03.
The SCH's Australian Government Business Surveys Register (available on the Internet at http://www.nss.gov.au/nss/home.nsf/pages/About+SCH) provides access to information on collections that have already been conducted, including survey design standards and best practices for organisations developing surveys. Metadata relating to 809 surveys are currently disseminated on the SCH web site.
4.2 Assisting other official bodies with the integration of administrative and statistical data, including outposting ABS officers and providing training on statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies
The ABS continued in 2003-04 to develop the National Statistical Service (NSS) 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 Australian and state government 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.
As part of the NSS, the ABS is developing a National Data Network (NDN) which seeks to increase the availability and accessibility of information. The NDN will create shared facilities and protocols for accessing data through a central web site with agency/sector nodes. Data supply approaches will be consistent and facilities will be in place to ensure secrecy and confidentiality. The NDN, which grew from the work of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, provides an opportunity for the ABS to progress the NSS via an initiative that already has the support of a number of government agencies.
Mr Warren McCann, Chief Executive, South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet (left), and Mr Dennis Trewin at the signing of the agreement for South Australia to become a National Statistical Service Foundation Member.
A milestone in the development of the NSS occurred when South Australia became the first jurisdiction to become an NSS Foundation Member. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the ABS and the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet in February 2004. The ABS is also actively working with the Queensland state government to ensure broad acceptance of the NSS principles and commitment to the NDN.
Other activities/achievements in the development of the NSS in 2003-04 included the release of the NSS web site www.nss.gov.au, and the production of the NSS Key Principles and Handbook. The NSS Key Principles provide a framework for agencies to use when designing data collections and systems, looking at the requirements of management information systems, and in considering the evaluation of programs. The NSS Handbook, which incorporates the Key Principles, provides detailed information covering the statistical cycle from planning statistical activities to disseminating and evaluating statistical information and is available at the NSS web site.
One of the ways the ABS achieves its objective of providing leadership is by developing Information Development Plans (IDPs). The intention of the IDP is to identify in close consultation with key users, the issues to be addressed in a particular field of statistics, the available data (both ABS and non-ABS), the additional data needed and who has carriage for provision of the data. IDPs assist the ABS in improving the quality, coverage and use of statistics examined. A number of IDPs are currently under way addressing statistical topics such as tourism, manufacturing, crime and justice, children and youth, and ageing.
Another of the ways the ABS achieves its objective of providing leadership is by outposting statistical officers to state/territory and Australian government departments and agencies with a view to facilitating the access to, and the understanding of, statistics, and strengthening statistical coordination across these bodies. A total of 38 ABS officers were outposted to Australian and state/territory government agencies during 2003-04. The majority of these outpostings were long term.
Examples of new partnerships with Australian, 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 Australian and 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:
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, particularly those derived from administrative systems. Examples during 2003-04 included:
Professor Ted Wilkes and Professor Fiona Stanley at the launch of
The Integrated Regional Data Base (IRDB), Australia (cat. no. 1353.0), continues to provide clients with access to a broad range of information about Australia's regions. The IRDB contains over 18,000 data items of which over 3,000 are sourced from 34 non-ABS statistical series provided by 13 different Australian and state/territory government agencies. Each yearly release includes updates to the economic, social and demographic data. The IRDB on CD-ROM has now been supplemented by the National Regional Profile available from the ABS web site. In the future, dissemination of regional statistics will increasingly be via web-based media.
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. Some of the directories include:
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. The five National Centres that have been established cover:
A detailed list of achievements and activities of the National Centres are provided in Section IV, ABS Outputs.
In addition to the National Statistical Centres the ABS has established National Statistics Units on Ageing and on Children and Youth. The creation of these units in 2002 and 2003, respectively, was in recognition of the increasing policy focus and discussion at Australian and state/territory levels, and the need for a central unit to identify the range of data sources and disseminate statistics about these specific population groups.