1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2014-15  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/10/2015   
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The role of ASAC is to provide guidance to the Minister and the Australian Statistician on the directions of, and priorities for, official statistics. This includes the improvement, extension and coordination of statistical services provided for public purposes in Australia.

The Council met in October 2014, November 2014, May 2015 and June 2015, with discussions covering a broad range of topics including the:

  • Council’s progress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Australia’s official statistics;
  • ABS’s strategic directions and forward work program;
  • ABS’s future sustainability and its comprehensive transformation agenda including the Statistical
  • Business Transformation Program; and
  • Essential Statistical Assets for Australia initiative.

The meeting in June 2015 provided an opportunity for ASAC members to meet face to face with the new Australian Statistician, Mr David Kalisch, who started in December 2014. ASAC looks forward to working closely with him and the ABS in the role of ‘robustly critical friends’ as the ABS undergoes considerable transformation.

Of profound concern to the Council over the past few years, and as noted in previous Annual Reports, has been the ABS’s ageing and fragile business systems and as such, ASAC welcomed the significant investment in the ABS by the Australian Government in the May Budget. I would like to acknowledge the strong interest taken by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer, and the Treasurer, the Hon Joe Hockey to ensure the ABS is better positioned to meet the information needs of today’s dynamic economy and changing society.

The Council has continued to highlight the issues across the statistical system due to a lack of coordination, integration and cohesion of official statistics and has been calling since 2010 for a national approach to improve the quality and efficiency of Australia’s overall official statistical system. Modernisation of the ABS’s current legislation is an important first step in the reform process and needs to be addressed. However, the need for reforms in the national statistical system are much broader, and as such, ASAC has been leading the discussion with the Crisp Revisited Project and the development of a forward looking national statistics policy. In 2014, ASAC provided a submission to the National Commission of Audit detailing the need to reduce the duplication of data collection, standardise definitions and make better use of administrative data, which was recognised in the final report as a priority. ASAC has also resolved to raise the question of an integrated statistics policy through the Reform of the Federation White Paper process.

Encouragingly, there have also been a number of Australian Government initiatives aimed at expanding access to useful public sector data, which are showing promising signs such as the Digital Transformation Office, the Cross Portfolio Data Integration Oversight Board and the Data Sharing and Efficiency Working Group. However while there are a number of data initiatives underway there is a need for a coordinated approach. Reforms must go beyond the Australian Government and include state and territory governments to ensure maximal statistical services are provided for public purposes. With the exponential increase in the availability of data, and the capacity of information technology to harness the data, as well as today’s recognition of the value of data holdings there is a critical need to reform the current fragmented national statistical system.

Reforming the national statistical system remains a critical priority for ASAC and the Council will continue to push the case for reform and pursue opportunities to work with others to progress these reforms.

The Council has seen a number of changes to its membership this year with the terms of Dr David Gruen, Mr Matt Cowgill, Mr Clem Doherty, Mr Saul Eslake and Ms Elaine Henry OAM ending. I would like to take this opportunity to thank departing members for their contributions to the work of the Council. The work Council members undertake to support the activities of the ABS, and further the development of the NSS, is highly valued. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of long-term members Mr Clem Doherty who served on the Council for 17 years and Ms Elaine Henry who served for 9 years; their ongoing commitment to the Council over many years has been greatly appreciated. Sadly, I would like to acknowledge the passing of former ASAC member Professor Graeme Hugo earlier this year, his wisdom and commitment to the Council during his time as a member was invaluable.

I would also like to welcome Mr Anton Voss, Ms Kathy Goth, and Mr Mathew Quillinan who formally joined the Council in the past year, and Mr David Johnson whose membership was renominated, their combined experience and expertise will add many benefits to the Council.

It has been another busy year for the Council. I would like to thank Council members for their dedication and counsel concerning Australia’s statistics. I would like to acknowledge and thank the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, for his interest in the Council during his time as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP for her early recognition of the need to bring improvements to the national statistical system since taking over as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer.

I would also like to convey my appreciation to the ABS staff members who provide secretariat services to the Council, arranging our meetings each year and administering ASAC memberships.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Council, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the Australian Statistician, State and Territory Governments and other key stakeholders in the National Statistical System to build a richer portfolio of official statistics for Australia.

This report will be available on the Council website (asac.gov.au), which also contains information about the Council, including meetings, functions and membership.

Geoff Allen AM