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Purpose of concepts, sources and methods

Australian System of National Accounts: Concepts, Sources and Methods
Reference period
2020-21 financial year

1.34    The main purpose of this manual is to provide users with an in-depth understanding of the National Accounts statistics as an aid to more effective use and interpretation of the statistics. A detailed understanding of the underlying statistical standards and concepts, and of the methods used to compile the statistics, should enable users to make better judgements about the economic significance, quality and accuracy of the statistics. To achieve this aim, this manual provides an updated account of the concepts, sources and methods used to compile the Australian National Accounts statistics. A number of appendices are also included to provide additional information on particular aspects of national accounting, such as the classifications underlying the accounts.

1.35    Wide spectrums of audiences require information about National Accounts concepts, sources and methods. These range from users with broad, general needs for information about the main aggregates to those with highly specialised needs relating to particular data items. The main categories of users, and their likely needs, are set out below:

  • students at upper high school level or undergraduate level at university – the need is for a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the numbers are put together, and the main outputs (publication tables, written and graphic analysis, and explanatory notes) to gain an appreciation of the current performance of the Australian economy;
  • financial journalists – the need is for a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the numbers are put together, and the main outputs, to support media comment on the current performance of the Australian economy. These users may need to delve deeper into particular aspects;
  • teachers/teaching academics – a broad understanding of the conceptual framework, how the numbers are put together, and the main outputs, to support teaching about Australia’s economy. These users may also need to delve deeper into particular aspects;
  • financial sector economists, economists working for interest groups, national and international investors, public sector economists in other countries, and international credit rating agencies – a reasonably detailed understanding of the conceptual framework, the sources and how the numbers are put together, to support their interpretation of the statistics and advice to their organisations and clients;
  • international agencies such as the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank and the United Nations Statistics Division – generally these agencies require a reasonably detailed understanding of all aspects of the statistics. Their uses encompass monitoring the extent of country adherence to international standards and practices, the compilation of country groupings and world economic statistics, and modelling work to support the preparation of country reports;
  • academic researchers – a reasonably detailed understanding of the conceptual framework, the sources, and how the numbers are put together, with more detail on particular accounts/items to support research and modelling;
  • National Accounts compilers in other countries – a reasonably detailed understanding of Australian sources and methods, with more detail on particular accounts/items, to compare with their own practices; and
  • the Commonwealth Treasury, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), the Productivity Commission and other public sector economists – a reasonably detailed understanding of Australian sources and methods to support their interpretation of the numbers and forecasting of national accounting aggregates.

1.36    For students and others who need only a broad understanding of the National Accounts statistics, the ABS publication, Measuring Australia’s Economy provides a brief overview of the concepts, structure and classifications of these and the other major economic statistics published by the ABS. The present concepts, sources and methods document should prove a useful extension, but for the most part it may be too detailed for this audience.

1.37    The present document is aimed mainly at the user of National Accounts statistics who is interested in the more detailed aspects. However, it is not a complete description of the ABS National Accounts methodology. That task would require a much larger publication. This publication aims to provide a substantial guide to what the ABS does to compile National Accounts.