Other integrated data case studies

The ABS integrates a range of data, providing access to approved users for statistical and research purposes. The following case studies provide examples of how integrated data has been used to guide policy development and informed decision making.

Case study 1. Outcomes for permanent migrants in the Australian labour market

The integration of Australian Government datasets is providing new insights into the migrant experience and helping to inform government immigration policy.

The Productivity Commission used two integrated datasets during its 2015 public inquiry on Australia’s migrant intake to conduct deeper and more definitive analysis into the variability of migrant outcomes in the Australian labour market. These were the Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset (ACMID) and the Personal Income Tax and Migrants Integrated Dataset (PITMID).

These datasets were developed by integrating Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data and Australian Taxation Office (ATO) data with the Home Affairs Database. This integration work was done collaboratively by the ABS, the ATO, the Department of Social Services (DSS) and Home Affairs (HA).

One focus of the inquiry was the effects of substantially increasing the charges associated with permanent migrant visas. The Commission developed a dynamic computational general equilibrium model (CGE) model, drawing on the ACMID and other supplementary datasets, to explore the impacts of increased use of immigration charges on the composition of Australia’s permanent migrant intake, including on fiscal outcomes. Insights drawn from the model enabled the commission to make more informed policy recommendations.

The Productivity Commission’s 2016 Inquiry Report Migrant Intake into Australia found that there were substantial differences for permanent migrants in the Australian labour market depending on their visa stream.

Case study 2. Humanitarian migrants are twice as likely to find a job if they can speak English well

Australia issues 200,000 permanent visas each year. Some of these people arrive as skilled professionals, some to join family members, and some as refugees, but they all face the task of adjusting to life in a new place. But there has been an information gap about exactly how that adjustment has been going, and by using data integration it becomes possible to get a better picture using information that already exists.

The Migrants Settlements and Census project brings together census data and immigration data to fill the information gap and create new insights. David Smith, Director of the Economic Analysis Unit at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, has found that the project has improved what he and his colleagues can do for migrant communities. “We need to know how well groups of migrants are settling in, and to be aware of any sub-populations who aren’t doing as well. For example, it enables us to home in on issues of concern, such as how long does it take a refugee to find a job?”, Smith said.

Having the right data is the first step to creating policies that can deliver help to people who need it. This project means that questions about migrants that were previously up for debate can now be answered with evidence. “I consider data to be a great equaliser”, Smith said. “If we don’t have good data, we’re at the mercy of unfounded theories. If people say that migrants don’t contribute to the Australian community, we can now counter these claims with insights about volunteering, employment, and more.”

Integrating existing data also means that new insights can be obtained at a much lower cost. It saves time, too, because it means that there’s no need to go out and do a survey on things that are already covered in the census, freeing up government resources to focus on using the data to help migrants to successfully adjust to life in Australia.

Smith has previously written that “the single-most important measure of successful settlement in Australia is the ability to communicate in English”. This factor was important for engaging with education and a wider range of employment opportunities. The data suggests that investing in the English skills of new arrivals to Australia creates a big dividend in the years that follow.

These are just some of the examples of how migrants and the entire Australian community benefit from quality data. The integration of data from the 2011 Census and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's Settlement Database was done under strict privacy and confidentiality controls, protected by law.

Case study 3. Impact of vocational education and training (VET) on high school students

What difference does in-school VET make to Year 10-12 students? Does VET in school improve Year 12 retention? How likely are those students to go on to further education? What are their employment outcomes? How can we improve these outcomes?

In answering those questions, the Census and Vocational Education and Training in Schools project addressed a critical gap in our understanding of the post-school outcomes for students undertaking VET in Schools.

In fact, the project demonstrated that students who do VET in Schools and do not go on to higher education have better engagement and employment outcomes. It also showed that male Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who do VET in Schools are more likely to complete Year 12 and that male VET in Schools students who study a trade gain better employment outcomes.

Dr Patrick Korbel from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) said that while the annual VET in Schools data gave information about students in the year of collection, it didn’t provide any post-school insights.

“However, by linking NCVER’s training data from 2006 with 2011 Census data we could see the educational and employment outcomes of those students 5 years down the track,” Dr Korbel said.

“We could see whether the students went on to any further study, the highest level of qualification they attained, whether they were currently employed or still studying and the level of income they had attained. All of this information could paint the picture of the benefits of the VET training they had undertaken at school.”

By linking NCVER’s VET data about students’ education with Census employment outcomes we capture new and important information.

“It’s really valuable information and it revealed that one of the main predicted benefits of in-school vocational training – to keep students in the school system until they finish Year 12 – is happening,” Dr Korbel said. “The new standard is a Year 12 education – gone are the days of leaving school at Year 10 and taking up a trade. Now we can show who is participating in the workforce and the outcomes they are achieving. It’s a great basis for future research to see what is working and what is not.”

“Surveys are expensive and time consuming and it’s very difficult to trace these students once they leave school. If you wanted to follow up with another survey it would not only be cost prohibitive, it would be unfeasible to track them.

“Data integration is crucial and the premise is collect once, use many times. Now that we have linked this data once, it will be easier next time and since NCVER collects information from across the VET sector, the opportunities are endless to learn about the outcomes these programs and policies achieve.”

Case study 4. People living in remote areas are less than half as likely to access a mental health service

Policies and services can only be as effective as the information underpinning them, and it was identified that there was a critical gap in Australia’s understanding of characteristics of people accessing mental health-related services and prescriptions. Using data integration, it has been possible to fill in that gap without needing to carry out another round of surveys whilst maintaining data privacy and confidentiality.

The Mental Health Services and Census project integrates public health data and census data, and has contributed significantly to the pool of mental health-related research data in Australia. This data is being used in the development and evaluation of mental health programs and support services now and into the future. Questions can be answered about the characteristics of people accessing subsidised mental health-related services and medications with evidence that up until now has not been available. For example, the enhanced Census data was critical in informing the 2014 National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services Report and helped join the dots between mental health-related services, medication use, and key demographic information such as education, employment and housing.

One important insight from the data suggested that when accessing mental health services, people with less education, the unemployed, and those living in rural areas are more likely to be prescribed drugs, while more educated and city-based patients were more likely to be prescribed talking-based therapies. This data enables government to understand the inconsistency, and create policies to address it.

For Dr Paul Jelfs, General Manager of the Population & Social Statistics Division at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the project has improved our capacity to support people with mental health issues. “If you’re running a mental health service, your service will be more effective if you understand the employment and education characteristics of patients in your area”, Dr Jelfs said. Linking up different data sets gives great value for money, and Dr Jelfs added that it “allows purpose-built data sets to deliver broader benefit to the community”.

In this study, 2011 Census data was enhanced with the reuse of administrative information from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The National Mental Health Commission approached the ABS to integrate this data, and the data was processed in a confidential secure facility, with personal privacy and confidentiality guaranteed by law.