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The work of the ABS would not be possible without the continuing cooperation of businesses, householders and others who provide the data that form the basis of statistics. The ABS works hard to secure the trust and confidence of data providers, without which the provision of a quality statistical service would be jeopardised. The ABS continues its endeavours to reduce the burden placed on data providers by expanding the use of administrative data.
ABS SERVICE CHARTERS
The ABS recognises its obligation to respondents in statistical collections, and has produced service charters relating to both business surveys and household surveys. In addition, the ABS has a Client Services Charter for users of its products and services. For more information on the Client Services Charter, see Chapter 12, Communication of Statistics. The charters include performance standards for the relationship between the ABS and its clients, and for service delivery. Performance against these standards is subject to ongoing review, as are the charters themselves.
BUSINESS SURVEYS CHARTER
The Business Surveys Charter sets out the relationship between the ABS and businesses, which provide information for statistical purposes. The charter explains how businesses can
The charter is regularly reviewed and is available on the ABS website <https://www.abs.gov.au>. The charter is provided to new respondents in collections involving businesses, and is reproduced in English, Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese and Arabic.
HOUSEHOLD SURVEYS CHARTER
The Household Surveys Charter sets out the relationship between the ABS and members of the public, who provide information about themselves and their household for statistical purposes. The charter explains what people can expect, when dealing with the ABS and ABS interviewers. It includes information on the way household surveys are conducted, the way complaints are handled, and invites comments and other feedback.
The Household Surveys Charter is available on the ABS website <https://www.abs.gov.au>, and is reproduced in English, Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese and Arabic.
CONFIDENTIALITY OF DATA
The ABS depends on the goodwill and cooperation of Australians, businesses and other organisations to provide information in response to its many data collections. A critical way of maintaining cooperation and goodwill is by ensuring the information supplied remains confidential. The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release.
The Census and Statistics Act 1905 requires the Australian Statistician to publish and disseminate compilations and analyses of statistical information, and to maintain the confidentiality of information collected under the Act. The ABS meets the confidentiality requirements of the Act by making sure that information provided is:
In addition, the ABS ensures identifying information provided by a household or business is not revealed. However, there are a small number of situations where information about businesses, but not households, might be released. These exceptions are tightly prescribed by Determinations of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. Release under a Determination requires the approval of the Australian Statistician.
A statement outlining the importance of confidentiality of data provided, and how the ABS protects the confidentiality of data, is available on the ABS website <https://www.abs.gov.au> (Survey Participant Information—How the ABS Keeps Your Information Confidential).
In order to fulfil its mission of providing information to support discussion, debate and decision making, the ABS is authorised to collect information, about a range of issues, from businesses and households. The ABS is mindful the needs of users of information must be balanced against the extent of requests for information from businesses and households. The amount of time needed to complete ABS surveys, totalled for all collections and all respondents, is referred to as ‘provider load’.
The ABS endeavours to minimise provider load by promoting efficiency and effectiveness of ABS operations, and the ABS survey program. Information is not requested unless the collection is of high priority for the national statistical program. There is a legislative requirement to table any proposal for a collection of information before both Houses of Parliament, before collection begins. To further reduce provider load, forms are carefully designed, and thoroughly tested, for ease of use. For business surveys, there is close liaison with representative groups, in relation to both the survey program and the demands on businesses.
Over the last decade, the ABS has had significant success in reducing provider burden, while at the same time expanding on the range of statistics available. The increased use of administrative data and the use of smarter statistical methodologies have contributed to this decline, as has an increased focus on strategies to improve provider relations and reporting mechanisms.
PROVIDER LOAD IN BUSINESS SURVEYS
The unadjusted provider load (measured in thousands of hours taken to complete statistical forms) imposed on businesses by the ABS for 1997–98 through to 2007–08, is shown in Graph 10.1. The total ABS provider load on businesses fell to its lowest level of 383,000 hours in 2004–05. In the past year there has been a 21% reduction in overall load following a peak in 2006–07, due mainly to the conduct of the agricultural census which imposed a load of around 150,000 hours.
The average total load on all businesses during the past five years has been around 446,000 hours/year, or 15% lower than for 1997–98. For small businesses, the average total load during the past five years has been around 205,000 hours/year, or 22% lower than in 1997–98.
Graph 10.1: Unadjusted provider load imposed on businesses by the ABS
(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.
Provider load figures from 1997–98 to 2007–08 were smoothed using an 11-term Henderson moving average to reveal the underlying trend. This smooths the effect of irregular and regular contributors to provider load, such as the five-yearly agricultural census.
In 2007–08, the trend of small business provider load has started to decrease again after peaking in 2006–07. The peak in 2006–07 was due to the five-yearly agriculture census, where 90% of the total load for that collection was undertaken by small business. The trend of medium and large business provider load has continuously decreased since 2003–04 and as a result, total provider load for all businesses has also started to decline as shown in Graph 10.2.
Graph 10.2: Smoothed provider load imposed on businesses by the ABS
(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.
PROVIDER LOAD IN HOUSEHOLD SURVEYS
Table 10.1 shows household provider load over the last four years. The household survey program varies considerably from year to year, with many major surveys on three–six yearly cycles. The ABS recognises the need to balance the pressure to expand the household survey program to meet the need for information about the population, with the load on providers. As a result, the ABS has a range of measures in place to minimise provider load:
The ABS focuses on developing the professionalism of the ABS interviewers, and building their skills obtaining information from the residents of selected dwellings, with the minimum of inconvenience. ABS interviewers are trained to be flexible and organise interview times that are most suitable for respondents, as well as enter responses directly into a notebook computer in an efficient manner.
Table 10.1: Household Provider Load (approximate financial year data)
(b) Full implementation of Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) for MPS occurred in August 2004, January to July figures include Pen and Paper Interviewing (PAPI) and CAI combined average
The ABS has consistently had very high response rates for both household and business surveys. Table 10.2 shows that response rates for selected business collections generally exceed the target response rates set by the ABS.
In regard to business surveys, follow-up procedures tend to focus on the more significant businesses with typically high turnover or employment relative to the rest of the industry. For example, the response rate for businesses in the manufacturing survey might be 92%, but the businesses that have responded may comprise 96% of total employment in the industry. It is important to note however, the ABS considers the activities of small businesses are just as important as large businesses, as they have different characteristics from large businesses and make an important contribution to the Australian economy, especially at state and territory levels. Usually, a sample of smaller businesses is selected to represent other like businesses and as such, their impact on the survey results is important. For some specific industries, such as mining, small businesses can be significant in their own right.
Table 10.2 also demonstrates the high levels of response gained for household surveys. Maintaining high response rates is a major focus for the household survey program, particularly given the increasing number of interviews conducted during limited evening hours (up to 8pm).
Table 10.2: Response rates for selected surveys
b) Average response rates over the year for sub-annual surveys. Response rates apply to the year in which the data are collected.
c) Surveys were not conducted in 2006–07.
d) The results for the Multipurpose Household Survey are used in several ABS publications. The survey is enumerated monthly and the response rates are a simple average.
e) Surveys were not conducted in 2007–08.
f) Preliminary results as at 30 June 2008 as survey concludes during July 2008.
COMPLAINTS FROM PROVIDERS
Over 200,000 businesses and around 400,000 households are selected in ABS surveys each year. Households or businesses have a number of avenues available if they have queries or complaints about being selected in a survey, or about the processes involved. Free call contact numbers are provided with all survey information (preliminary approach letters and brochures for household surveys; survey forms and brochures for business surveys). Providers can call these numbers and, for the majority of cases, their concerns are resolved by the ABS officers receiving the calls.
In addition, there are a range of other complaint mechanisms, which can be used by householders and businesses. These include writing to or emailing the ABS, writing to the ABS Complaints Review Officer, approaching a parliamentarian, or contacting the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Information about written complaints to the ABS survey areas and ministerial correspondence is shown in the Table 10.3.
Table 10.3: Written complaints from providers in ABS surveys
(b) Information is not available due to separate recording processes in regional offices, making it difficult to compile accurate total figures for years prior to 2007–08.
In 2007–08, the number of ministerials received for household surveys was around the same level as the number received in 2006–07. As household surveys are conducted by interviewers, either by phone or in person, most questions and complaints are dealt with directly and informally by survey staff, and do not result in formal written complaints. It should be noted that consolidated records on complaints to the ABS in relation to household surveys were not kept prior to 2007–08 (see (b) in Table 10.3 above).
ABS business surveys are predominately mail based and the number of written complaints is higher than for household surveys. For the 12 months to 30 June 2008, the ABS received a total of 283 written complaints from businesses. A reduction in the number of written complaints from businesses since 2002–03 can be attributed to an increased number of respondent concerns being resolved by ABS officers on the phone.
Many written complaints received from businesses relate to requests for exemption from ABS business surveys. For the 12 months to 30 June 2008, 138 requests from businesses for temporary exemption from ABS surveys were granted. As outlined in the ABS Business Surveys Charter, every complaint is responded to either in writing, or by telephone contact. If the complainant is not satisfied with the ABS response, they can take the matter to the Complaints Review Officer. During 2007–08 there were six complaints made about business surveys to the ABS Complaints Review Officer, and there were three inquiries from the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
NOTICES OF DIRECTION AND PROSECUTION ACTIONS
Under sections 10(4) and 11(2) of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the Australian Statistician may, by notice in writing, direct a person to complete a form or answer a question. Under section 14 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, a person commits an offence if they fail to comply with a Notice of Direction. The penalty for this is set at one penalty unit ($110 in 2007–08) in respect of each day after the Notice of Direction is served until the person complies with the direction. The application of this penalty is at the discretion of the Court.
These provisions are used sparingly, as the ABS prefers to seek the willing cooperation of respondents. However, it is sometimes necessary to use the legislative provisions, to ensure that high response rates are maintained and the data provided are of high quality.
The number of Notices of Direction issued and the number of prosecution actions approved in recent years are shown in Table 10.4. In 2007–08, the number of Notices of Direction issued for household and business surveys has decreased. Five of the 66 notices of direction to households have proceeded to prosecution.
The number of notices of direction and prosecution actions approved is higher every five years, when the Census of Population and Housing is conducted. The high numbers for 2006–07 are due to the 2006 Census of Population of Housing.
Table 10.4: Notices of direction issued and prosecution actions approved