Year in review: 2018-19
The Council held three meetings during 2018-19: in August and November 2018 and March 2019 (see the 'ASAC 2018-19 meeting agendas' section for detailed agendas).
ABS Forward Work Program and budget
The Council discussed the 2018-19 Forward Work Program and ongoing challenges for the ABS in sustaining and enhancing the key statistical infrastructure it provides.
The Council reiterated its view that such collections as the National Accounts, the Consumer Price Index, Labour Force Statistics and Estimated Resident Population remain of critical national importance. Such areas must involve low tolerance for risk, notwithstanding reductions in overall funding, in order to maintain quality and trust in the robustness of data.
ASAC provided advice on proposed adjustments to the ABS’ statistical program, which included prioritisation and cessation or modifications to the frequency of some collections, and increasing the use of data collected by other entities. Such changes have yielded only minor cost savings to date.
The ABS is obliged to respond to the increasing demand for evidence and data to ensure its work program remains relevant and of maximum value to a broad range of users. However, the ABS must balance customer expectations with the requirements of core stakeholders, including government.
2021 Census of Population and Housing
During the year, preparations were underway for the 2021 Census of Population and Housing, the core source of information about Australians and the way they live. The ABS’ approach to planning has been informed by learnings from the 2016 Census and the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. The ABS has also sought the advice of the Council on elements of the program’s planning, funding and topic consultations.
The topics covered in each Census are reviewed with a view to reflect Australia’s contemporary requirements. Alongside extensive public consultation, the ABS sought input from ASAC on a range of additional topics considered to have a strong case for being included in the 2021 Census, with a view to presenting recommendations to Government in the second half of 2019.
Following the experience of the 2016 Census and subsequent public discussion, the Council has advised the ABS on means of proactively managing key messages related to the Census. Outside the Census ‘year’, milestones in the process can be of considerable interest to the media and wider community. One example this year was the engagement of an external supplier to provide a secure, fast and simple digital service for the 2021 Census. The Council noted the gains in social licence by transparently reporting on the provision of these services.
The Council also advised the ABS in relation to its interactions with the Government to address identified funding challenges for the 2021 Census. The ABS has observed that it is unable to self-fund measures to sufficiently mitigate key risks. Additional funding that would reduce some of these risks was allocated in the 2019-20 Budget.
ABS transformation agenda
The ABS transformation journey, detailed in previous reports, continued throughout the 2018-19 financial year, with the Council providing advice where appropriate to assist the ABS to achieve goals within the Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP) and across its broader transformation activities.
The ABS is immersed in a critical phase of the SBTP with funding due to cease at the end of the 2019-20 financial year. The Council supported the ABS revising the scope of the Program to mitigate risks to core statistical products. The Council recommended early engagement with central agencies to enable agreement and planning within the revised timeline.
Data integration and access
It is essential for the ABS to be innovative and at the forefront of new developments that enhance the data landscape. ASAC supports, for example, the ABS’ prioritisation and ongoing investment (funded by Government in the 2017-18 Budget) in data assets and infrastructure that have enabled continued advancements in data integration.
The Council retains a keen interest in the progress of the broader data integration program, the ABS’ role as the primary integrating authority for the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) and the policy and service delivery insights that are increasingly being delivered from those developing data integration assets. The Council also welcomed a strengthening of the relationship between the ABS and the Office of the National Data Commissioner, including appointment in March 2019 of the Australian Statistician to the National Data Advisory Council.
There is an expectation across DIPA partners and APS data custodians that the growing momentum of DIPA programs will bring an increased focus on data and data integration by government, researchers and academics. The Council agreed on the importance of investment in the comprehensive longitudinal data assets Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) and Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE).
Council members have also advocated for data integration initiatives in their respective jurisdictions or sectors, given the scope for these to improve the national evidence base for decision-making.
ABS 2025 strategy
As the ABS’ current transformation program nears completion, attention has focussed on strategic directions over the next 3-5 years, in order to ensure that the ABS is best placed to deliver public value for the community. These directions recognise a number of emerging shifts within the data landscape and developments within the broader economy and society.
Areas highlighted by Council members for ABS consideration included understanding the place of potential institutional partners and competitors, building data capability across governments and the economy, leveraging the ABS’ comparative advantages, influencing the national data landscape, and the effective management of risks, actual and emerging.
The Council will continue to play a role as the strategic directions are finalised and integrated into the ABS operating model and work program decisions.