1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2001-02  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/11/2002   
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Contents >> Chapter 2 - ABS Forward Work Program – ASAC Priorities for Future Work

Chapter 2 - ABS Forward Work Program – ASAC Priorities for Future Work

The first chapter of this report highlighted the cumulative impact of Council discussions over the past few years on the ABS statistical forward work program outputs in 2001-02. It is clear that that impact has been significant. Reflecting the continuing role of Council in influencing the statistical work program, this chapter discusses the key policy issues identified by Council as requiring statistical support over the next five years. During 2001-02 Council has drawn these issues to the ABS’ attention in the expectation that they will be adequately addressed in future ABS statistical forward work programs.

Although Council considers that relevant statistical information on these policy issues will become essential in future years, it does not expect these data needs will necessarily result in additional new statistical collections. Consistent with the ABS' concept of a National Statistical Service it is hoped that existing administrative datasets sourced from a range of government, and where appropriate non-government organisations, will be utilised to develop new analytical frameworks or provide fresh perspectives on these issues.

The information needs to support key and emerging policy priorities are discussed below together with the statistical responses to date.

Business failures, financial risk management and entrepreneurship

Council acknowledges that there are many important statistical measures of business economic activity already produced by the ABS.

However an area which Council has noted as requiring further work is enhanced information on the factors influencing the success or otherwise of businesses over time. An aspect of such work will be financial risk taking and entrepreneurship. The ABS has previously conducted a business longitudinal survey which examined business dynamics over a 4 year period and has provided a sound basis for much research work in this area.

Council strongly encouraged the ABS to continue to explore the opportunities to develop a business longitudinal database. In considering options, Council and the ABS are acutely aware of the need to guard against increasing the compliance cost for businesses, especially for small and medium enterprises. This issue is discussed more fully in Chapter 3.

The ABS' consideration of the possibility of developing such a database based on The New Tax System data, as opposed to direct data collection was therefore pleasing to hear. Such a development would be very valuable in better understanding business dynamics, including entries and exits and in particular the reasons for business failures.


Whilst acknowledging that the ABS already has in place some significant developments relating to globalisation issues, Council is of the view that further work needs to be done in this key area. Council also emphasised the social dimensions of the impact of globalisation and encouraged the ABS to be cognisant of the importance of this issue in its social surveys.

Wealth in Australia

As noted in Chapter 1, an issue which Council has considered as a priority for some time is the distribution of wealth in Australia. Council has also noted the considerable interest in measures of regional wealth and poverty.

Council has noted and welcomed the ABS' initiatives in this area, specifically:

  • the development of a modelled time series of household wealth, to form the basis for examining the distribution of household wealth, and changes in this distribution over time, within/between asset types, household types and wealth quartiles
  • the expansion of data items on wealth in the next Household Expenditure Survey
  • ABS support to the statistical and analytical work on this topic being undertaken by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research’s Project on Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA). The project aims to track the movement of households over time through various employment status categories and income levels
  • its contribution, as a member of a small international expert group which is reviewing the statistical measurement of household income and expenditure, for the International Labour Office.

Council strongly encourages the ABS to continue its work in this important area.

Rural and regional statistics

Council continues to emphasise the importance of more statistics at a regional level. Whilst the ABS has made considerable progress in this area, Council would strongly encourage the Bureau to continue to explore opportunities in this area, consistent with the concept of the National Statistical Service.

Small area data and indicators on a range of social and business issues is another consistent theme emphasised by Council to enable comparisons between regions. State and territory government Council representatives have highlighted the importance of these data to gaining an improved understanding of the impact of policy decisions. It is therefore especially pleasing that the ABS has initiated the development of statistical standards for the collection, recording and analysis of good quality administrative data.

Social capital, social cohesion, alienation and related issues

Council has welcomed the introductory work undertaken by the ABS on social capital and related issues, recognising the difficulties inherent in measurements of these complex concepts. It is the view of Council however that much more work is required on these important social policy issues. In particular, further development of the draft framework to measure social capital recently released is required. Council complimented the ABS on the wide user community consultation process undertaken.

The Bureau’s plans to continue work on the measurement of social capital, including the development of a detailed framework of indicators, the development of information development plans, and an implementation strategy for the production of measures of social capital was noted by Council.

Council expressed considerable interest in the ABS' concept of Information Development Plans. The intent of these plans is to clearly state the public policy issues, assess the data implications, examine the data sets currently available in the community, determine the data gaps and decide which government agency has a responsibility to fill those data gaps. Council encouraged the ABS to undertake extensive liaison and consultation with all stakeholders in the particular subject area/ social issue.

Biotechnology statistics

Council has very recently brought to the forefront the increasingly important topic of biotechnology, noting that some states are moving ahead with biotechnology programs with very little data on which to base policies and decisions.

The Bureau’s work program in respect of biotechnology statistics was noted by Council. It includes the development of a framework for biotechnology statistics and a contribution towards the development of international statistical standards for biotechnology statistics under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Council welcomed these developments and looks forward to the availability of statistics in this important area.

Labour market statistics

Relevant statistics on the labour market have been a priority issue for Council for many years, reflecting the key role labour market policies play in the social and economic development of the Australian community. Whilst Council acknowledges the extensive coverage of labour statistics produced by the ABS, it continues to identify areas for additional coverage especially in relation to the changing nature of the labour market. Council noted the ABS' efforts to better educate users of labour market statistics through the publication of Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods manual released in hard copy in August 2001.

The release in February 2002 of the Information Paper: Measures of Labour Underutilisation was also viewed very positively by Council members. The Information Paper presents measures of labour underutilisation as represented by the unemployed, persons with a marginal attachment to the labour force, in particular discouraged jobseekers, and those persons who work part-time but would prefer to work more hours and are available to do so. This is an important contribution to the debate on labour market issues.

In spite of these developments Council encouraged the ABS to continue to pursue the improvement of labour market measures that will increase the understanding of this critical social and economic issue. This will be a specific issue for discussion during 2002-03.

Ageing statistics/Issues surrounding an ageing population

A topic that has featured frequently on Council’s priorities relates to the ageing of the Australian population, with Council urging the ABS to develop and provide further statistics which will assist policy development and decision making in this arena. The planned establishment of a Statistical Unit on Ageing in the ABS was seen as a very positive step towards a more comprehensive coverage of this very important issue.

As well, the ABS contribution to the Intergenerational Report released by the Treasurer as part of the federal budget papers in May 2002 was pleasing to note.

However there are a number of areas which Council identified as requiring further work including:
  • measures of the positive contribution of the aged such as information on employment and income, extent of self-funded retirees, culture/leisure activities, involvement in voluntary work etc
  • wealth of the aged and inheritances
  • the effect of the ageing population on demand for infrastructure in the areas of health and aged care and recreational and leisure facilities
  • more detailed age groupings for data in respect of the aged population
  • life expectancy issues associated with ageing Indigenous Australians.

Council recognised that the results from the 2001 Population Census, the 2002 General Social Survey, the 2002 Indigenous Social Survey and the 2001 National Health Survey are expected to assist in addressing some of the above mentioned issues.

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