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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2209

Mr O'KEEFE —I present the 207th Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts relating to a Department of Finance minute on the Committee's 192nd report on the collection and dissemination of statistics. I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr O'KEEFE —The 207th report contains the Department of Finance minute on the Committee's 192nd report, which was a discussion paper on the collection and dissemination of statistics. The Department of Finance minute is the formal documentation of the Government's response to the Committee's recommendations which were contained in the 192nd report, tabled in Parliament on 10 November 1981. The Committee considers that timely and accurate statistics are an essential requirement for both public and private sector management. In particular, such information is required for monitoring the efficiency and effectiveness of policies and programs across the full range of governmental activities. Similarly comprehensive and up to date statistics are required as a basis for advice on prospective new policies and programs. If comprehensive and relevant statistics are not available it is possible for government policies and programs, formulated on the basis of incomplete information, to be directed away from the areas of greatest need.

Even though the benefits that can flow from statistical information are great, so also are the costs of obtaining them. By any measure, the quantity of official statistics now collected is immense. Subject groups range over demography, education, health, welfare, national accounts, employment and prices , all industry groups, transportation and communications. The 1981-82 Budget appropriations for the Australian Bureau of Statistics-ABS-total about $111m, of which $76m was for salaries of Bureau staff. Furthermore, the Confederation of Australian Industry claims that the cost of complying with Federal and State government regulations on the provision of statistical information was $3,700m in 1978-79.

Consequently, the Committee considered that it was important to produce a discussion paper covering such issues. This resulted in the 192nd report which discussed a number of problem areas associated with the collection and dissemination of statistics by the Commonwealth Government, and made suggestions aimed at effecting improvements in the quality of statistics. It also considered more economical ways of carrying out the task which, in turn, could have the added advantage of freeing resources for the collection of needed, but as yet unavailable, information.

The Committee's main recommendations were made in the following areas: The strengthening of the power of the ABS to co-ordinate statistical information; the establishment by the ABS of a central statistical register; the appropriate use of taxation data; the encouragement of consistency in standard data concepts , definitions and classifications; the amendment of the Census and Statistics Act to allow for maximum utilisation of statistics; the examination of overseas initiatives to reduce the paper burden imposed by governments on citizens; the possibility of charging users for some statistical publications; and the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to advise governments on urgent matters relating to statistical programs and priorities.

As indicated in this finance minute, several of the Committee's recommendations have been accepted. Consequently the Committee is generally satisfied with this response. The main policy revisions effected as a result of the Committee's recommendations are as follows: The introduction of new measures designed to strengthen the co-ordination role of the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the amendment of the Census and Statistics Act to allow maximum use of available data; and the introduction of charges for a much higher proportion of ABS publications.

However, the Committee does have some reservations about this response to its 192nd report. In particular, the Committee considers that the Australian Bureau of Statistics should further explore the possibility of making better use of taxation data. The Committee will continue to pursue with the Australian Bureau of Statistics this area and several others which emerged from the 192nd report. I commend this report to the House.