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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Environmental Economic Accounting

Scott Ludlam 16 Aug 2012

(Question No. 1888)
Senator Ludlam asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 19 June 2012:

(1) With reference to the committee of experts developing the new System of Environmental-Economic Accounting chaired by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), how much progress is being made in other countries towards improving measures of economic wellbeing.
(2) Why are environmental expenditure accounts for Australia no longer produced.
(3) Are there any plans for the ABS to produce multifactor productivity estimates that also include inputs of natural and environmental resources.
(4) Why has the ABS taken the view that subsoil assets do not exist until we find them, rather than regarding the asset as having always been there, thereby revising back the series when a new deposit is discovered.
(5) How does the ABS respond to claims by Professor John Quiggin that a productivity slowdown has not occurred as there was no significant productivity acceleration in the 1990s.

Senator Wong: The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) outlines a measurement framework to capture the interactions between the environment and the economy. Development and application of environmental-economic accounts is an important part of the ABS's overall efforts to better understand well-being more generally, consistent with international and national interest in a wider range of indicators as recommended by international experts such as Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi.Statistical measures for quantifying environmental depletion and degradation are still under development, but many countries produce SEEA style flow accounts for water, energy and emissions including China, South Africa, Mexico, Israel, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.

(2) It is not possible for the ABS to satisfy all demands for statistical information and the ABS has prioritised the environmental information work program to focus on annual Water and Energy Accounts and developing experimental accounts on Waste and Land.

(3) The ABS has no current plans to produce multifactor productivity estimates that also include inputs of natural and environmental resources. The ABS's ongoing research program into improving the measurement of productivity is reviewed annually after consultation with key stakeholders, including the Productivity Commission. The ABS has conducted research into the measurement of natural resource inputs and their impact on the Mining Industry multifactor productivity (MFP) statistics. This work was presented at the 2011 Australian Conference of Economists in Canberra.

(4) The national balance sheet is produced by the ABS in line with the international standard, the System of National Accounts 2008. In the national accounts, an economic asset is defined as a tangible or intangible product on which right of ownership is exercised and whose holding or use procures economic advantages for the owner. Resources which are unknown or are not exploitable do not have an economic value. For sub-soil reserves of mineral and energy resources, increases in theknown stock levels are the result of mineral exploration and price and cost movements.

(5) ABS productivity statistics are compiled in accordance with internationally recognised methodologies consistent with the System of National Accounts 2008 as documented in Chapter 27 of Australian National Accounts: Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 5216.0). The ABS has an ongoing commitment to improving productivity measures and welcomes discussion on these methodologies.

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