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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 835


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmithSpecial Minister of State and Minister assisting the Prime Minister in matters relating to the Public Service) -! move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to bring about a number of fundamental changes in the organisation of our statistical services in order to increase their effectiveness and relevance for modern conditions and to strengthen further the guarantees of objectivity and impartiality of the Statistician. Clearly, the national statistical service is vitally important to the whole Parliament and the nation at large. There is no need for me to argue the virtues of statistical information in providing a generally informed society; in providing a firm base for decision making in Govenment, business and the rest of the community; in providing a basis for the development of programs and a means of measuring their progress over time.

The main provisions of this Bill, which I shall comment on more fully a little later, are to establish the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a statutory body to fulfil the functions of a central statistical authority; to establish a statutory position of Australian Statistician and to establish an Australian Statistics Advisory Council as a statutory body. By way of background I refer to the great growth in statistics since the Second World War. Particularly in government, but also in most other sectors of the community, there has been a great awakening to the value of all kinds of statistics and statistical services. Prior to the War, statistical activity was directed towards the provision of basic statistics such as population, births and deaths, employment, manufacturing and agricultural production, overseas trade, and so on. After the War, the emphasis turned to the provision of a wider range of more frequent and up-to-date economic statistics and indicators such as retail sales, capital expenditure, oversea investment, building stastistics, monthly production, balance of payments, considerable development in national accounts, labour force and unemployment, and many others. Monthly and quarterly statistics supplemented the established annual censuses.

In recent years, development in statistics has been marked by greater sophistication and complexity and by a growing need for special purpose economic and social surveys. Aided by the introduction of computers and the development of sampling and other techniques, notable developments have taken place in the fields of seasonal adjustment, constant price series, social surveys for a wide variety of purposes, inputoutput tables and the development of econometric model building and forecasting. Economic censuses and surveys, which were originally developed as independent projects, are being progressively integrated within common conceptual frameworks on the basis of common units, definitions and classifications. In the future I see major developments in the integration and coordination of data systems, in the establishment of readily accessible statistical data bases, and in the responsiveness of the statistical system to changing needs in a rapidly changing world. Economic statistics and indicators will continue to be of basic importance but social and manpower statistics and data for urban and regional planning must continue to develop.

As a result of all these changes over the years the Bureau of Statistics has grown to become one of the larger bodies in the Australian Public Service. Concurrently with these developments there has been a growth in the statistical activities of other governmental authorities, particularly in the area of analysis and interpretation of statistics but also in the production of stastistics from administrative records and even in direct collection from business and the general public. It is now considered that the large size of the Bureau and the objectivity and impartiality which it must exercise in its operations require that it be established as an administratively independent authority with a status reflecting its important role. It is also necessary that it be accorded the functions of a central statistical authority to ensure that all statistical operations in government departments are integrated within a common framework in accordance with common standards. This will result in considerable economies through the avoidance of duplication of effort. It will lessen the burden on the reporting public and will provide a common data base for use by government and the community as a whole.

It is further desirable that the Statistician be relieved of the necessity to determine priorities for the multitude of statistical demands being made upon the Bureau. Despite the great increase in statistics now produced by the Bureau, there are many other needs yet to be satisfied. It has to be recognised that the demand for statistics and statistical services is insatiable and that only the most important requirements can be serviced. Clearly, the decision as to which of the multitude of demands should be met should lie with the government of the day. For this reason, an Australian Statistics Advisory Council with a membership widely representative of government and community interests will be established to advise the Minister and the Statistician on all matters pertaining to the statistical service including its annual and longer term priorities and work programs.

I understand that the development of new statistics legislation which would have achieved the same objectives by the implementation of virtually the same measures was already proceeding under several previous governments. The House will be aware that in December 1973 my Government appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Professor Crisp to advise on the general principles and administrative arrangements which would enable the Government to integrate the various departmental data systems servicing related areas of its social and economic policies. The report of the Committee has been widely circulated. Among other things it recommends the measures covered by this Bill.

The present Bill is in respect of an Act which shall be read in conjunction with all existing Acts including the Census and Statistics Act 1905-1973 and the Statistics (Arrangements with States) Act 1956-1958. All this legislation is at present under review with the object of preparing comprehensive legislation to bring the relevant provisions together in one Act and to provide for certain more detailed recommendations in the Crisp Report. The provisions covered by the Bill are being sought at this stage to avoid unnecessary delay in making the major administrative changes necessary to achieve the important improvements mentioned earlier.

I come now to the main provisions of the Bill. Part I contains the usual definitions and provides that the Australian Statistician shall have all the powers, functions and duties vested by other Acts in the Commonwealth Statistician. The present statutory office of Commonwealth Statistician shall cease to exist with the proclamation of the new Act. Elimination of the word 'census' from the title of the Bureau merely reflects the fact that this word is now widely used in many statistical contexts other than that of the national census of population and housing to which it originally referred almost exclusively, lt further emphasises that the national census of population and housing is a collection for statistical purposes.

Part II provides for the establishment of a statutory position of Australian Statistician and for the establishment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a statutory body with the functions of a central statistical authority. In addition to existing functions relating to the collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination of statistics, this section provides also for the co-ordination of the statistical activities of other official bodies in the interests of avoiding duplication, attaining compatibility in statistical activities, achieving economies through the use of all available sources of data, achieving adherence to common standards in statistical work, providing statistical assistance and providing liaison with other countries and international organisations on statistical matters. While these functions are largely in the hands of the Bureau at present, this legislation will formally recognise them as the proper functions of the Bureau.

This Part also provides for collaboration between the Bureau and non-official bodies for the same purposes. The terms and conditions for the appointment and removal from office of the Statistician or a person acting as Statistician are stated. These are similar to those applying to the Commissioner of Taxation and thereby ensure the security of tenure appropriate to an office which must operate without fear or favour. In relation to the Bureau, the Statistician is vested with all the powers of, or exercisable by, a permanent head under the Public Service Act 1922-1974, as befits his status. The continued staffing of the Bureau under the Public Service Act is also provided for.

Part III relates to the establishment, functions and composition of the proposed Australian Statistics Advisory Council. The Council has wide functions to advise the Minister and the Statistician on any matter relating to statistical services, including the extension and coordination of those services and annual and longer term priorities and work programs. The composition of the Council of up to 24 members provides adequate scope for it to be widely representative of community interests. It is the Government's intention to ensure this wide representation of the membership. Part IV of the Bill provides for annual reports to the Parliament by the Statistician and the Council. This provision will make a further contribution towards ensuring the Bureau's objectivity and independence while at the same time making the Statistician and the Council publicly accountable. I am sure that the constructive nature of these proposed changes in the statistics legislation will have wide support and I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr McLeay) adjourned.







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