The Australian Government released its initial Data and Digital Government Strategy in May 2023, outlining a vision for how data and digital services will underpin a world-leading APS to 2030. It describes data as one of the most valuable assets that the Australian Government holds and calls for the use of data to increase evidence-based policy and decision making.
The increasing appreciation of the value of data is generating significant additional demand for the services of the ABS. While this demand is often supported by additional investment, the ABS needs to prioritise its efforts as the growth in opportunities exceeds the capacity of the ABS.
In addition to collecting and delivering new statistical insights and data assets, the ABS is also supporting the APS in increasing access to existing data. The ABS secure DataLab provides significant value for academic, government and community research using unit record data. The DataLab platform has more recently been made available for other agencies to securely share their own data.
The Data Availability and Transparency Act 2022 (DAT Act) has set up a new scheme for sharing Australian Government data – the DATA Scheme. The DATA Scheme is underpinned by strong safeguards and consistent, efficient processes. The ABS will be able to use the DATA Scheme where current access arrangements under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 do not meet user requirements, and where it is consistent with community expectations.
While the demand for new statistics, data and insights continues to grow, directly collecting data is becoming more challenging and costly. Like our international counterparts, the ABS is experiencing a decline in survey response rates from businesses and households. While ABS response rates remain higher than those in most comparator countries, the ABS needs to transform its approach to make surveys easier to complete and shift to lower cost digital collections. The ABS also needs to continue to increase its reliance on existing public and private sector data sets.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) reported that 45% of data breaches in the first half of 2022-23 resulted from cyber-security incidents¹. In response to the persistent threat of cyber-security attack, the ABS is improving its capability to protect the increasing volume of data it holds. The OAIC also reported a 26% increase in Notifiable Data Breaches. The ABS is uplifting systems, improving data handling discipline, and adopting cloud services to reduce the likelihood of a successful attack and unintended release of sensitive information. This uplift will require significant investment over time, as the ABS continues its move off ageing systems and infrastructure.
Collaboration and cooperation
There is increasing opportunity for data assets that bring together data from across the APS and from state and territory governments. There are also increasing opportunities to use data collected and held in the private sector to support high-quality official statistics. To support this, the ABS collaborates closely with federal, state, and territory governments and engages with the private sector.
Our cooperation across government, research institutions, and the community includes:
partnering with the Australian Government Department of Social Services and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to deliver the National Disability Data Asset (NDDA) and Australian National Data Integration Infrastructure (ANDII)
partnering with the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and Geoscience Australia on the Australian Climate Service (ACS) to help the government and community better understand the threats posed by natural disasters and reduce their impacts. The ACS connects the Commonwealth’s extensive climate and natural hazard information to provide a single source of truth.
The ABS is an active member of the United Nations Statistical Commission and has many enduring international relationships. Through these connections, the ABS exchanges its expertise, collaborates on research and development, and enhances the quality and relevance of its own statistical products and services. ABS international engagements include:
engaging with the International Monetary Fund to develop the seventh edition of the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM7)
collaborating with the United Nations Statistical Commission to update the System of National Accounts 2008 (2008 SNA), which will culminate in 2025 SNA
collaborating with other developed nations in the High-Level Group for the Modernisation of Official Statistics (HLG-MOS) to develop strategies and solutions in a flexible and agile way
partnering with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to support regional statistical capability development and institutional strengthening through programs in Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific.
The ABS is committed to ongoing engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure all surveys are undertaken in a culturally safe manner and reflect the priorities, values, and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The ABS has a capable, diverse, resilient, and highly engaged workforce. Our people rise to challenges, show high standards of professionalism, leadership, and technical expertise, and maintain the ABS’ reputation for statistical excellence. We empower our workforce to identify areas for improvement, develop innovative solutions, and escalate concerns for resolution as necessary.
ABS staff are in high demand, with their skills making them attractive in both the public and private sector. The ABS is also approached regularly for staff availability for secondment or specialist assistance. This is consistent with the findings of the National Skills Commission that has reported high demand for data and digital capability². The ABS continues to focus on its employee value proposition (EVP) to attract and retain staff. The ABS value proposition for staff continues to be based on flexible approaches to working, provision of development opportunities, and a strong and highly regarded graduate recruitment and development program. More recently, the EVP has been enhanced through a deliberate strategy to enable work to be conducted across ABS locations, and improving the experience for staff joining the ABS.
To achieve the purpose of providing trusted data, statistics and insights to inform Australia’s important decisions, the ABS has established strategic priorities to guide operational decision-making and inform investment choices. The ABS is committed to a series of shifts to deliver on our strategic priorities while also responding positively to immediate pressures and opportunities.
These shifts - Data; Clients; Workforce; Technology; and Leadership - shape how we source and protect data; how and when we engage with clients; how we invest in people to build capability; how we modernise our technologies; and how the ABS leadership team works together to support staff, clients and partners.
The image is divided into five columns. This image describes the five ways in which the ABS is changing the way it operates.
The image describes how the ABS will source and protect data, engage with its clients, shape its workforce, modernise its technologies and strengthen its leadership.
- Data: The ABS will shift towards being solutions focused; acquiring data from various sources; maximising the reuse of data
- Clients: The ABS will shift towards being proactive; client-centric; and partnering to design enhanced solutions
- Workforce: The ABS will shift towards being solution brokers; collaborating by default; working in multi-disciplinary teams
- Technology: The ABS will shift towards using contemporary, flexible solutions; and provisioning services for external users
- Leadership: The ABS will shift towards being collaborative, demonstrating integrated leadership team; and being outwardly focused and internally supportive.
In 2023-24, the ABS is moving to a new organisational design to shift how we work and deliver on our ambitious work program. Our new organisational design will ensure the staff, processes and systems of the ABS are organised in the best way possible to respond to emerging opportunities and challenges. The organisation design process was informed by ABS staff through an open consultation process. An associated structural change will support the ABS in achieving the benefits of the new organisational design and help deliver the ABS’ work program.
Risk oversight and management
The ABS recognises risk as a necessary part of the innovation required to deliver relevant, timely and high-quality statistics. Where strategies and priorities result in higher risk, the ABS relies on internal management and engagement with clients to ensure there is appropriate awareness and control of the risk.
The ABS Risk Management Framework (the Framework) sets out the Australian Statistician’s expectations for how the ABS manages its risks to deliver better outcomes for the Australian community. Based on the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy, the Framework supports the ABS in establishing and maintaining appropriate systems and internal controls for the oversight and management of risk, in line with Australian Government requirements³.
The ABS’ Executive Board, chaired by the Australian Statistician, has overarching responsibility for the Framework. The Executive Board monitors the strategic risks facing the ABS and determines our risk appetite and tolerance. The Chief Risk Officer supports the Executive Board in reviewing enterprise risk and assuring the effectiveness of our management of risk. The Audit and Risk Committee provides independent advice to the Australian Statistician on the appropriateness of the enterprise risk management framework and internal controls.
The ABS builds clear lines of sight for all staff to the enterprise-level strategy and priorities. Managers at all levels are accountable for managing risks to their objectives by establishing monitoring and control activities proportionate to the level of risk. ABS governance bodies enable collective and coordinated responses to risk by enabling investment in controls for common or systemic risks, supporting effective escalation of higher-level risks, and overseeing the efforts of line managers in addressing lower-level risks.
The ABS risk culture supports smart risk-taking - finding opportunities and applying informed risk management practices to undertake innovative projects. The ABS applies caution when core business deliverables are involved and accepts sensible risk-taking leads to improvement.
The ABS continues to face external and internal uncertainties which may affect our ability to achieve our priorities including:
increasing difficulty sourcing data from households and businesses
attracting and retaining staff with the necessary data capability particularly with the growing competition for statisticians and data scientists
persistent threat of sophisticated cyber-security attack
privacy concerns caused by large-scale private sector data breaches, and their impacts on trust in government institutions, negatively influencing the provision of data from providers
reliance on ageing IT systems and processes unable to support emerging statistical methods
meeting the increasing demand from clients for our data and statistics – this demand is growing as more researchers and analysts across government, academia and public policy institutes seek data and statistics for policy development and evaluation.