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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5: Increase the quantity of output, including improving client access to ABS and other statistical information by improving dissemination methods

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 (see Statistical Developments section of Chapter 1), and increasing the range of electronic releases (see Performance Measure 5.2).

Notable new releases in 2000-01 included:

  • Internet Activity, Australia (Cat. no. 8153.0), which contains details of Internet activity facilitated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Australia. Statistics include, the number of business and private Internet subscribers, the volume of traffic through ISPs to Internet subscribers, and the number of lines providing Internet connectivity to subscribers;
  • Use of Information Technology on Farms, Australia (Cat. no. 8150.0), which provides statistics on farm use of information technology on a regional basis;
  • Australian National Accounts: Tourism Satellite Account (Cat. no. 5249.0), which presents the first ABS estimates of the direct contribution of tourism to the Australian economy;
  • International Merchandise Trade, Australia: Concepts, Sources and Methods (Cat. no. 5489.0), which provides a comprehensive description of the concepts underlying Australian international merchandise trade statistics and the data sources and methods used to compile these statistics;
  • Stage of Production Producer Price Indexes, Australia (Cat. no. 6426.0), which presents producer price index numbers for the supply of commodities (goods and services) to the Australian economy in a ‘stage of production’ framework as discussed in the Information Paper: Producer Price Index Developments, (Cat. no. 6422.0) released in March 1999;
  • Information Paper: Introduction of the 14th Series Australian Consumer Price Index (Cat. no. 6456.0), which summarises the major changes that occurred in the 14th series CPI, along with item weights and the revised publication format;
  • Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends (Cat. no. 4613.0), which presents a broad selection of environmental statistics and information which illustrate topical environmental issues that affect the future of Australia as a nation;
  • Australian Industry (Cat. no. 8155.0), which presents estimates (such as total income and expenses) derived using a combination of data from the Economic Activity Survey and business income tax data provided to the Australian Taxation Office;
  • Occasional Paper: Australian Business Register - A Snapshot (Cat. no. 1369.0), which presents information provided by the Australian Taxation Office, based on data from the Australian Business Register;
  • Information Paper: ABS Views on Remoteness (Cat. no. 1244.0), which deals with the concept of ‘remoteness’ in Australia, and details options for the introduction of a classification of remoteness into the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) (Cat. no. 1216.0);
  • Australian Standard Classification of Drugs of Concern (Cat. no. 1248.0), which primarily aims to ensure the compatibility and comparability of data on problem drugs derived from a range of different statistical and administrative systems;
  • Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG) (Cat. no. 1249.0), which is a national standard for use by the ABS and other government and non-government agencies for the collection, aggregation and dissemination of data relating to ancestry, ethnicity and cultural diversity;
  • Australian Housing Survey - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Results (Cat. no. 4712.0), which presents information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing from the Australian Housing Survey;
  • Caring in the Community, Australia (Cat. no. 4436.0), which provides information on informal carers from the 1998 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers;
  • Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, Australia (Cat. no. 4901.0), which presents data on a range of cultural and recreational activities, including participation in organised sports and use of computers, by children aged from 5 to 14 years inclusive;
  • Occasional Paper: Labour Force Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, Experimental Estimates from the Labour Force Survey (Cat. no. 6287.0), which contains experimental estimates of the labour force characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians using data from the Labour Force Survey;
  • Information Paper: Implementing the Redesigned Labour Force Survey Questionnaire (Cat. no. 6295.0), which details the changes and additions to labour force statistics resulting from the questionnaire redesign;
  • Employment Services, Australia (Cat. no. 8558.0), which provides information on businesses involved in providing employment placement services and/or contract staff (labour hire) services in Australia;
  • Employment Arrangements and Superannuation, Australia (Cat. no. 6361.0), which presents information about people’s employment and superannuation arrangements in the workplace;
  • Prisoners in Australia (Cat. no. 4517.0), which contains details on prisoners in custody on 30 June each year;
  • Experimental Estimates of Foreign and Domestic Investment in Private New Capital Expenditure, Western Australia (Cat. no. 5674.5), which presents a set of experimental estimates for Western Australia which show private new capital expenditure by Australian and foreign owned businesses for the 1998-99 financial year;
  • Directory of Electricity, Gas, Water and Sewerage Statistics (Cat. no. 1140.0), which contains comprehensive information on sources of electricity, gas, water and sewerage statistics (ANZSIC Subdivisions 36-37) in the public and the private sectors;
  • Occasional Paper: Labour Market Dynamics in Australia - An Application Using the Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns (Cat. no. 6392.0.00.006), which provides a description of how labour market dynamics vary across the Australian population depending on different characteristics such as age, sex, industry and occupation; and
  • A Portrait of Australian Exporters: A Report Based on the Business Longitudinal Survey (Cat. no. 8154.0), a joint publication with Austrade, provides a detailed picture of Australia’s exporting businesses and how they compare with non-exporting businesses.

Performance Measure 5.2: Develop new products and services

In addition to the publications mentioned above, the ABS developed several new products and services during 2000-01 including:
  • directories of agriculture and rural statistics, and electricity, gas, water and sewerage statistics;
  • a number of new statistical standards covering topics such as drugs, education and culture, and ethnic groups; and
  • a number of information papers informing users about conceptual issues or pending changes such as the redesigned labour force questionnaire, ABS views on remoteness, and the introduction of the 14th Series Australian Consumer Price Index.

The ABS has also had some important releases of new electronic products and services in 2000-01.

These include:
  • the 2001 Year Book, Australia (1301.0), which in its electronic form includes the first ABS Year Book as well as a selection of special Year Book articles published in earlier editions;
  • previous editions (1994-2000) of Australian Social Trends (Cat. no. 4102.0) were made available for free at the ABS website;
  • Information Paper: An Introductory Course on Time Series Analysis - Electronic Delivery (Cat. no. 1346.0.55.001), which describes issues that are relevant to time series analysis in the ABS. It includes a range of exercises and solutions
  • New Motor Vehicle Registration (NMVR), Australia, Main Data (Cat. no. 9303.0.55.001) on SuperTABLE Cube, which contains details of new motor vehicles registered over the previous 36 months. The details include State of registration, vehicle type, make (model and submodel) of vehicle, fuel used, and tare weight;
  • New Motor Vehicle Registration (NMVR), Australia, Motorcycles Data on SuperTABLE (Cat. no. 9303.0.55.002), which contains details of new motorcycles registered over the previous 36 months. The details include State of registration, postcode of motorcycle owner and make (model and submodel) of motorcycle;
  • Summary of Industry Performance, Australia, Preliminary - Data Report, Electronic Delivery (Cat. no. 8142.0.55.002), which presents a summary of industry performance indicators (that is, selected aggregates, industry ratios and business averages) based on profit and loss and balance sheet accounts of public trading and private employing businesses for all industries;
  • Small Business in Australia, Electronic Spreadsheets (Cat. no. 1321.0.55.001), which provides an update of the key tables from Small Business in Australia 1999 (Cat. no. 1321.0). Data includes estimates of businesses and employment by industry and state;
  • website releases of Directories for Tourism (Cat. no. 1130.0.55.001), Transport (Cat. no. 1132.0.55.001), and Energy Statistics (Cat. no. 1107.0.55.001);
  • Australian Historical Population Statistics - on AUSSTATS (Cat. no. 3105.0.65.001), which contains a wide range of historical time series demographic data going back as far, where possible, to the beginnings of European settlement; and
  • A Guide to the Australian Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Statistics (Cat. no. 5362.0.55.001), which presents a brief outline of the general concepts and practices involved in the Australian balance of payments and international investment position statistics. More detail can be found in Balance of Payments and International Investment Position, Australia: Concepts, Sources and Methods (Cat. no. 5331.0).

More generally, the range of data available on the ABS website, both free of charge and at cost, has increased substantially with over 36,000 web pages now available.

Performance Measure 5.3: Ensure public accessibility through libraries, the media, etc.

The ABS provides free access to much of its data through the ABS website, public libraries, media releases, media enquiries, and the distribution of ABS reports to media offices and to Members of Parliament. Table 3 below shows the level of media reporting (by medium) over recent years. In 2000-01, there was an increase in reporting across all media. This increase in activity reflects, in part, ABS awareness raising seminars, pre-release notices and media releases/launches on the day of release, keeping in mind that much of the Australian public find out about official statistics through the media.

A specific project during the year involved the facilitation of a joint project between the National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics and the Victorian Office of the ABS, which produced an Internet resource, allowing students to easily access Indigenous statistics.

Performance Measure 5.4: Enhance delivery options using new technology to improve accessibility

ABS promotes the use of new technology to enhance delivery options and to improve accessibility to ABS statistics. The ABS@ and AusStats subscription services provide users with ready access to ABS publications, and to a range of multidimensional datasets in electronic format. The ABS website is one of the most accessed websites in Australia. Its content is continually expanding, with theme and State pages added in 2000-01 which provide easy access to statistical resources related to subjects such as educational services, environment and families.

During 2000-01 the ABS conducted a useability study of the ABS website using cognitive techniques. The study involved a number of people with varying levels of knowledge of the ABS and its website, being asked to complete a range of tasks on the ABS website. While the results were encouraging, the report made some recommendations for improvements to ABS web design. Procedures are in place to follow through on the recommendations.

The ABS has regularly reviewed its client servicing and dissemination strategies in order to maintain pace with technology developments and changing client expectations. In particular, the ABS is meeting changing customer needs by developing new dissemination methods and products which will exploit technological advances including warehousing facilities. The ABS is also improving service delivery and effectiveness through the development of self-help facilities and partnerships with information intermediaries.

During 2000-01, new subscribers to ABS@ were:
  • the Department of Industry, Science, and Resources;
  • the South Australian government;
  • the Commonwealth Treasury (on a trial basis);
  • the Department of Health and Aged Care; and
  • the Department of Family and Community Services.

In addition, a number of other State and Territory governments and Commonwealth departments have also shown interest in the service.

6: Improve the quality of outputs

Performance Measure 6.1: Achieve or exceed timeliness, statistical reliability, response rate and accuracy objectives

Performance Indicator 6.1.1: Timeliness

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 in the timeliness achieved. Table 4 presents information on timeliness for ABS monthly and quarterly publications for main economic indicator statistics, and other general releases. It indicates that the ABS maintained or improved the average timeliness of monthly and quarterly releases.

Performance Indicator 6.1.2: 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 the potential impact of any significant revisions.

During 2000-01, larger than normal revisions were made to core labour force series. These revisions were the result of the implementation of a redesigned questionnaire for the labour force survey to incorporate new international standards.

The impacts of the labour force revisions were presented in two information papers:
  • Implementing the Redesigned Labour Force Survey Questionnaire (Cat. no. 6295.0); and
  • Questionnaires Used in the Labour Force Survey (Cat. no. 6232.0).

The information papers explain that the redesigned questionnaire obtains new or extended information on job tenure, underemployment, hours worked, duration of unemployment, and marginal attachment to the labour force. The format of the questionnaire has been improved, and some question wording updated to improve the efficiency of the survey, enhance the quality of the data collected, and reflect current terminology and labour market conditions. To ensure continuity of time series, selected labour force series have been revised from April 1986 to March 2001 to reflect the impact of the more significant definitional changes. Details of these revisions are contained in the information papers.

In addition, details of any significant revisions to series can be found in ABS publications. More detailed revisions for particular series are also available on request.

Performance Indicator 6.1.3: Response rates

The ABS has consistently had very high response rates in its collections, with the organisation comparing very favourably on this criterion against other international statistical offices. Recent international benchmarking results for the manufacturing survey, the consumer price index, and the household expenditure survey, all demonstrated that the ABS is achieving very good response rates.

Response rates do not vary much over time, so it is appropriate to identify targets for response rates, rather than be concerned with small changes in levels over time. In 2000-01, key ABS economic and social collections met or bettered the very high target response rates set by the organisation. The choice of surveys reflects a cross section of regular key economic indicator series and a range of irregular social surveys.

Performance Indicator 6.1.4: Accuracy

All ABS outputs maintain high levels of accuracy in all tables, graphs and text. It is ABS policy that relative standard errors are included in survey publications, along with descriptions of other types of errors to which outputs may be subject.

Included below are descriptions of some indicators of accuracy for a number of major ABS publications. The relative standard error is a 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 tables below present a summary view only, with more details available from the publications, or the concepts, sources, and methods publications associated with the collections themselves.

Performance Measure 6.2: Conduct quality reviews, and implement their recommendations

Performance Indicator 6.2.1: 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.

Several reviews commenced, or were completed, in 2000-01, including reviews of:
  • the manufacturing, mining and agriculture collections;
  • the private health establishments collection;
  • the public finance program; and
  • local government statistics collection.

The reviews have led to revised collection strategies for each of the programs.

Performance Indicator 6.2.2: 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.

Two significant developments in 2000-01 relate to:
  • the benchmarking of statistical series using new taxation data; and
  • plans to progressively introduce Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) to the Monthly Populations Survey from late 2003 or early 2004.

During 2000-01, a number of ABS statistical collections and classification systems benefited from the introduction of The New Tax System and the associated changes to statistical reporting that it allowed.

Improvements were made to:
  • the ABS business register, to accord with the new Australian Business Numbers; and
  • a number of statistical collection areas are investigating ways of using the taxation data to supplement or replace existing data.

These developments have reduced provider load during 2000-01. More details on the impact of taxation data on economic statistics can be found in Chapter 6.

The benefits of the CAI methodology are that it provides for improved workload management and the ability to conduct multiple supplementary surveys.

7: Achievement of cost effective outputs

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

Pages 22-24 discuss the role of the ABS Audit Committee and the nature of internal and external scrutiny of ABS operations.

Major reviews completed during 2000-01 which addressed efficiency issues included:
  • implications of taxation reform;
  • the annual mining collection;
  • agriculture census strategy and resources;
  • the annual manufacturing collection;
  • review of the large business unit and business register; and
  • National Accounts Information Technology (IT).

These reviews resulted in:
  • improvements to the ABS business register (using Australian Business Numbers);
  • identification of savings due to methodological improvements;
  • achieving savings from refining collection processes; and
  • identifying efficiency gains from more effective use of IT resources and architecture.

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 IT, 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, which enables the organisation to achieve continuous improvement across a variety of its outputs.

A number of benchmarking studies are currently being undertaken in the ABS, including:
  • comparisons between ABS statistical collections; and
  • comparisons between the operations of a number of international statistical agencies and the ABS.

Comparisons between ABS statistical collections

Internal benchmarking studies during 2000-01 involved the following collections:
  • annual manufacturing collection;
  • Consumer Price Index;
  • Producer Price Index;
  • Service Industry Surveys (Gambling Survey);
  • Agricultural Finance Survey;
  • Monthly Retail Survey;
  • Survey of Financial Information (Superannuation);
  • Average Weekly Earnings; and
  • New Capital Expenditure Survey.

These studies produced two main outcomes: the first being the formulation of the financial framework and performance measures, and the development of a framework for future benchmarking exercises; the second was the opportunity for collection areas to share elements of better practice, including more cost effective ways of undertaking collection activities.

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

International benchmarking studies during 2000-01 involved the following collections:
  • Household Expenditure Survey;
  • Consumer Price Index; and
  • the annual Manufacturing Survey.

Outcomes from the studies were:
  • more detailed examination of the ABS Household Expenditure Survey to assess possible efficiencies in processing; and
  • the establishment of a review of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) collection to assess possible collection efficiencies and to investigate the use of administrative datasets for the CPI.

The studies also showed the ABS put more effort into data quality than the organisations it was comparing with.

In addition, the ABS is currently involved in human resource and financial services benchmarking studies conducted by the Australian National Audit Office. Further, the Technology Services Division is continuing to be involved in a range of Gartner Group benchmarking studies. They show the ABS is very efficient in its management and use of technology.

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

The ABS is currently benchmarking several corporate service functions with a view to market testing and outsourcing as appropriate. The organisation, has outsourced a number of key functions in recent years including printing and distribution services, a range of training courses related to information technology, leadership and management training, and internal audit. The ABS will continue to investigate additional outsourcing opportunities as they arise.

Performance Measure 7.4: Continual reductions in the aggregate load placed on all businesses

The following table shows the provider load (measured in thousands of hours taken to complete statistical forms) imposed on businesses from 1997-98 to 2000-01.

Under the Commonwealth Government’s 1996 Small Business Deregulation Task Force, the ABS was committed to a 20% reduction in provider load. This target has been substantially exceeded. The overall reduction since 1995-96 is 43% for all businesses and 45% for the small business sector.

These reductions have been achieved through the introduction of a wide range of long term initiatives affecting nearly all business collections. The most notable of these include:
  • increasing use of administrative data available from other government agencies, and in particular from the Australian Taxation Office;
  • reducing the frequency of some collections, for example, the agricultural census, manufacturing census, producer price indexes, and waste management and environmental expenditure collections; and
  • reducing the sample size for some collections, including the retail industry survey and the wholesale industry survey.

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