1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2000-01  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/09/2001   
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1: Relevance of ABS output

The ABS directs its efforts to the best interests of the Australian community. To aid this, it ensures that data needed for policy and research purposes is available when required. Good statistical planning, which requires a keen understanding of the current and future needs of users, is essential.

The ABS also recognises that, in order to be relevant to informed
decision making, debate, and discussions, its statistics must be timely and relatable to other data. To support this, they are placed in an appropriate statistical framework. The ABS also provides analyses and explanations to help the interpretation of its statistics.

Performance Measure 1.1: Statistical output which meets the needs of key users of economic and social data in terms of:

Performance Indicator 1.1.1: Coverage
Performance Indicator 1.1.2: Delivery method
Performance Indicator 1.1.3: Demonstrated by a high level of use

Performance Indicator 1.1.1: Coverage

The ABS provides official statistics across a wide range of economic and social matters, for government, business and the Australian community.

Collections undertaken by the ABS include:

  • the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing;
  • monthly and quarterly surveys providing key economic indicators; and
  • collections from industry and households that provide users with information on specific economic and social issues.

In addition, the ABS cooperates with other Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies, to release statistics collected as a by-product of administrative systems.

Apart from the extensive range of existing publications and data which provide support to decision makers on a range of on-going policy issues, the ABS continues to monitor and anticipate users’ needs in terms of new surveys, statistics, and research. The ABS is assisted in this regard by the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) identifying major social, economic, environmental and political issues of policy significance over the coming three to five years. This priority list is used as one check on the ABS priorities as identified in the forward work program.

Chapters 6 and 7 contain detailed information about the many components of the ABS statistical work program, and improvements to the coverage of official statistics. Areas of particular interest may be the increase in coverage of regional statistics and information technology statistics. Further, the household survey program has been redesigned to
enable the ABS to improve the coverage of household based statistics.

Performance Indicator 1.1.2: Delivery method

The ABS delivers results from all statistical collections, as soon as practicable after the reference period, and makes them available to all users at the same time.

The ABS provides statistics and related information to users via many mechanisms, including:
  • free access to all published statistics via National, State, university and many public libraries across the nation as part of the ABS’s Library Extension Program;
  • free provision of ABS publications to media organisations;
  • a free national telephone inquiry service for brief information requests;
  • free access via the ABS website to key statistics, the main summaries of most publications, explanatory and conceptual material on ABSstatistics, and a growing number of information directories; and
  • ABS@ and AusStats subscription services to provide users with ready access to ABS publications and to a range of multi-dimensional datasets in electronic format.

See Performance Indicator 5.4 for details on how the ABS makes use of new technology to enhance delivery options and to improve accessibility of ABS statistics. Particular emphasis has been given to the expansion of data that is available on the ABS website.

Performance Indicator 1.1.3: Demonstrated by a high level of use

Use of ABS statistical information continued to increase in 2000-01. As shown in Table 1, users are moving away from more traditional forms of data access, to electronic access of ABS data. The table demonstrates that access to the ABS website has risen dramatically in recent years to over 1.75 million ‘hits’ per month, and since the start of the new website-based AusStats subscription service in April 2000, users have downloaded over 250,000 documents. An agreement with the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee delivers AusStats access to Australian universities for academic and teaching purposes. These strategies allow for a high level of use of ABS statistical information.

Use of ABS@ has also increased significantly. The service, which is replicated daily into the Intranets of key client organisations which have paid an annual fee for that service, enables staff in those organisations to access ABS information. During 2000-01, another four Commonwealth Government departments and the South Australian Government subscribed to, or are currently trialing, the new ABS@ service.

Performance Measure 1.2: Effectiveness of the planning process, as demonstrated by:

Performance Indicator 1.2.1: Extensive client contact
Performance Indicator 1.2.2: Benchmarking ABS outputs against other agencies

Performance Indicator 1.2.1: Extensive client contact

ABS planning processes and decisions are open and objective and are summarised at pages 24-25 of Chapter 2. The external dialogue which forms such an important element of the ABS planning process is critical to ensuring the relevance of ABS statistical output.

In establishing its forward work program, the ABS is advised by the following user groups:
  • ASAC
  • State Government Advisory Groups; and
  • various other formal user groups comprising, as relevant, Commonwealth and State government agencies, academics, business organisations, unions, community groups.

These include:
  • Economic Statistics User Group;
  • Labour Statistics Advisory Group;
  • Agriculture Statistics User Group;
  • Income and Expenditure Advisory Group; and
  • National Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Information and Data.

Extensive consultation is also undertaken with key users in the development of specific collections once a decision has been made to include the collection in the forward work program. The information obtained through these forums is supplemented with information gathered from bilateral discussions with key clients, conferences and seminars, outposted statistical officers, and day-to-day contact with clients in the course of disseminating and advising on the use of data.

Some of the key outcomes in 2000-01 from the user consultation process include:
  • changes to the content of the upcoming Agriculture Census to reflect contemporary user needs, particularly on environment data ;
  • conduct of a range of surveys on various fields of social concern including education and training and the use of information technology, health, and the Indigenous community with the user groups providing advice on the choice, depth of content, and frequency of the data;
  • advice on the content of the new producer price index publications;
  • increasing the focus on service industries and in particular information technology;
  • extension of the Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours to collect data on industrial coverage;
  • discontinuing the preliminary Average Weekly Earnings publication, while bringing forward the timing of the quarterly Wage Cost Index;
  • additional research and information on Australia’s ageing population, rural and regional statistics, and social capital;
  • conduct of the first ABS survey of venture capital;
  • advice on shaping the ABS’s analytical agenda, in particular, a reference group has been established to provide advice on the upcoming release Measuring Australia’s Progress ; and
  • valuable input on measuring productivity provided by the Economic Statistics User Group.

Performance Indicator 1.2.2: Benchmarking ABS outputs against other agencies

As part of its planning and review process, the ABS has established an international benchmarking network of statistical agencies to compare output effectiveness and efficiency, and to identify and learn from areas of best practice. This benchmarking is in addition to the ongoing internal review of ABS statistical and service activities aimed at ensuring
their relevance and efficiency. For more information on testing the ABS’s operating efficiencies, see Performance Measure 7.2.

2: Integrity in statistical operations

ABS data, analysis, and interpretations are always objective, and the ABS always publishes its statistics. The ABS decides what to publish, and then does so in ways which explain and inform, without advocating a particular position.

The ABS statistical system is open. The ABS sets and publishes, in advance, the dates for the release of all its statistics. Pre-embargo access to statistics is strictly controlled under publicly known arrangements. The methodologies and approaches followed are based on sound statistical principles and practices, disseminated widely, and open to scrutiny.

Performance Measure 2.1: An objective statistical service, as demonstrated by:

Performance Indicator 2.1.1: Release of reliable/accurate statistics based on sound professional statistical principles/methods
Performance Indicator 2.1.2: Openness of the statistical process
Performance Indicator 2.1.3: Adherence to the secrecy provisions of the Census and Statistics Act

Performance Indicator 2.1.1: Release of reliable/accurate statistics based on sound professional statistical principles/methods

Key measures for demonstrating reliable/accurate statistics include high response rates and low sample errors (see Performance Measure 6.1).Information on these aspects of reliability and accuracy, as well as extensive information on the statistical methods used in collections, are routinely provided in concepts, sources and methods publications, the explanatory notes in publications, and also available at the Statistical Clearing House website, http://www.nss.gov.au/nss/home.nsf/pages/About+SCH .

To ensure a strong professional statistical focus at senior levels in its work, the ABS established a Methodology Division in 1995-96. The Methodology Division has three key roles in ensuring the adoption of professional statistical principles/methods:
  • establishing standards and advising statistical areas on appropriate statistical methods and being our ‘conscience’ on quality of statistical outputs;
  • participating in reviews of existing statistical collections and methods; and
  • keeping abreast of professional (methodological) developments through presentation of professional papers and attendance at relevant conferences.

Supporting the work of the Methodology Division has been the formation of a Methodology Advisory Group consisting of professional statisticians external to the ABS, which provides a forum for peer review of statistical developments in the ABS. Other subject specific advisory boards are also often consulted about methodology issues related to their main focus.

Performance Indicator 2.1.2: Openness of the statistical process

The Australian Statistician determines which statistics are to be collected, after full discussion with users, clients and ASAC.

The ABS continues to maintain close contact with its users through a variety of mechanisms, including:
  • user groups (see Performance Indicator 1.2.1 for more details);
  • bilateral discussions with key clients;
  • standing committees;
  • outposted statistical officers;
  • conferences and seminars; and
  • day-to-day contact in the course of disseminating data.

The ABS Forward Work Program for 2001-02 to 2003-04 was published in hard copy and is also available at the ABS website. The Forward Work Program describes for each ABS program the resources, outputs, clients and uses of the statistical information, and the proposed main medium term developments over the next three years.

The ABS regularly publishes information about new statistical standards, frameworks, concepts, sources and methodologies in a range of information papers and other publications in hard copy, or electronically. Their publication is one element in ensuring that the public are informed about the statistical process. Many of these publications are listed in this Annual Report, including new and updated versions.

The ABS has continued to advertise all scheduled release dates for publications up to twelve months in advance. Daily press and media releases inform users of publications being released each day. This information is also available on the website. Release of all publications is subject to a strict embargo policy that ensures impartiality, an essential element of integrity.

Performance Indicator 2.1.3: Adherence to the secrecy provisions of the Census and Statistics Act 1905

The Census and Statistics Act 1905 (C&S Act) obliges ABS staff to maintain the secrecy and security of all data provided to the ABS under the C&S Act, and held by the ABS. Staff sign an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy under the terms of the Act to ensure that they are fully aware of the requirements on them. There have been no known cases of an ABS officer breaching the undertaking of fidelity and secrecy.

The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, whether it is provided in response to an ABS survey or as administrative data, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release. The ABS also audits the use of confidentialised unit record files to ensure that the requirements relating to the management and use of the files (which are agreed to by users in a legally binding undertaking), are complied with.

3: Appropriate use of statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies

Performance Measure 3.1: Lead the development of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation within the broader Australian statistical system

An important ABS activity is the development and implementation of national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, which are applied, as appropriate, to all ABS statistical collections, including business and household surveys. A number of publications outlining statistical standards were issued during the course of the year. One such publication is the Statistical Concepts Library (Cat. no. 1361.0.30.001), which contains a comprehensive reference library of ABS publications describing the concepts, sources and methods used to compile Australia’s major economic and social statistics.

The ABS is active in encouraging other Commonwealth and State Government agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities.

Activities and achievements during 2000-01 included:
  • release of a range of new statistical classifications and standards for cultural and ethnic groups; drugs of concern; and remoteness;
  • the establishment of a Rural and Regional Statistics National Centre to develop a statistical framework, including relevant classifications and standards, to provide a conceptual basis for comparisons between different regions, and across the same region over time; and
  • using the National Centre to promote the use of ABS and other standards such as the Australian Standard Geographical Classification and the new Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia.

The ABS has also been active in promoting standards and statistics for a culturally diverse society. Achievements during the year included theproduction of statistical standards for cultural and language diversity. The standards were designed to provide a basis for comparison across Australia for government and non-government agencies when collecting data on cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Performance Measure 3.2: Contribute to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and implement them as appropriate

The ABS is an active member of the international statistical community, contributing significantly to the development of key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, and their implementation, where appropriate, in Australia.

Pages 12-13 provide a review of the Bureau’s contributions to various international fora in this field.

ABS officers held prominent positions on a number of international committees and steering groups during 2000-01.

These included:
  • the Australian Statistician as President-elect of the International Statistical Institute;
  • the Australian Statistician elected as Vice-Chairman of the United Nations (UN) Statistical Commission;
  • the Deputy Australian Statistician, Population Statistics Group, elected as Chairperson of the Committee on Statistics for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and
  • the Deputy Australian Statistician, Population Statistics Group, elected as Chairperson of the Governing Board of the UN Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific.

The ABS continues to implement new international statistical standards in a timely and thorough manner. Whenever new international standards are implemented, the ABS revises historical data to ensure continuity in the time series. Performance Indicator 6.1.2 describes the impact of such changes to the labour force survey.

The ABS also provides assistance to statistical agencies in developing nations in implementing the latest international standards.

Assistance in 2000-01 included:
  • completion of an 18-month program of technical assistance to Thailand to strengthen its macro-economic statistics;
  • advice to the statistical agency in Papua New Guinea in relation to its population census;
  • a training course on collecting data on violence against women and children, for officials from the Philippines and Indonesia; and
  • various other technical assistance programs to statistical agencies in Cambodia, China, India, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Africa, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

4: Improve coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies

Performance Measure 4.1: Statistical Clearing House (SCH) activity

The primary objective of the Statistical Clearing House is to reduce the reporting burden placed on business providers by Commonwealth agencies. The SCH pays particular attention to eliminating duplication in business surveys, and ensures that surveys conducted follow good statistical methodologies and practices. In view of its statistical expertise and statutory coordination role, the ABS was empowered to administer the clearance process.

The table below shows the number of survey reviews at various stages of completion on 30 June 2001, for the 2000-01 financial year. Of the 110 completed reviews, all but seven have resulted in approval to proceed. However, Statistical Clearing House intervention has resulted in 57 instances of improved survey design and/or reduced provider load.

This is the third year the Statistical Clearing House has been able to assess the annual load imposed by surveys conducted by non-ABS Commonwealth agencies. For 2000-01, the annual load imposed on providers by non-ABS surveys reviewed by the Statistical Clearing House has been estimated at 25,200 hours, a 2.9 per cent increase on the 1999-2000 non-ABS survey load.

The SCH’s Commonwealth Register of Surveys of Businesses (available on the Internet at http://www.nss.gov.au/nss/home.nsf/pages/About+SCH) provides access to information on collections that have already been conducted, including survey design standards and best practices for organisations developing surveys. There are 407 surveys currently on the website.

Performance Measure 4.2: Assisting other official bodies with integration of administrative and statistical data, including outposting ABS officers and the provision of relevant training

Under Section 6(c) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975,a key function for the ABS is improve coordination of the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics produced by other official bodies. In describing the functions of the Bureau, Section 6(c) of the ABS Act states: “to ensure coordination of the operations of official bodies in the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics and related information...”.

In accordance with the Act, the ABS continues to broaden the concept of ABS statistical responsibilities to include not only statistics collected by the ABS, but also data produced or available from other government and non-government agencies. The ABS provides leadership to Commonwealth and State agencies in making better use of their administrative data so that it can provide another source of quality data for statistical purposes. The ABS encourages agencies to adopt a holistic approach to improving the quality of statistics available to users through the application of similar methodologies to administrative and statistical data.

The ABS outposts statistical officers to State and Federal Government departments and agencies to facilitate access to, and understanding of, statistics, and to strengthen statistical coordination across these bodies. Seven Commonwealth agencies were assisted by outposted statistical officers during 2000-01. ABS regional offices provide outposted officers, usually in the form of short term secondments, to give statistical and technical assistance in particular projects undertaken by State and Territory Governments. In each regional office, State government agencies were assisted by outposted ABS officers in 2000-01. Examples of new partnerships with Commonwealth, State and local government agencies to identify and utilise a greater range of administrative data currently under way are:
  • studies examining the potential of data, compiled at a low level of regional aggregation from the Workcover Authority (South Australia), for measures of regional economic activity;
  • a study to identify possible regional indicators from a large administrative dataset maintained by the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services;
  • review of the administrative data holdings of the Department of Primary Industry, Water and the Environment (Tasmania);
  • in partnership with a number of State and Territory governments, development of a framework of regional indicators of wellbeing, and the identification of data sources from which such wellbeing indicators could be sourced; and
  • a project working with Commonwealth Government and State Government agencies to assist them to implement statistical protocols prepared by the ABS, aimed at improving the quality and comparability of administrative data.

Page 98 outlines key achievements in assisting State and Territory Government agencies through statistical consultation, statistical analysis, modelling of existing ABS or client data, and statistical training or seminars for clients and users.

Achievements during the year included:
  • conduct of various household surveys, including crime and safety (South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales); managing caring responsibilities and paid employment (New South Wales); and leisure and culture participation (Tasmania);
  • conduct of a data management project for Territory Housing (Northern Territory) to improve information for policy development and evaluation; and national reporting requirements for the National Housing Data Agreement, and the Agreement on National Indigenous Housing Information;
  • statistical and methodological support for the development of a Victorian Hospital Costs Index, and resource allocation formula in child protection services;
  • assistance to the TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research with the development and conduct of a Survey of Aboriginal Child Health in Western Australia; and
  • advice on appropriate measures, and identification of benchmark data sources, for ‘Tasmania Together’. This initiative, which involves the ABS working closely with the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Tasmania, involves an extensive community consultation process being used to establish a vision and goals for Tasmania, along with indicators to measure progress.

Pages 105-106, and 108-111 outline ABS initiatives in integrating administrative and other data in demography, social statistics, and in the ABS National Centres for Indigenous, crime and recreation statistics.

Performance Measure 4.3: Identifying, storing, and disseminating statistics from other official bodies

The ABS plays a significant role in identifying, storing and disseminating statistics from other official bodies.

The Integrated Regional Data Base, Australia (Cat. no. 1353.0), provides clients with access to a broad range of information about Australia’s regions. At the end of June 2001, the database contained over 930 non-ABS statistical series, from around twenty different organisations. A broad range of topics are covered including agriculture, income, health, aged care and defence.

Seven of the ABS regional offices have released a publication on Regional Profiles which bring together data from a large range of sources (Cat. no. 1362.0 series). The ABS office in Western Australia has also coordinated data on regional statistics in its publication StatSearch: A Reference Guide to Western Australian Statistics (Cat. no. 1359.5).

The ABS has established a number of National Centres covering specific areas of statistical activity. The Centres coordinate data collection activities within the ABS, and across other public agencies, and provide a statistical service which includes provision of statistical information, training of data providers, advice on statistical standards and development of quality control procedures.

National Centres have been established for:
  • rural and regional statistics (established in 2000-01 in the South Australian office to improve the coordination of statistical information on rural and regional statistics, and to investigate and tap Commonwealth departments as sources of rural and regional data to complement available State data);
  • education and training statistics (established in 2000-01 to coordinate statistical developments across the various education and training sectors to improve data quality and comparability);
  • crime and justice statistics;
  • culture and recreation statistics; and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics.

Chapter 7 provides more details on the functions and achievements of all the ABS National Centres.

In recent years, the ABS has also produced a range of statistical directories to provide users with information on sources of statistics (both from the public and private sectors) for particular topics.

Statistical directories have been produced on the following topics:
  • agriculture and rural statistics (released in 2000-01);
  • electricity, gas, water and sewerage statistics (released in 2000-01);
  • superannuation related statistics;
  • industrial relations;
  • education and training;
  • Census statistis;
  • child and family statistics;
  • energy;
  • tourism;
  • mining; and
  • transport.

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