1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2015-2016  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/10/2016   
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SUMMARY OF ACTIVITIES FOR 2015–16

The Council held three meetings during 2015-16, on 10 November 2015, 31 March 2016 and 21 June 2016 as well as a Blue Sky Workshop on 20 June 2016 (see Appendix 3 for agenda listings).

AUSTRALIA'S STATISTICAL SYSTEM AND ASAC’S ROLE

ASAC has, for a number of years, considered reform of the statistical system a high priority. Over the last year, ASAC discussed the vast amount of data available across governments and how to prioritise and make best use of it. The Council advised on a range of issues.

  • ASAC noted a new level of cooperation between agencies in the statistical system; for example, a number of Commonwealth partners are working on the Multi-agency Data Integration Project (MADIP), which is proving to be a key foundational project for informing how more data could be integrated across time and sectors.
  • Data integration is viewed by ASAC as an important way of making better use of public sector data, with the Council supportive of the unique position held by ABS to add value through its expertise. The Council strongly advocated for further development and acceleration of data integration activities.

An ASAC submission to the Reform of Federation process did not proceed (as indicated in the last annual report). Instead, the Council took opportunities to heighten awareness of cross-jurisdictional benefits arising from the changing public sector data landscape. Members urged a more targeted approach to demonstrating the value of improving statistical coordination and national standards.

The Chair of ASAC actively engaged with Minister Hawke to provide ASAC’s advice on issues around reform. The Chair also liaised with the Secretary of Prime Minister & Cabinet about ASAC’s role and reform activities, as well as the gains that can be realised from the inclusion of states and territories in the reform process as custodians of public data.

The Council provided advice to the ABS on the challenges of the changing data landscape, including its role in leading a collaborative approach to fully realise the value of statistics in a dynamic data environment. ASAC highlighted these issues through exploring international examples e.g. Statistics New Zealand transformation lessons, and submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Data Availability and Use.

ASAC discussed the need for official statistics to remain relevant in a changing environment and flagged a need to examine measures of productivity and emerging areas in the economy in more detail. The Council also supports the ABS’ priority to ensure the ongoing quality of key official statistics, particularly main economic indicators of Consumer Price Index, National Accounts, Labour Force Statistics and Estimated Resident Population; and key social surveys that inform significant public policy issues including health, disability and social services. These priorities will be addressed in 2016-17.

ASAC members provided advice about new possibilities and opportunities for ABS to leverage with partners within the statistical system, now and into the future. Specifically, the Council sees benefit in maximising the ABS’ ability to:
  • Create relevant statistics in a changing external environment
  • Seek out new data sources from both government and non-government partners
  • Make effective use of existing methods, systems, legislation, etc.
  • Build support for a more integrated national statistical system.

ASAC continued to work closely with the ABS to progress the Essential Statistical Assets for Australia initiative. The focus in 2015-16 was on Essential Statistical Infrastructure (ESI). Results of consultation were released in February 2016 and highlighted barriers to optimal data use previously noted by ASAC e.g. statistical standards (Essential Statistical Assets for Australia, 2015 cat. no. 1395.0).


2016 CENSUS OF POPULATION AND HOUSING

ASAC has monitored progress of Census 2016 and consistently noted the preparations for the predominately ‘digital first’ Census were on track. Census preparations and relevant strategies featured in discussion at each ASAC meeting in 2015-16.

The Council discussed, and provided its advice on, the proposal to hold a Census every 10 years, which had been before Government in late 2014 and early 2015. ASAC noted the merits of a decennial Census, complemented by adequate resourcing for household, population and other relevant surveys to ensure delivery of quality official statistics. Members have played an active role in discussions regarding retention of personal identifiers from the 2016 Census and the associated Privacy Impact Assessment.

ASAC members were generally supportive of the ABS’ final decision to retain name and address information for up to four years, seeing it as a means to realising optimal value from data integration activities. Members have also provided advice to the ABS on the importance of gaining public support for these changes.


PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION INQUIRY INTO DATA AVAILABILITY AND USE

The Council believes that significant costs can be saved over time, and the quality of information available to decision makers enhanced, by improving the availability and use of data within and across all levels of government in Australia.

It is the Council’s position that, overall, Australia’s information and statistical system is not being used optimally to inform decisions. Accordingly, ASAC’s submission to the Inquiry drew attention to three major issues:
  • Duplication and uncoordinated data collection resulting in unnecessary burden and suboptimal use of data
  • Suboptimal levels of statistical and analytical capability resulting in underutilisation of data
  • Insufficient governance arrangements for the statistical system in Australia resulting in inefficient practices.

To address these issues (and others) inhibiting data availability and use, ASAC’s key recommendation was that governments should work through data governance arrangements as a priority for investment.


BLUE SKY WORKSHOP

ASAC’s commitment to highlighting current issues enabled the Council to also remain cognisant of long term impacts; this awareness gave rise to the Blue Sky Workshop, which will inform ASAC’s thinking regarding strategic advice to the ABS and the wider statistical system.

In June 2016, ASAC members sponsored and hosted a Blue Sky Workshop titled Over the horizon: Digital disruption, megatrends and the future of official statistics. The workshop included invited guests from government, academia and the private sector to discuss issues that may impact the future of information and production and use of data 20 years into the future.

Themes raised in the workshop included:
  • The impact changes in the economy, technology and data will have on people and the digital economy
  • The increasing volume and granularity of data available from the “Internet of things”
  • How we might gain more value from data for policy, innovation and productivity
  • Optimising new non-government and government data, and utilising other sources of data
  • Taking a different approach to thinking about, and solving, problems i.e. considering multiple scenarios and strategies for deriving solutions.

Changes in the data landscape will have implications for national statistics and other information insights. ASAC members provided advice to ABS on how to balance an expectation that ABS still produce core, competent official statistics whilst capitalising on the opportunity to maximise the value of data through data integration. The Council also suggested that there is an opportunity for ABS to partner with others to provide additional insights through tools and advisory services.


ABS TRANSFORMATION AGENDA

ASAC has continued to provide feedback to the ABS as it moves forward with its transformation agenda. In 2016, a number of Council members participated in ABS’ independent Stakeholder Relationship Health Assessment and discussed the findings during one of its Council meetings.

ASAC provided input into the ABS’ consideration of the benefits of new methods and increased exploitation of big data as part of statistical transformation. Members have provided advice on plans to consolidate and integrate business surveys and implement the Australian Population survey in conjunction with Census and administrative data.

The Council also noted the benefits realised through recent reviews of ABS policies and internal governance, including new access arrangements and partnerships. These reviews, supported by contemporary advice on the ABS’ legislation, should increase efficiency and effectiveness of ABS operations as well as improve stakeholder relationships.


ABS FORWARD WORK PROGRAM

The Council discussed the ABS 2016–17 work program, noting the following priorities:
  • Delivering the Census of Population and Housing – preparations for August 9 were underway and tracking well
  • Delivering and maintaining the quality of key statistics – in particular, population estimates and major economic indicators
  • Investing in microdata and integrated data – to enable better decision making for policy makers and the community
  • Transforming the ABS for the future – in particular, the Statistical Business Transformation Program and broader organisational transformation.

Members provided their support for these priorities, whilst also expressing an appetite for capturing more social and economic trends in the ABS forward work program. These include the need for better measures on productivity and national savings, insights into the performance of the service sector, and measures that will keep pace with the changing structure of the economy.

ASAC acknowledged the progress made by the ABS to deliver and maintain the quality of key statistics through effective management of statistical risk. Members were briefed on development towards cultural change and adoption of refreshed, nuanced approaches with clear accountability for risks.

The Council welcomes the ABS’ increased focus on partnerships, improved access to microdata and achievements in flagship data integration projects – consistent with the wider transformation agenda. ASAC acknowledged the consultative approach the ABS has adopted to determine its work program through early and in-depth engagement with ASAC and other stakeholders.

The ABS welcomed the active role of the Council during 2016-17 forward work program discussions and continues to seek a stronger role from ASAC members in helping to shape and prioritise the ABS work program in future years.


ASAC ROLE AND OPERATIONS

At the March 2016 meeting, the Council considered the role and operations of ASAC for 2016. A 2016 ‘Statement of Intent’ outlining the role of ASAC and its operations and priorities for 2016 was endorsed by members.

Members also considered the balance of ASAC membership and gave support to further discussions between the Chair and the Minister and states/territories on this issue.

Consideration was also given to the alignment with the State Statistical Forum, with discussion on the important role of state and territory members in providing feedback on ASAC discussions to State Statistical Forum members.