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Australian Statistician, Brian Pink
In March 2007, I returned to the ABS after an absence of six years as New Zealand Government Statistician. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to lead the ABS, which is an organisation held in high esteem both here in Australia and in the international arena.
I would like to acknowledge my predecessor, Mr Dennis Trewin, who retired in January 2007 after a long and illustrious career at the ABS. Dennis and I worked closely together at the ABS and during our contemporaneous tenures as heads of official statistical organisations. Dennis’ immense contribution to statistics, both in Australia and internationally, was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday 2007 Honours List, when he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. This contribution to statistics did not end with his retirement as Australian Statistician, and Dennis has been active in the international statistical world in 2007. I draw your attention to the special article about Dennis in this report (see Chapter 6).
2006 CENSUS OF POPULATION AND HOUSING
The previous Statistician’s review began with a message of thanks to the Australian public for their support for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. I would now like to add my own note of appreciation. The 2006 Census was successfully carried out by the ABS on 8 August 2006, and the first outputs from the census were released on 27 June 2007.
The Hon Peter Costello MP, Treasurer, with the Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, at the launch of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing results
The 2006 Census of Population and Housing was launched by the Treasurer, the Hon Peter Costello MP, on 24 July 2006, two weeks before Census night. In this period there was extensive promotion of the census in all forms of media, with Ernie Dingo urging people to complete their census forms. The Governor-General, together with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the Hon Chris Pearce MP, visited the ABS on 3 August 2006 to show their support for the 2006 Census.
A major innovation for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing was the eCensus, which was the internet version of the census form. The eCensus was very well received, and nearly 10 per cent of the Australian public chose to complete their form by this means. The eCensus project has subsequently received two awards: a Laureate Gold Medal as part of the Computerworld Honours Program, and an Excellence in e-Government Award. The e-Government Award, which was introduced in 2006 by the Australian Government, recognises and rewards the most outstanding project in e-government, based on the impact it has had on the lives of Australian citizens, the community and business.
ABS staff and the Hon Gary Nairn MP, at the CeBit Conference where the eCensus project was selected for the 2007 Excellence in e-Government Award
For the 2006 Census of Population and Housing, a number of strategies were implemented to ensure that all people in Australia would be enumerated, including strategies for people from different ethnic backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people who were homeless on census night. The ABS worked closely with communities in the enumeration of the census to understand any issues and concerns, and to enable participation. These strategies were generally well received by those involved. The work in one area was also recognised when the ABS was selected as a recipient of the 2007 Participatory Process Award, presented by the Community Action Network. The award was in recognition of the ABS’ activities associated with the enumeration of the homeless in inner-Brisbane for the 2006 Census.
An ABS collector delivers a census form to the Governor-General at Government House
Another aspect of the census process that received an award was the production of maps for the 2006 Census field operation. The ABS won first prize in the 2007 Map Competition conducted by the Spatial Sciences Institute, with the award announced at their Biennial International Conference, held in Hobart from 16- 18 May. This project had several complex issues to overcome. This included developing a process to produce individual maps with well presented labels for areas ranging in scale from 1:1000 to 1:2 000 000. Due to the large number of maps and the short time frame, this process had to be completely automated. In addition, the logistics of producing, printing, collating, storing and validating 100 000 maps had to be developed and implemented. The award recognised the significant scale of the operation, and the approach developed to automate the process to achieve high quality maps to support census collectors.
The release of the census results on 27 June was a highlight of 2007, as they provide a wealth of information about Australia for use by governments and the community. The Treasurer launched the 2006 Census results at the Data Processing Centre in Melbourne, the site where the immense task of processing 7 206 183 census paper forms took place. Coverage of the census results by the media was extensive, and covered a range of information, from where we live, our age and how much we are paid.
For the first time, the release of census results was primarily via the internet rather than paper publications. This provided immediate access to the results. On the day the census data were released, the site recorded 1 693 476 hits between 9.30 am (the release time) and 12.30 pm. The rate was 9408 hits per minute.
Work has already commenced on reviewing the 2006 Census of Population and Housing and planning for the 2011 Census. The public consultation phase for the 2011 Census commences with the release of the Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing, ABS Views on Content and Procedures, 2011, in October 2007. Information sessions will be held in each capital city and selected major regional centres. Submissions will then be invited from the public, with submissions closing in March 2008. I encourage Australians to get involved in these consultations and assist the ABS to ask the questions that need to be answered.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people involved in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. While every Australian contributes to the census by completing their form, it is the ABS staff and, in particular, the 30 000 census collectors, area and district managers, and data processing centre staff that ensure the census operations run as smoothly as they do. I was also very pleased that the leadership provided by Mr Paul Williams, the Assistant Statistician of the Census and Demography Branch, was formally recognised when he was awarded a Public Service Medal in the Queen’s Birthday 2007 Honours List.
OTHER ABS ACTIVITIES IN 2006–07
There have been many other statistical achievements for the ABS during 2006–07, with information released for a wide range of subjects, covering both ongoing, regular indicators, and less-frequent releases. In particular, I would like to highlight two achievements of note.
While the release of the 2006 Census output on the ABS website marked a significant milestone in the way the ABS communicates information, developments are continuing in an attempt to optimise communication to all levels across government, the business sector and the community. The ABS’ goal is to increase the use of statistics and to improve understanding of the content, caveats, contexts and limitations of the data, to assist user assessment of fitness for purpose of the data. To achieve this we are working to provide more relevant, understandable and interesting content. We are also working on effective presentation of information on the website by utilising opportunities available from web technology.
The introduction of free statistics on the website has ensured that use of the ABS website continues to grow. This growth is an indication that more Australians are using statistics as the basis for decision making across all sectors. The ABS has continued the transition away from print media and we are now releasing some statistics exclusively on the ABS website, making effective use of the internet medium and the features available.
The success of the work on using the website for dissemination of information gained international recognition in 2006–07. A recent survey of more than 700 international economists by the Parisian International Chamber of Commerce and Ifo Institute, which is an economic research centre attached to the University of Munich, concluded that the ABS website is the second best national statistical organisation (NSO) website. Statistics Slovenia came in first of the sixty-five NSOs and the ABS tied with Statistics Norway for second place, with Denmark and Finland also rating highly.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum, at which 90 per cent of Australians voted to give the Australian Government the power to legislate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to include all Indigenous Australians in official estimates of the Australian population. I am pleased to report that the ABS is marking this fortieth anniversary by recognising the collective responsibility for reconciliation and developing a Reconciliation Action Plan. Many Australian organisations are developing such plans, and in so doing are committing to actions to achieve reconciliation in Australia. The plans form part of a National Program of Action, with the overarching goal of closing the seventeen-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia. It will commit the ABS to actions to advance reconciliation over the coming decade in a number of areas, including recruitment and retention, statistical literacy, access to statistics and improved engagement, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics program, and cultural awareness and recognition.
Following my report, you will find an update on the ABS’ work to improve statistics about Indigenous Australians. This has been an important part of the ABS’ Population and Social Statistics Program, and important advances have been made, including the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy, to improve the quality of census collection and the development of Indigenous population estimates and projections.
There has been considerable interest in comparing measures and indicators for communities, including the ABS publication Measures of Australia’s Progress (cat. no. 1370.0), measures against various state plans, and measures for particular regions. The ABS has been working with those interested in producing sets of indicators, and also hosted a Community Indicator Workshop in Melbourne in September 2006. The aim of the workshop was to share Australian and international experiences in the development of progress measures, community and wellbeing indicators, and to clarify future development of this activity within Australia. Presentations were provided by international representatives from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; the Newfoundland and Labrador Province of Canada; by various academics; representatives of Australian and state government agencies; and the ABS. Outcomes will include further input to regional, national and international developments in this field of statistical work, as well as consideration of the ABS leadership role in these developments.
Maintaining strong international relationships is a priority for the ABS and I will be continuing to involve the ABS in key international activities, such as setting standards and improving comparability. The ABS has been active in a number of initiatives, including the update of the System of National Account and the International Comparison Program. The ABS is also involved in providing technical assistance through a number of programs, including programs with Indonesia and Vanuatu, and assistance in project management through the Pacific Governance Support Program. For more information see Chapter 16 International engagement.
In addition to the international activities explained above, bilateral discussions were held between the ABS and Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) in October 2006. These discussions were very productive, covering topics such as data integration, strategies for the 2011 censuses, microdata access, human capital and emerging areas of statistics. The ABS and SNZ hold bilateral discussions every two years.
In line with all Australian organisations, developing a capable workforce continues to be a high priority for the ABS. A great deal of work has been done to promote the ABS as the good place to work that it is. I am particularly pleased to say the ABS has had encouraging success with its revitalised graduate recruitment program. This year’s campaign saw a 50 per cent increase in the number of applicants applying to the ABS Graduate Program, in spite of the competitive market.
The ABS has always invested in learning and development for its staff. I have been delighted to see the advances the ABS has made during 2006–07 to match these education programs to the needs of individuals. Using a capability framework, which has been customised to reflect the ABS work environment, staff can complete a self-assessment and work with their managers to prepare a customised learning and development plan.
The ABS also uses other opportunities to assist staff to develop the skills they need in their work. One of these programs was recognised with an award in 2006–07, with the ABS Library awarded the Australian Government Libraries Information Network Innovation Award 2006. The award was for the Library’s Research Skills Training Program, delivered to ABS officers Australia-wide.
As part of developing a work environment that encourages productivity, the ABS’ organisation-wide Respect Strategy is being implemented. An important part of the strategy is the ABS Respect Charter, which has been developed following an extensive consultation process with staff. The aim of this charter is to promote a workplace environment where everyone is treated with respect, fairness and dignity. It outlines the responsibilities of staff members, managers, and the people management areas of the ABS, to achieve this aim. Through facilitated open discussion about what constitutes a respectful environment, the ABS is making it clear that behaviours such as bullying and harassment are unacceptable, and ensuring that all employees understand what avenues exist to support them.
The ABS is looking to the future as well as the present, when considering its specialist workforce needs. The ABS continues to support the development of statistical literacy in Australia. The Young Statisticians Conference was held in April 2007, and was considered a success. The majority of people who attended the conference were aged 20–30 years. The Australian Research Council has approved funding for three years for a longitudinal study on the teaching of statistics in schools. As a partner in this project, the ABS will provide support by a combination of cash and in-kind contributions. This project will throw light on the effectiveness of ABS lesson plans and teaching materials from the CensusAtSchool project to improve statistical literacy.
During my first months back at the ABS, I have been considering ways to help the organisation focus more effectively on achieving its goals. Following extensive consultation and careful consideration, I announced a restructure of the organisation, which commenced on 2 July 2007. A great deal of work was put into bringing about this change and I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the many ABS officers who have implemented this strategy in a very short time frame.
The key drivers for the reorganisation included my desire to:
The ABS is positioning itself to take the NSS forward and to be prepared for the changing landscape, where there is even greater emphasis on evidence-based policy development. Key to delivering NSS outcomes is ongoing and active participation of ABS senior managers on an NSS Governing Board. The changes I have made to the ABS’ internal structure are aimed at facilitating such involvement on the board, and providing more time for Deputy Statisticians to promote and support participation in the NSS across the national statistical system. The re-organisation will allow the deputies more time to focus on external priorities rather than internal priorities.
The new structure of the ABS can be found in the About Us section of this website.
ADVANCING THE NATIONAL STATISTICAL SERVICE
In recent years the ABS has worked to strengthen client engagement and improve responsiveness to their needs, to raise the profile of its externally focused activities, and to increase the informed use of statistics. These outcomes remain a priority for the future. My goals are that the ABS continues to build and maintain relationships with users and producers of statistics, ultimately to improve the strength and coherence of the national statistical system as a whole. I also want the ABS to be forward-looking, to identify through its environmental scanning significant changes that may impact on what ABS clients require and how they use statistics. This information will be critical to enable us to develop detailed strategies and set internal work program priorities.
The ABS will continue to work with stakeholders to develop and support the NSS by jointly identifying and communicating information needs and by supporting agreed strategies to meet identified priorities. The ABS will work across the national statistical system to assist and support the identification, documentation and retention of the most important official statistical data as an enduring national resource, wherever the data may reside. In particular, this will involve building and strengthening relationships with the Australian Government and state and territory government departments and agencies, at a strategic level. I believe this work will progressively enable the creation of the foundation layer upon which the NSS can evolve.
Discussions on developing a statistical community has seen the audience broadened to include interested people with statistically-related roles in the Australian Government, state, territory and local governments, non-government organisations, and academic and business sectors. As a first step, a Community of Users and Producers of Statistics (CUPS) page has been added to the NSS website to provide a single entry point for those looking for information on the statistical community and the statistical profession. The website provides information on statistical training, conferences and seminars, careers and professional associations. As the community develops, interactive networking facilities may be added. Ongoing consultation will occur nationally, and at the state and territory level, to ensure that activities are well-targeted.
The National Data Network (NDN) Demonstration Phase concluded at the end of June 2007, with the project moving into a Pilot Phase during 2007–08. The first of the pilot initiatives to be undertaken during this phase will be the development of a Children and Youth Statistical Portal, which will demonstrate data services available via the NDN, and support the development of the related community of interest. The portal will be publicly accessible from September 2007 and will contain:
AUSTRALIAN STATISTICS ADVISORY COUNCIL
The Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) is an important source of advice for me, as Statistician, and for the Minister.
In 2006–07 the council provided the ABS with advice in meeting a number of challenges across the broad range of the ABS work program, and in specific areas such as an expanded and improved national statistical service.
I am pleased to welcome the new council Chairperson, Mr Geoff Allen, who commenced his five-year term in March 2007. I would also like to thank the members of the council for their willingness to provide high-quality advice on the collection of official statistics.
In 2007 Professor Sandra Harding retired as ASAC Chairperson, and Dr Adam Graycar resigned from ASAC. I would like to thank both Sandra and Adam for their work on ASAC, and their significant contributions to statistics.
As I noted at the start of this review, 2006–07 was a significant year for the ABS, with the conduct and release of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing and the 2006 Agricultural Census, as well as continuing production of high-quality statistics on a very wide range of topics. It is also a time when we are looking at new ways to engage with users and producers of statistics, to expand the national statistical service, and provide the information needed by researchers, planners and decision makers in Australia.
The ABS is part of the Treasury portfolio. Both the Treasurer, the Hon Peter Costello MP, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the Hon Chris Pearce MP, have continued to support the ABS during 2006–07 by, most importantly, continuing to maintain ABS independence and keeping collection and analysis of official statistics at arm’s length from the government. As Australian Statistician, this support is very important to me, and to the ABS, as we work to produce reliable statistics that meet the needs of all users.
The ABS is well placed to meet Australia’s information needs, now and into the future. I am pleased to be coming into such a dynamic organisation, and look forward to working with the staff of the ABS to continue to advance the organisation in meeting the challenges before us.