1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2004-05  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/10/2005   
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Contents >> Chapter 2 - Summary of Activities for 2004-05

Chapter 2 - Summary of Activities for 2004-05

The Council held two meetings during 2004-05 - on 22 November 2004 and on 31 May 2005. Detailed agendas for the meetings are provided at Appendix 2.

Key issues considered by Council during the year included:

    • The ABS in the 21st Century - Strategic Positioning and the ABS’ response

    • ABS Forward Work Program 2005-06 to 2007-08

    • ABS Corporate Plan

    • 2006 Census of Population and Housing

    • ABS Electronic Dissemination Strategy

    • Developments in Environment and Energy Statistics

    • Developments in Children and Youth Statistics

    • Developments in Crime and Justice Statistics

The ABS in the 21st Century - Strategic Positioning and the ABS’ response

In the second half of 2004 the ABS commissioned an external review of its strategic directions. The review, ABS’ in the 21st Century - Strategic Positioning, was undertaken by the Allen Consulting Group and discussed by Council at the November 2004 meeting. The ABS’ response to the review was tabled at the
May 2005 meeting for Council’s consideration.

Council recognised there are many key challenges facing the ABS, especially in creating a National Statistical System that is responsive to unknown future needs.

Relationship management was identified as a key area for the ABS. Council indicated the ABS needed to focus on how it approaches the statistical needs of all users. In particular, some of the ABS’ responses to the review were too focussed on relationships with the Australian Government.

Statistical leadership was acknowledged as a key area for the ABS. Council supported the role of outposted ABS officers in supporting agencies on statistical matters. Council also acknowledged its support for the formation of a Statistical Leadership Unit. Council indicated the ABS should ensure the unit does not try to spread itself too thinly over many activities, and that it is funded sufficiently.

Council noted there are many organisations working in the field of statistics and, as such, there is a greater role for the ABS to collaborate with these groups to provide leadership especially in terms of technical expertise to ensure consistency in standards and frameworks.

It was suggested ASAC could work with the ABS to define its statistical leadership image.

The Council and the ABS agreed to consider further how best to be involved in, and advise on, the ABS planning process including priority setting.

This work is providing the impetus for ASAC to reflect on its effectiveness as a whole in advising the ABS, and this will be pursued further in 2005-06.

ABS Forward Work Program 2005-06 to 2007-08

Council was advised in May 2005 that additional funding received in the 2005 Federal Budget would be used to: address critical statistical areas which have become increasingly at risk; to implement new international standards; and for statistical work programs to support new government policies, such as the longitudinal study of the food industry. The funding provided will also allow the ABS greater flexibility to undertake extra work. A list of potential new or extended projects was provided for Council’s consideration and feedback on priority.

One of the most positive outcomes of the additional funding is that the ABS has the ability to take the first step in making ABS data more freely available to the community from 1 July 2005, with the range of free data extended towards the end of 2005. This initiative was greatly supported by ASAC members.

ABS Corporate Plan

In May 2005 Council considered the review of the ABS Corporate Plan. Council heard that a reference group of ABS staff progressed a number of suggestions for changes to the current ABS Corporate Plan including:
    • amending the ABS mission statement to emphasise the ABS leadership role and include material to explain the National Statistical Service concept further

    • incorporating a role statement to further explain the mission statement

    • adding ‘service’ to the ABS values statement to acknowledge explicitly the ABS’ service ethos

    • making changes to the objectives and strategies in the plan to ensure ABS priorities reflect what is required of the organisation as it embarks on its next

A number of suggestions were offered on what the ABS Corporate Plan could encompass. Council also emphasised the importance of using the process as a tool for ensuring staff are aligned with the Plan.

All ASAC members have had the opportunity to be involved in providing detailed input into the revised Plan. Their many contributions are welcomed by the ABS and will influence the ABS directions described in the Plan.

2006 Census of Population and Housing

In 2004–05 significant effort has been committed to planning Australia’s fifteenth national Census of Population and Housing, to be conducted on 8 August 2006.
Council contributed by providing advice on a number of developments throughout the year.

A decision was made by the ABS to include four new topics in the 2006 Census, incorporating questions on: the number of children ever born; the need for assistance (disability); unpaid work; and household access to the Internet. Council welcomed the addition of these topics as being reflective of current community needs.

Discussions took place at both ASAC meetings held during 2004-05 on the proposal to enhance census data. At the November 2004 meeting Council was advised that focus group testing had been conducted by external consultants to assess the public reaction to a number of different data linking scenarios. Council heard that testing ascertained some concern regarding census to census linking, however the issue of linking census data to other data sources, such as health records, attracted a greater deal of concern. At the same time Council noted the significant privacy concerns the retention of name and address and data linking would create, and cautioned the ABS on the need to be ‘up front’ and very transparent with what the ABS is proposing to do. Council also noted the proposal is consistent with the coordination and leadership roles of the ABS and indicated the quality of the census must remain paramount. Council emphasised the importance of obtaining public reaction well before the 2006 Census was conducted.

At the May 2005 meeting, Council was asked to comment on Discussion Paper: Enhancing the Population Census: Developing a Longitudinal View (cat. no. 2060.0). Council heard in this proposal that name and address information would not be used to create a Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset (SLCD); instead statistical, matching methods involving variables such as gender, date of birth, and Mesh Block, would be used from the 2006 Census onwards. Other parts of the proposal outlined the use of census data in combination with other datasets such as ABS household surveys and birth and death register data. The ABS informed Council that a submission process has been established, public seminars were being held, and existing ABS statistical user groups, as well as groups with a strong privacy interest, were being consulted.

Council noted it was important the ABS be clear as to whether the concerns expressed about this proposal related to concerns about this particular instance of
linking because it involved the Census of Population and Housing, or whether the concerns were more general regarding the role the ABS should play in linking data from different sources. If it is the latter, then this has implications for the role the ABS would be able to play in the statistical work being undertaken in the Government sector.

Council was also informed that a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) had been commissioned by the ABS and would be provided to Council for consideration by the end of June 2005. The PIA was released on the ABS web site on 27 June 2005 and provided a broad view, not just of the Information Privacy Principles or legislation, but why privacy is an issue. The PIA discussed authorised and unauthorised access, and the potential for legislative change.

The ABS emphasised to Council that it would not put the census at risk by pursuing the census data enhancement project and that a decision on the final outcome of the proposal will be made by the Australian Statistician in the latter half of 2005. Well thought through positions, both for and against the proposal, were expressed by Council. These have contributed to the decision-making process on this very important proposal. It was suggested an effective ‘exit’ strategy may be required if parts of the media pursued negative issues.

ASAC supported the decision made by the ABS to recast the range of products and services for the 2006 Census. Most electronic products (including CDATA 2006) will only be available on the ABS web site. A range of new Internet based products will be developed which will make it easier for users of varying levels of sophistication to obtain the data they require. While the range of census publications will be reduced, the range of data that will be made available as standard census output will be expanded. It is proposed all profile tables that were released for the 2001 Census will be made available for the 2006 Census.

ABS Electronic Dissemination Strategy

At the May 2005 meeting the ABS presented a paper on its Electronic Dissemination Strategy, explaining to Council the ultimate goal was to increase users and informed use of statistics. This would be achieved by reducing or eliminating the price barriers for accessing statistics on the ABS web site, and improving the content and presentation of statistics to facilitate communication.

Council was very supportive of the ABS’ directions in electronic dissemination, in particular, the plan to provide information on the ABS web site free of charge. Council cautioned additional resources may be needed when access to all web site information was free, as there would invariably be many more inquiries from the public seeking to better understand the information. It is also important to ensue the system is capable of handling the peak 11.30 am downloads.

Members called for improvements to the ABS web site search engine, SPEED, and the long Uniform Resource Locator (URL) descriptions. Council recognised that while the web site’s layered approach was helpful for new users, it has the potential to frustrate those experienced.

Developments in Environment and Energy Statistics

At the November 2004 meeting the ABS invited Mr Philip Glyde, from the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), to lead a discussion on the major
requirements in environment statistics from the perspective of a major user. The ABS also reported on developments in its Environment and Energy Statistics program including the formation of the Centre for Environment and Energy Statistics.

Council strongly agreed with the assessment on the need for increased regional data, and noted the need for the ABS and the DEH to work closely with state and territory governments to improve access to, and uniting of, data holdings. Council highlighted the need for integrated environment, economic and social data. In terms of the work currently being undertaken by the ABS, Council expressed encouragement on the trial of surveys based on land parcels.

Council accepted ABS assurances that the Centre for Environment and Energy Statistics would be considering state and territory issues as well as Australian
government issues, and that it would have representatives from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and the Productivity Commission on the governing board to ensure appropriate attention is given to energy issues.

Developments in Children and Youth Statistics

The ABS’ National Statistical Unit on Children and Youth was established in 2003 in recognition of the increasing policy focus and discussion at Australian, state and territory levels of government on issues relating to children and youth, and in response to the need for a statistical evidence base to support government policy development for these specific population groups. The work program of the Unit has focussed on developing relationships with key external stakeholders in order to increase our understanding of the key issues of concern in this area and the range of activities underway in Australia to develop the information base.

In considering the strategic direction, policy context, work program and governance arrangements, Council expressed support for the National Children and Youth Statistics Unit. It noted the opportunity the Unit had to play in coordination and statistical leadership. In particular, Council urged the ABS to provide more assistance in data collection and in assisting in the analysis of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, while encouraging the ABS to take more of a leadership role in the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children. As part of its leadership role in the field, Council suggested the Unit could develop a directory of statistical sources for children and youth statistics.

Council raised the prospect of an annual Children and Youth Data Conference.

Developments in Crime and Justice Statistics

At the May 2005 meeting, the Crime and Justice Information Development Plan was presented to Council for comment on the 12 information development priorities. Each of the priorities relate to the safety of the Australian community including community confidence in law and order, and the efficient and effective administration of the criminal justice system. The 12 priorities listed were:
    1. To improve data comparability across administrative collections.

    2. To improve quality and integration of national crime and safety survey data.

    3. To improve data to better understand the impacts of crime and justice in relation to progress and wellbeing.

    4. To improve crime and justice statistics about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    5. To develop measures of recidivism.

    6. To develop statistics on juvenile contact with the crime and justice system.

    7. To develop statistics on family violence.

    8. To improve fraud and electronic crime data.

    9. To develop an information base on substance use as it relates to crime and justice.

    10. To develop statistics on health, including mental health, as it relates to crime and justice.

    11. To improve statistics on cultural diversity as it relates to crime and justice.

    12. To improve spatial data on crime and justice.

Wide support was given for the listed priorities. Council suggested the two areas could be considered lower priority were Priority 5 (To develop measures of recidivism) and Priority 11 (To improve statistics on cultural diversity as it relates to crime and justice).

Reflecting on the Allen Consulting Group review, Council suggested there is an opportunity for the ABS to provide leadership in such a complex field as crime and justice. For instance, the ABS could assist the states and territories in developing their own data by promoting standards and frameworks.

Council thanked the ABS for the effort it had already undertaken in relation to crime statistics, in particular work on electronic crime.

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