ABS letter to the Australian Financial Review Editor "ABS now sees no evil in Customs cargo system" (published 16 January 2006)

In "ABS now sees no evil in Customs cargo system" (AFR 12 January) Julian Bajkowski makes two false allegations, first, that the ABS has been inappropriately influenced by Australian Customs Service officers to change explanatory material related to import statistics and second, that the ABS has presented inconsistent information on the possible factors affecting the growth in imports between October and November 2005.

Customs did not place any pressure whatsoever on the ABS, which has a long tradition of operating without fear or favour in presenting information in an accurate and balanced way. The initiative to provide the supplementary material came from the ABS.

Mr Bajkowski is also wrong to claim that the ABS has changed its explanation of possible factors affecting the growth in import numbers. The ABS simply re-issued a statement that had been released on 21 December 2005 to coincide with the November 2005 issue of Merchandise Imports. We did this because of our concerns about the reporting of results from the November 2005 issue of International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia, which was released on 10 January 2006. Initial reporting of the results attributed the increase in imports to delays in processing of October import lodgments. As explained in the ABS statement, there is no evidence for this. The ABS has a tradition of being very open about its methods and practices and of not simply releasing numbers and letting users wonder what they mean.

Dennis Trewin
Australian Statistician