The Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC) has had another stimulating and productive year. Its discussions with, and advice to, the ABS covered such important matters as work program priorities, issues in conducting the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, the ongoing ABS Transformation Program and the remaking of the Statistics Determination 1983, which frames the capacity of the ABS to disclose information.
If I confine myself here to a single issue among those occupying the Council, the challenges and risks posed by the contraction of funding for the ABS is the one that stands out. Council members were sufficiently concerned by the impact of the ongoing reductions in the ABS’s appropriation and the reliance on vulnerable ‘user’ funding, that it was agreed that I should bring this matter formally to the attention of the Minister. A letter was duly sent in February 2018, which shows why early supplementation of the ABS’s resources has become an imperative (see Chairperson’s Letter regarding ABS resourcing).
Among a number of positive developments during the year, the ABS’s handling of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was a highlight, with close attention to communication and implementation being rewarded with a relatively smooth process throughout and a high final response rate. Also, notwithstanding the well-recognised problems, the 2016 Census was found to have attained statistical reliability comparable to that of previous years. The Council is pleased that lessons from both experiences are being taken on board by the ABS in its early preparations for the 2021 Census.
At an operational level, the rotation of ASAC meetings between Canberra and the two largest capitals facilitated attendance and provided additional opportunities to engage with key players in these jurisdictions. And elevating the role of Council members’ reports in the meeting agenda has yielded additional information and insights of benefit to the ABS and other members alike. The value of ASAC discussions and advice has also been enhanced by the seniority of appointments to the Council.
I sincerely thank Council members for their contributions and commitment over the past year, and the secretariat for its support. I would further like to record the Council’s appreciation for the contribution of its departing Secretary, Phillip Gould, who was appointed to the new Office of the National Data Commissioner.
Professor Gary Banks AO