1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2002-03  
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Contents >> Section 3 - Performance Information >> Chapter 5 - Performance Information - Output Measures

5: Increase the quantity of output

Performance Measure 5.1: Increase the range of statistics disseminated

The ABS continues to increase the range of statistics disseminated by releasing a range of new publications, expanding the data released in existing publications and, in particular increasing the range of electronic releases.

During 2002-03 a range of new statistics were released in a number of new publications or products, of which the notable ones are:

  • Experimental Estimates of Indigenous Australians, Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 3238.0.55.001), contains estimates of the resident Indigenous and non-Indigenous population by Statistical Local Area as at 30 June 2001 based on the 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

  • Government Financial Estimates, Australia, Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 5501.0.55.001). Government Finance Statistics (GFS) are compiled for the general government and the consolidated non-financial public sector for each jurisdiction in accordance with international statistical standards. It contains operating statements featuring the GFS Net Operating Balance and GFS Net Lending/Borrowing measures, balance sheets showing the GFS Net Worth and cash flow statements with supplementary data on the Surplus/Deficit measure. As part of a series of progressive electronic releases by jurisdiction, these reports present budget estimates for each state/territory, excluding the Northern Territory, and for Australia as a whole.

  • Population, Australian States and Territories - Electronic Publication (cat. no. 3239.0.55.001), which contains estimates of the total resident population for states, territories and Australia required annually for the purposes of A New Tax System (Commonwealth-State Financial Arrangements) Act 1999 and irregularly for the purposes of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

  • Regional Statistics, Australian Capital Territory (cat. no. 1362.8.55.001), which contains a range of statistical information for statistical subdivisions (town-centre districts) and statistical local areas (suburbs) of Canberra and Queanbeyan.

  • Stocks of Grain held by Bulk Handling Companies and Grain Traders, Australia (cat. no. 7122.0.55.001), which provides final results of the Stocks of Grain on Hand Survey at the Australia level. It includes information relating to the quantity of wheat, barley, oats and sorghum held in storage facilities operated by bulk handling companies and major grain traders.

  • Vineyard Estimates, Australia, Preliminary (cat. no. 1329.0.55.001), which contains preliminary estimates for major items only from the vineyards collection.

  • Principal Agricultural Commodities, Australia, Preliminary - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 7111.0.55.003), provides preliminary estimates of principal agricultural commodities and livestock numbers for the season.

  • Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0) is the flagship release for all ABS labour statistics. It draws together data from a range of sources, mostly ABS household and business surveys, to provide an overall picture of the labour market. It includes a range of feature articles, both analytical and technical, which will assist users in understanding and interpreting the data and will also promote the range of data available from the ABS labour statistics program.

  • Australian Capital Territory Statistical Indicators (cat. no. 1367.8), provides a measure of the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) economy and population. It contains tables, graphs and commentary to give readers an indication of the economic and demographic situation of the ACT, as well as the trends and movements leading to the current figures.

  • Book Retailers, Australia (cat. no. 1371.0), which provides details from a survey of businesses involved in the retail sale of books. The publication presents financial and employment data for businesses whose predominant activity is selling books. In addition, data is provided on the volume and sales of books by these businesses and other book sellers such as department stores and supermarkets.

  • Sport and Recreation Funding by Government, Australia (cat. no. 4147.0), contains estimates of funding for sport and recreation activities by the three levels of government in Australia.

  • Employment in Sport and Recreation, Australia (cat. no. 4148.0), contains details from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing on the number of people employed in sport, gambling and recreation industries by type of occupation. Comparisons with the 1996 Census are also shown.

  • National Health Survey: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Results, Australia (cat. no. 4715.0), presents selected data from the 2001 National Health Survey about the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Topics include measures of health status, health actions taken and lifestyle factors which may influence health.

  • Employer Training Expenditure and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 6362.0), contains information on employer provided training in Australia. Statistics on the direct costs incurred by, and proportion of, organisations providing structured training to employees are presented by industry, state and employer size for both the private and public sectors. Methods and types of training, details of training providers used, reasons for training, change in the level of training and factors affecting training are also included.

  • Domestic Water Use, New South Wales (cat. no. 4616.1), which contains data on water-using appliances and water using behaviour of domestic consumers in New South Wales.

  • Managing Paid Employment and Unpaid Caring Responsibilities, Queensland (cat. no. 4903.3), which investigates the labour force experience of those who currently have or have had caring responsibilities. The focus is on the use of leave and flexible work arrangements.

Performance Measure 5.2: Innovative outputs

In addition to the new statistics released in the publications listed in Performance Measure 5.1, the ABS has conducted research which has led to the release of innovative new estimates, classifications and publications. Also released were a number of information papers informing users about conceptual issues, new methodologies and pending changes to current ABS collections.

Some of the innovative outputs released by the ABS in 2002-03 included:
  • Information Paper: Drug-induced Deaths - A Guide to ABS Causes of Death Data (cat. no. 4809.0.55.001), which provides a guide to data on deaths resulting from drug use. It is designed to assist researchers and analysts in utilising Causes of Death data produced by the ABS. Issues discussed include ABS terminology and classifications used to code drug deaths.

  • Directory of Culture and Leisure Statistics - Website Version (cat. no. 1143.0.55.001), is a web-based product which provides a reference to sources of culture and leisure data. Directory entries provide information about the scope, frequency, history and extent of data available from each collection, and the major publications that use data from the collection.

  • Discussion Paper: Measuring a Knowledge-based Economy and Society - An Australian Framework (cat. no. 1375.0), which presents a descriptive framework for measuring the knowledge-based economy and society through the use of relevant statistics. The framework consists of five broad dimensions, each populated by a number of characteristics and statistical indicators. The aim of the paper is to stimulate discussion and provoke feedback on the proposed framework.

  • Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) Digital Boundaries (Intercensal), Australia on CD-ROM (cat. no. 1259.0.30.001), provides digital boundaries for the Australian Standard Geographical Classification intercensal editions. Boundaries are available for Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) and higher level spatial units.

  • Australian Standard Geographical Classification: Statistical Local Area Maps (cat. no. 2920.0.30.001), provides maps, each showing a single SLA as current at the time of the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. These full colour maps show, in addition to the SLA, collection districts, roads, rivers and other significant features.

  • Australian National Accounts: Non-Profit Institutions Satellite Account (cat. no. 5256.0), presents estimates of the direct contribution of the nonprofit institutions sector to the Australian economy within the context of a satellite account linked to the Australian System of National Accounts. It shows the contribution of nonprofit institutions to major economic aggregates, such as Gross Domestic Product. In addition, data on employment in nonprofit institutions and the contribution of volunteer labour, in terms of full-time equivalent employment valued at market rates of pay is presented.

  • Information Paper: Measuring Learning in Australia - A Framework for Education and Training Statistics (cat. no. 4213.0), proposes a framework for statistics on learning. The framework has been developed with input and guidance from the National Education and Training Statistics Unit Management Board, and is the product of extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders. It has been developed to assist relevant bodies and agencies to determine their information requirements, and assist in data collection and analysis.

  • Education and Training Indicators, Australia (cat. no. 4230.0), provides a suite of approximately 40 indicators covering the spectrum of education and training in Australia. The indicators are based on national level data and are aligned to the recently developed framework for education and training statistics ‘Measuring Learning in Australia - A Framework for Education and Training statistics’. A wide range of both ABS and non-ABS statistics are used in the indicators, covering schools, higher education, vocational education and training, and training activities.

  • Directory of Mining Statistics - Electronic Publication (cat. no. 1144.0), which contains comprehensive information on sources of mining statistics in the public and private sectors. For each identified collection, the directory provides information on the method of collection, data details, geographic coverage, frequency of data availability and other information to help the reader identify the type of statistics available and how to access them.

  • Mortality Atlas, Australia (cat. no. 3318.0), which provides a useful reference for users in interpreting causes of death in Australia. This publication presents standardised death rates for Statistical Divisions and Statistical Subdivisions in Australia for the period 1997 to 2000. Underlying and multiple causes of death are presented for the top 10 and other topical causes of death. Data presented uses the International Classification of Diseases Tenth Revision and the Australian Standard Geographic Classification.

  • Information Paper: Suicides, Australia (cat. no. 3309.0.55.001), is an electronic publication which provides an update on summary statistics regarding suicides registered in Australia in 2002. Data are presented separately by age and sex, by method of suicide and by state or territory of usual residence. Numbers of deaths and standardised death rates for the years 1992 to 2002 are shown for comparison.

  • Remote Access Data Laboratory (cat. no. 1406.0.55.001). The Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) is an online database query system that enables users to run statistical queries on ABS CURF files via a secure web site link. The service has been developed in order to allow access to ABS microdata at a level of detail beyond what can be provided on CD-ROM. Unit record files accessed through the RADL remain within the ABS computing environment, but return statistical output to users through the submission of queries via certain statistical analysis packages.

  • Information Paper: Use of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale in ABS Health Surveys (cat. no. 4817.0.55.001). The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale - 10 (K10) is a scale of non-specific psychological distress. This publication provides information on the use of the K10 in ABS health surveys. Some alternative scoring methods are outlined and some snapshot and time series comparisons are made between the ABS and Australian state surveys.

  • National Health Survey: Users’ Guide - Electronic Publication, 2001 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001), contains information details about the 2001 National Health Survey (NHS), including the supplementary survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Information provided includes the survey objectives, methods and design; survey content; data quality and interpretation; and information about the availability of results.

  • Occasional Paper: Measuring Dietary Habits in the 2001 National Health Survey, Australia (cat. no. 4814.0.55.001). Results from the short dietary questions in the 1995 National Nutrition Survey and the 2001 NHS are examined with discussion of the impact of the methodological and contextual changes. Issues of data quality and interpretation are also discussed.

  • Occasional Paper: Vaccination Coverage in Australian Children - ABS Statistics and the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) (cat. no. 4813.0.55.001) provides an insight into ABS estimates of compliance to national vaccination schedules, dating back to 1989-90. Statistics from ABS surveys and the ACIR are compared and key differences in methods are made clear. There is also analysis of the trend over time for vaccination coverage of Australian children using ABS data from 1989-90, 1995 and 2001, including comparisons with ACIR estimates where relevant.

  • Occasional Paper: Long-term Health Conditions - A Guide To Time Series Comparability From The National Health Survey, Australia (cat. no. 4816.0.55.001). Long-term health conditions have been identified as a key area of interest among clients undertaking time-series analysis. This publication provides users with a resource to assist in making NHS inter-survey comparability for long-term conditions across the 1989-90, 1995 and 2001 surveys.

  • Census for Schools (cat. no. 2047.0.30.001), which contains data from the 2001 Census down to collection district levels, together with software.

6: Improve the quality of outputs

Performance Measure 6.1: Achieve or exceed timeliness, statistical reliability, response rates and accuracy objectives through:
  • timeliness
  • statistical reliability
  • response rates
  • accuracy.


The timeliness of ongoing series is measured by the gap between the reference period and the date of publication of results. The ABS continues to adhere to preannounced release dates and make improvements, where possible, to the timeliness achieved. Table 8 presents information on timeliness for ABS monthly and quarterly publications for Main Economic Indicator (MEI) statistics, and other general releases.

The average number of days elapsed between the end of the reference period and the release of data has improved for both MEI publications and other releases in 2002-03. The timeliness of all categories of releases, except monthly MEI publications, increased last year due to the consolidation of several publications to provide a more comprehensive and coherent picture of business economic activity. The publications that were discontinued had a very short lead time, and their exclusion led to an apparent increase in the average time between the end of the reference period and the release of data.

(average number of elapsed days)


Main economic indicator statistics     
Other general releases     

Statistical reliability

One measurable component of reliability is revisions to data. Revisions are generally measured by their size and frequency over time. The ABS aims to minimise revisions as much as possible through effective sample and methodological design. It is also ABS policy to inform users of any significant revisions and where appropriate to revise past time series and advise users accordingly.

A new sample for labour force statistics, based on updated geographic information from the 2001 Census, was implemented progressively from November 2002 to June 2003. Although results were subject to some initial volatility, common sample estimates were produced to assist analysts during the changeover period. Labour force estimates have since settled down.

The table below describes the revisions to quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past several years. In particular, it shows the difference between the first estimate of GDP, and that estimate one year later in terms of the mean revision and the mean absolute revision, expressed as percentage points. The figures show that revisions to quarterly GDP in recent years remain relatively small (mean absolute revision) and largely offsetting (mean revision).


Difference between first estimate and estimate one year later
Mean absolute revision
% points
Mean revision
% points


(a) Seasonally adjusted chain volume measure.
(b) Figures based on three quarters of GDP data.

Table 10 shows the revisions to the quarterly current account deficit averaged over the financial year for 1997-98 to 2001-02. Similar to the GDP table, the mean revision shows the percentage difference between the first estimate of the current account deficit, and that estimate one year later, averaged over the four quarters for the year. The mean absolute revision shows the average absolute values of the mean revision. The revisions to the current account deficit are expressed in percentage terms however, rather than percentage points as is the case with the revisions to GDP.

The figures show that revisions to the quarterly current account deficit are typically around 4-5% which is not considered significant. Comparisons between the mean revision and the mean absolute revision indicate that there has been in recent years a degree of offsetting revisions to the current account deficit figures.


Difference between first estimate and estimate one year later
Mean absolute revision %
Mean revision %


(a) Original data.
(b) Figures based on three quarters of data.

Response rates

The ABS has consistently had very high response rates. Past international benchmarking studies have shown these response rates compare favourably with other international statistical organisations.

Since response rates vary little over time, especially for sub-annual surveys, it is more appropriate to report against target response rates rather than changes in the rates from year to year. Table 11 shows that response rates for selected economic collections either achieve or exceed the target response rates set by the ABS. Response rates for both the Australian Industry survey and the Manufacturing survey conducted in 2002-03 are not yet final. However, past experience has shown that these figures will rise when the surveys are finalised.

It is important to note that in regard to the business surveys, follow up procedures tend to focus on the more significant businesses, that is, those with typically high sales or employment relative to the rest of the industry. For example, the response rate for businesses in the manufacturing survey might be 88%, but the businesses that have responded may comprise 96% of the total employment in the industry.


response rate (%)
2001-02 actual
responserate (%)(a)
2002-03 actual
response rate (%)(a)

Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0)
Wage Cost Index, Australia (cat. no. 6345.0)
Retail Trade, Australia (cat. no. 8501.0)
Australian Industry (cat. no. 8155.0)(b)(c)
Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia (cat. no. 5625.0)
Business Indicators, Australia (cat. no. 5676.0)
Building Activity, Australia (cat. no. 8752.0)
Manufacturing Industry, Australia (cat. no. 8221.0)(b)

(a) Average response rates over the year for the periods available.
(b) Annual surveys. The response rates refer to surveys conducted in the year listed, but for which the reference period is one year prior.
(c) The response rate for this survey is based on the Economic Activity Survey direct collection as the tax component does not have response rate. The publication is expected to be released in December 2003.
(d) Response rates were not finalised as at the end of June 2003.

The response rates for selected social surveys are listed in table 12 below. The social surveys listed generally have high response rates, apart from the latest National Crime and Safety Survey which has a relatively low, although acceptable, response rate.


response rate (%)
Previous survey actual
response rate (%)(b)
2002-03 actual
response rate (%)(a)

General Social Survey, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0)(c)
Indigenous Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0)(a)(c)
Child Care, Australia (cat. no. 4402.0)
Crime and Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4509.0)

(a) Indigenous Social Survey - component of enumerated households in non-sparse areas.
(b) The Child care Survey was previously conducted in 1999, while the National Crime and Safety Survey was previously conducted in 1997-98. The General Social Survey and Indigenous Social Survey were first conducted in 2002-03.
(c) The General Social Survey, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0) publication is expected to be released in September 2003, while the Indigenous Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0) publication is expected to be released in December 2003.


While all ABS outputs maintain high levels of accuracy in all tables, graphs and text, two types of error are possible in estimate based sample surveys: sampling error and non-sampling error. Sampling error occurs because a sample rather than the entire population is surveyed. One measure of the likely difference resulting from not including all units in the population in the survey is given by the standard error. It is ABS policy that standard errors are included in survey publications, along with the descriptions of other types of errors to which outputs may be subject. Non-sampling error arises from inaccuracies in collecting, recording and processing the data and can occur in any statistical collection. The ABS ensures non-sampling error is minimised by careful design of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of interviewers, and efficient data processing and editing procedures.

The following example illustrates the use of the standard error in quantifying sampling error for unemployed persons in the labour force survey. The published original level estimate for unemployed persons in Australia in June 2003 was 620,000. The calculated standard error for this estimate was 9,300. The standard error is then used to interpret the level estimate. For example:
  • there are approximately two chances in three that the real number of unemployed persons falls within the range of 610,700 to 629,300 (i.e. 620,000 plus or minus 9,300)
  • there are approximately 19 chances in 20 that the real number of unemployed persons falls within the range of 601,400 to 638,600 (i.e. 620,000 plus or minus 18,600).

The magnitude of standard errors varies between collections due to factors such as the sample size and the value of the estimate in question. Therefore, it is impossible to compare standard errors between different surveys, or even between variables within the same survey. The relative standard error, obtained by expressing the standard error as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers, is a much more useful measure in that it provides an immediate indication of the percentage errors likely to have occurred due to sampling, and thus avoids the need to refer also to the size of the estimate. The relative standard error is also a good indicator for comparing the accuracy of estimates between surveys.

The tables below only present a summary view of the accuracy for key aggregates from a number of major ABS publications, as expressed by their relative standard errors. The low relative standard errors in both tables highlight the accuracy of ABS’ statistical collections. More details are available from the publications, or the concepts, sources and methods publications associated with the collections themselves.


Survey Key aggregate
2001-02 relative standard
error (%)

error (%)

Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0) Unemployed persons in Australia
Retail Trade, Australia (cat. no. 8501.0) Total retail turnover in Australia
Australian Industry (cat. no. 8155.0)(b)(c) Total income (all industries)
Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure, Australia (cat. no. 5625.0) Actual new capital expenditure, Australia
Business Indicators, Australia (cat. no. 5676.0) Company gross operating profit
Building Activity, Australia (cat. no. 8752.0) Value of work done
Manufacturing Industry, Australia (cat. no. 8221.0)(b) Sales and services income

(a) Where the date for the survey is not specified the relative standard error is an average over the year, or refers to an annual survey.
(b) The relative standard errors refer to surveys conducted in the year listed, but for which the reference period is one year prior.

(c) The publication is expected to be released in December 2003.


Survey Key Aggregate
Previous survey
relative standard
error (%)(a)
relative standard error (%)

General Social Survey, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0)(b) Employment
Child Care, Australia (cat. no. 4402.0) Number of children aged 0-11 who used formal and/or informal care
Crime and Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4509.0) Number of households that have been a victim of a break-in in the last 12 months

(a) The Child Care survey was previously conducted in 1999, while the National Crime and Safety survey was previously conducted in 1997-98. The General Social survey was first conducted in 2002-03.
(b) This publication is expected to be released in September 2003.

Note: At the time of publishing the relative standard errors for the Indigenous Social survey component were not available.

Performance Measure 6.2: Conduct ongoing research and reviews of quality, and implement their recommendations:
  • Outline ABS statistical reviews
  • Innovative practices - improvements to existing collections as a result of research and development

Outline of ABS statistical reviews

The ABS reviews its statistical collections regularly to ensure that its statistics are of good quality. Some reviews cover all aspects of a particular collection, from user requirements, through to data collection, processing, analysis and dissemination. Other reviews focus on particular elements of collections, such as the methodology.

In reviews of statistical collections, external users are widely consulted and, in some instances, external users assist the review team. Internal reviews cover both the effectiveness and efficiency of various ABS activities.

A number of reviews of statistical collections and programs commenced, or were completed, in 2002-03, including:
  • household income
  • producer price indexes
  • international investment position
  • intercensal discrepancy
  • experimental composite leading indicator
  • survey of motor vehicle use.

The household income review found that the quality of data reported had been impacted on by a deterioration in the coverage of benefit recipients in the sample estimates and by an increasing complexity of the government benefits scheme itself. As a result changes were made to the way income distribution data are presented and revisions to earlier periods data were published in the June 2003 Australian Economic Indicators (cat. no. 1350.0). A redeveloped Household Income and Expenditure survey will collect some new information on assets and liabilities to both improve the quality of income distribution statistics and provide for analysis of the household distribution of wealth.

The review of the preliminary 1996-2001 intercensal discrepancy led to the implementation of revisions to final estimated resident populations for 30 June 2001.

The outcome of a review of the Producer Price Index ‘stage of production’ indexes was an updated index structure consistent with the 1996-97 input-output tables and an improvement in the coverage of prices within the indexes. During 2002 a program of quality review also commenced for a number of service industry producer price indexes resulting in a number of improvements for the indexes.

The ABS completed a review of the experimental composite leading indicators of the Australian business cycle in 2002-03 and, as a result have decided to terminate the publication of the indicators from September 2003. The review suggested that while the composite leading indicators performed adequately in the early 1990s, they have lost their ability to provide consistent early signals for turning points of the reference business cycles.

Outcomes and recommendations from reviews are often not implemented in the year that the review was conducted. Two of the improvements to the statistical collections in 2002-03 stemming from quality reviews conducted in recent years were:
  • the centralisation of statistics in the local government statistics unit and the redesign of the quarterly local government finance collection, both of which led to improvements in the quality of estimates
  • the development of an agricultural survey incorporating recommendations from the review of ABS’ agriculture statistics.

Innovative practices - improvements to existing collections as a result of research and development

Apart from the ongoing reviews of ABS statistical collections, research and development in subject matter areas continues to result in innovative practices for the collection and compilation of data. The results of innovative practices is twofold. Firstly, it will lead to more reliable and accurate statistics. And secondly, it may lead to reduced provider load.

The way in which the ABS processes its business statistics was significantly changed as a result of the implementation of the Business Statistics Innovation Program (BSIP) from July 2002. With the use of innovative technologies and methodologies the ABS set about improving the quality and relevance of its business statistics while at the same time increasing the efficiency of processes which benefit both the ABS and its providers. Other benefits of BSIP include the potential to respond to emerging statistical demand as a result of increased capacity and, the ability to provide a better national statistical service through strong statistical leadership.

The ABS planned and conducted two major field tests of computer assisted interviewing (CAI) for the monthly population survey during 2002-03. The tests were designed to fully test field and office systems, procedures, training, hardware and occupational health and safety. These tests proved successful against set objectives and approval (subject to successful final system test) was given to phase in CAI for the monthly population survey between October 2003 and May 2004. CAI is expected to deliver substantial improvements in data quality, survey efficiency and management arrangements.

Following a review conducted in 2001-02 to identify a range of statistical collections which could benefit from the incorporation of taxation data, the ABS implemented strategies for a number of surveys (such as mining and manufacturing), taking advantage of tax and other administrative data to supplement or replace existing data. The use of administrative data has not only reduced collection costs and minimised the reporting load on businesses, it has allowed the scope of some surveys to increase to cover non-employing businesses. Previously, a number of surveys were limited to employing businesses only.

7: Achievement of cost effective outputs

Performance Measure 7.1: Conduct efficiency reviews and audits, and implement their recommendations

Efficiency reviews and audits may be initiated by senior management and by the ABS Audit Committee so as to assess whether resources are being used effectively and efficiently to achieve the ABS’ objectives.

Major reviews addressing efficiency issues were completed during 2002-03 in the following areas:
  • Population Census automatic and computer assisted industry coding
  • information consultancy services
  • provider management practices
  • Household Expenditure Survey
  • National Criminal Courts Statistics Unit
  • National Education and Training Statistics Unit
  • management information system requirements for ABS household surveys.

These reviews resulted in:
  • improvements to the efficiency of collections and processes due to methodological improvements
  • improvements to collections through more efficient use of staffing resources
  • improvements to operations as a result of centralising functions in a single office
  • assessments of performance against the original business case for particular functions.

A number of other efficiency reviews are in progress for a range of statistical collections and corporate service functions. These reviews aim to achieve efficiency gains via improvements to collection strategies, methodologies, use of information technology, use of contractors, and/or substituting/complementing existing data with administrative data sources.

Performance Measure 7.2: Test operating efficiencies of statistical activities by benchmarking internally and externally

Benchmarking is a key part of the ABS strategy to assess the value for money of its statistical and non-statistical outputs, to understand and learn from best practice and to improve performance. The ABS views the process of benchmarking as an ongoing exercise, enabling the organisation to achieve continuous improvement across a variety of its outputs.

Benchmarking currently being undertaken at the ABS includes comparisons between ABS statistical collections; comparisons between the operations of other international statistical agencies and the ABS; and comparisons of corporate service functions between other Australian government agencies and the ABS. These are outlined below.

Comparisons between ABS statistical collections

During 2002-03 internal benchmarking was conducted for all areas in the Economic Statistics Group (ESG). The benchmarking exercise was conducted in respect of 2001-02 and concentrated solely on the financial framework due to the organisational changes stemming from the BSIP. The aim of this exercise was to identify areas of efficiency through cost savings and modifications in the cost structure for each area in the economic statistics group in order to provide the efficiencies necessary to meet ongoing resource constraints.

As part of the financial framework reporting, areas indicated how salary and technology application costs were split across the BSIP organisational structure. Future internal benchmarking of collections in the Economic Statistics Group will be assisted by the requirement for all collections to report basic financial and performance information on an annual basis.

Comparisons between the operations of a number of international statistical agencies and the ABS

The ABS continues to benchmark its functions and services against a range of international agencies. The ABS has found that the most effective mechanism for benchmarking functions and services arises from bilateral discussions with particular agencies. Detailed comparisons of particular statistical or non-statistical work programs often result from such discussions, and following more detailed comparisons, the ABS reviews practices and methods as necessary with the aim to achieving the best outcomes and outputs possible from its resource allocation. Bilateral discussions with Statistics Canada and Statistics Sweden are planned during 2003-04.

International benchmarking activities undertaken in 2002-03 included comparisons of the monthly retail survey; corporate governance; and data and metadata available on the web site.

Comparisons of corporate services functions between other Australian government departments

The ABS continues to conduct benchmarking studies with other Australian government departments.

In 2002-03, the ABS has been involved in two benchmarking activities conducted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). These were:
  • Benchmarking the Internal Audit Function Follow-on Report (ANAO Audit Report No. 13)
  • Managing People for Business Outcomes, Year Two - Benchmarking Study (ANAO Audit Report No. 50).

The ABS has provided input into these studies in the form of survey participation and by providing comments on drafts. The studies have been finalised and reports have been issued by the ANAO.

Performance Measure 7.3: Market test a number of non-statistical activities to identify possible outsourcing opportunities

The ABS has outsourced a number of key functions including:
  • printing and distribution services
  • a range of training courses related to information technology
  • leadership and management training
  • internal audit
  • staff counselling services
  • legal advice
  • building maintenance
  • the supply and distribution of stationery.

The ABS will continue to investigate additional outsourcing opportunities as they arise.

Performance Measure 7.4: Minimise provider load

In order to fulfil its mission of providing information to support discussion, debate and decision making, the ABS is required and empowered to collect information from businesses. At the same time the ABS is conscious that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the load placed on businesses in providing that information.

The following table shows the provider load (measured in thousands of hours taken to complete statistical forms) imposed on businesses by the ABS for 1995-96 and from 1999-2000 to 2002-03. These figures have been adjusted to ‘smooth’ the series to account for large irregular surveys and censuses (e.g. the Agricultural census).

(hours ’000)


Small businesses(a)
Other businesses
Total all businesses

(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.

The ABS continues to focus on reducing provider load on businesses. This is consistent with government policy, the ABS Corporate Plan and the recommendations of the Commonwealth Government’s 1996 Small Business Deregulation Task Force. The task force found that the ABS only accounted for about 1% of total business compliance costs. However since 1995-96 total ABS provider load on businesses decreased by around 40%, and for small businesses the fall has been almost 50%.

Two of the major initiatives which led to a continued reduction in provider load during 2002-03 were:
  • arrangements with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) to take over the collection of a range of information from the financial sector previously collected by the ABS, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Taxation Office. The consolidation of reporting to APRA achieves a reduction in the provider load since similar information was previously sent to each of the organisations individually
  • the use of business income tax data to assist in the production of estimates for the mining and manufacturing industries. The use of business income tax data reduces the load on small businesses in particular, while increasing the scope of the collections to cover non-employing businesses as well as employing businesses.

Although the ABS focuses on reducing provider load on businesses, it is also taking steps to reduce respondent burden on households and individuals. One significant initiative in this respect has been the move to a biennial Survey of Income and Housing Costs. The survey, previously conducted annually, will have a sample size of 11,000 households, an increase of 4,000 households. Despite the increase in households surveyed the total respondent burden over a two year period will decrease substantially.

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