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YEAR IN REVIEW: 2019-20
ASAC considers that the ABS performed very well against these objectives in what was an especially challenging year.
In particular, while providing core products and services, the ABS delivered a timely, innovative and collaborative response to demands associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following initiatives were regarded by the Council as particularly valuable:
The Council supports retention of some of the new and additional products in the ABS’ ongoing work program.
The ABS discussed with the Council the operational challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and actions taken, e.g. no face-to-face interviews, redeployment of personnel to support the broader Australian Public Service etc.
While recognising the resource constraints involved, the Council has reiterated the importance of maintaining the quality and coverage of existing collections, and expanding them where there is likely to be a significant benefit. ASAC has accordingly continued to support the ABS receiving sufficient resources to maintain its high standing as Australia’s national statistical agency.
2021 CENSUS OF POPULATION AND HOUSING
During the year, ASAC continued to monitor progress on preparations for the 2021 Census of Population and Housing, in which members maintain a keen interest.
In 2019, the Census program focussed on development and testing of systems and processes, which would shift towards mobilisation and operational readiness in 2020. Key learnings from the October 2019 test were shared with the Council at the May 2020 meeting. In response, the Council advised on matters related to communication and engagement, in particular the role of public advocacy and the preparation and testing of communication plans.
In 2020, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) undertook an audit of the ABS’ preparedness for the 2021 Census. In March, responding to a request to its members from the ANAO, the Council submitted a collective response to the ANAO Audit: Planning for the 2021 Census. The submission (see 'ASAC submission to the ANAO' section) provides a summary of the Council’s activities in relation to the Census. The Council affirmed the activities undertaken by the ABS to prepare for the 2021 Census, including lessons learnt from the experience of the 2016 Census.
ABS TRANSFORMATION INITIATIVES
The Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP) formally concluded on 30 June 2020. The SBTP was responsible for designing and developing the next generation of statistical business processes and infrastructure.
SBTP has driven improvements in the areas of data acquisition and dissemination. Infrastructure and systems achievements such as DataLab, which established a way for users to access microdata safely and through files that could be analysed with standard software, have enabled users to draw greater value and insights from existing data assets. More timely release of data through machine-to-machine Application Programming Interfaces (API) enabled users to receive key numbers immediately upon release. In addition to such technological achievements, SBTP also brought improved ways of engaging and collaborating with stakeholders to improve ABS products.
Heightened data demands as a result of the pandemic saw the ABS responding to reduce delivery times for critical data. The Council recognised the valuable role of the innovations involved.
However, some planned improvements to processing and analytical functions were not delivered, due to recognition of increased risk to the quality of statistics. ASAC supported the decisions made by the ABS and advises seeking opportunities in the future to address areas where risk can be further mitigated.
BUILDING AND MAINTAINING COMMUNITY TRUST
Maintaining public trust in ABS processes and published statistics remains a priority concern for the Council.
The heightened threat landscape, especially in times of global uncertainty, means data security is an increasingly complex area that will demand more resources in order to maintain a secure environment.
In 2019, the Council provided advice on an ABS assessment of security priorities, supporting the need to invest further in cybersecurity, better assess and respond to the threat landscape, and partner with other government agencies on security matters. These areas for enhancement would contribute to providing necessary assurance to the public ahead of the 2021 Census.
The Council also provided advice on the possible establishment of a Data Ethics Advisory Committee (DEAC), and a model for enhancing citizen engagement with the ABS. The Council’s feedback on the possibility for a DEAC centred on the importance of establishing a clear role for such a committee and how it would operate in the context of broader government data policy.
ABS’ ROLE WITHIN AN EVOLVING INSTITUTIONAL LANDSCAPE
Ongoing reforms to the data system, and the ABS’ role and responsibilities, remained a focus in 2019–20. The Council was updated by the ABS on developments across the wider landscape, in particular cross-agency collaboration on data integration and the ABS’ partnership with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to develop legislation on data availability and transparency.
In 2020, COVID-19 markedly altered the operating landscape and tested the ABS’ readiness to deliver critical data and services. ASAC welcomed the sharing and efficient use of data to address emerging priorities, and cooperative engagement by the ABS with governments and the private sector to ensure critical data was provided in a timely fashion.
In 2019, ASAC was consulted on strategic directions for the ABS, including the building of data capability across governments. The Council welcomed the attention to capability building. Feedback included:
The Council believes that, as Australia’s pre-eminent national statistical agency, the ABS needs to engage with its counterparts internationally, both to learn from them and to share its experiences. However, it is important that such engagement continues to be strategically targeted to yield the best payoffs.
ASAC meetings provide a useful opportunity for the ABS to receive information and advice regarding statistical issues across the jurisdictions and sectors represented.
In addition to challenges in common posed by the bushfires and COVID-19 in 2019–20, Council members highlighted the following:
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1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2019-20
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/10/2020