AUSTRALIAN STATISTICIAN'S REVIEW
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ABS AND THE PUBLIC VALUE OF OUR WORK
Our statistical information provides a window into the complex and changing nature of life in Australia: our society, economy and environment. It forms the bedrock of evidence for business, policy, research and political decision-making as well as the evaluation of government program and service delivery.
The production of nationally consistent, timely and trusted official statistics has been the focus of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and its predecessor, the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, for more than 110 years.
The ABS has an enduring, strong and intrinsic value proposition to inform important decisions. Throughout 2016-17, the ABS continued to deliver reliable information to inform decisions on matters that affect everyone in Australia. We released almost 500 statistical products, had more than 16 million visits to the ABS website and enabled about 2.5 million data downloads. We also made it easier than ever before to find important data - key economic indicators, Census data and social statistics - through ongoing website improvements, the ABS Stats app and increased use of our secure DataLab facility.
The breadth and depth of the quality statistical information produced by the ABS and its value for decision-making across Australia is considerable. In the economic arena, ABS data is used every day to guide the operations of governments - from informing the Reserve Bank’s interest rate decisions, to assisting the Australian Government in its fiscal policy settings and understanding of policy impacts and outcomes. ABS population demographics are critical for both government funding distributions and for planning by state and local government. Business investment decisions also rely on accurate, timely and relevant data from the ABS.
The ABS also produces statistical information relevant to many areas of social concern. In October 2016 we released information from the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, and in April 2017 we followed up with a comparative analysis of disability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people, as part of the evidence base for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) ‘closing the gap’ commitment.
The ABS has continued to provide extensive, timely and quality statistical information on this wide range of important matters over the past year. We have achieved this in the context of declining operating resources, fragile and ageing systems (that are largely being replaced through funding over a five year period), and expanding information demands from government, stakeholders and the general public. Our challenge is to transform while at the same time measuring an increasingly complex environment with significantly less resources than previous years or comparable national statistical organisations.
Our main strategic focus is to maximise public value from the resources we receive. We do not have sufficient resources to do everything our stakeholders would like, so we need to make judgements about what we do. We assess this through five competing lenses of: the provision of quality and timely national statistics; producing new statistical insights that have contemporary relevance; enabling effective, safe use of ABS data; capturing our data as efficiently as possible, minimising the burden placed on our households and businesses; and continuing to build ABS capability for statistical challenges that the ABS will need to meet in the future.
Despite these challenges, I am confident that the ABS can and will deliver considerable public value and continue to inform important decisions.
2016 CENSUS: LESSONS AND RESULTS
The ABS conducts a Census of Population and Housing every five years as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905. As agreed in 2012, the 2016 Census adopted a ‘digital-first’ approach to data collection. Australia’s first ‘digital-first’ Census made it easier and faster for the ABS to process and produce a higher-quality data set. It was also more efficient and consistent with public expectations of dealing with government through accessible digital means. Despite the website outage on Census night, there was an increased online response rate in 2016 which saved taxpayers more than $100 million.
The headline indicators for the success of the 2016 Census were an overall response rate of 95.1%; an online response rate of 63.3% (up from 37.9% in 2011) and a net undercount of 1.0% (down from 1.7% in the 2011 Census). Targeted communication and collection strategies also led to increases in the coverage of some population cohorts. Designed to ensure everyone could participate fully and easily, the ABS reached out to people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In another first for the ABS, an Independent Assurance Panel was established to assess the quality of 2016 Census data and build trust in the quality of the ABS data following the eCensus outage. Professor Sandra Harding (Chair, Independent Assurance Panel) spoke at the 2016 Census data release at Old Parliament House on 27 June 2017.
She said that the Panel had "determined that the 2016 Census data is of comparable quality to 2011 and 2006 Census data and comparable to international benchmarks."
The Panel concluded that "the 2016 Census data is fit-for-purpose, it is useful and useable, and will support the same variety of uses as has been the case for previous Censuses."
It also made this observation on the quality of 2016 Census data:
"While challenges were experienced and should be addressed for the 2021 Census, the changed approach led to a more efficient, effective and modern Census operation. The Panel strongly supports the changed approach to the Census and its further refinement in order to secure a high quality and financially sustainable Census into the future."
The ABS has almost completed implementing the recommendations of the MacGibbon Review, providing impetus to accelerate reform and help us address key issues of importance to both the Government and the broader community. Many of the things we have learned from the 2016 Census, alongside international developments, are contributing to reformed governance arrangements, strategy and practices as we start to prepare for the 2021 Census. We have also used the opportunity to take stock and embed new dimensions into our communication, cultural change program, training, policies and procedures.
FORWARD WORK PROGRAM DELIVERABLES
Our tight resource environment affects our Forward Work Program. In 2016 the ABS indicated that difficult decisions around prioritisation of statistical products from 2017-18 would be required. Since this time we have undertaken extensive consultation with stakeholders on this prioritisation.
The view of our key data users is that our appropriation from Government is focused on the highest priority collections. These include economic, demographic, statistical infrastructure and household expenditure and income surveys. There is little in our current program that does not satisfy strong user need. Importantly some of our important statistical outputs, especially some key social statistics, are only possible through significant user funding. It also means that some high demand statistical collections, such as time use and mental health, cannot be undertaken within existing ABS resources. We will also be looking to find money within our existing budget for some priority statistical enhancements, particularly in the economic statistics program.
The ABS Forward Work Program for 2017-18 will be released in a separate document (ABS cat. no. 1006.0).
ENHANCING AUSTRALIA’S STATISTICS
As Australia’s national statistical agency, the ABS is constantly exploring and testing new methodologies, new data sources and approaches in collaboration with the public, private, community and academic sectors. This engagement is intended to increase the value of the statistical information we deliver to the Australian community.
Over the past year we have taken more steps to modernise ageing systems and processes and to develop the statistical capabilities required for a modern national statistical office. This will continue for a number of years to come.
We have developed a new framework for Labour Account figures that will enable the use of existing labour market data from diverse sources. For the first time, a new Australian Labour Account will provide information on the number of jobs - both main and secondary - for the 19 industry divisions available for each of the years from 2010-11 to 2015-16. The ABS’s inaugural experimental labour account was released on 25 July 2017 (ABS cat. no. 6150.0.55.001).
Significant enhancement to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be implemented in the December quarter 2017. These enhancements are the result of research, innovation and extensive consultation with international experts and key stakeholders during 2016-17. They will deliver a more accurate measure of household inflation by updating consumer spending patterns each year and increasing the use of transactions data from large Australian retailers. These enhancements will better capture consumer substitution of goods and services purchased.
We will continue to work with other government data to enable deeper insights for policy, research and statistical purposes, maximising the value of this public data.
PROTECTING THE PRIVACY OF AUSTRALIANS
The continued trust and support of our survey respondents and information providers is critical to the ABS. We maintain the secrecy of the information provided to us, as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905
, while also ensuring that we meet the additional requirements of the Privacy Act 1988
. This is a core value of the ABS - for me, my senior team and all ABS staff members. For example, in preparation for the release of 2016 Census data in June 2017, the ABS tested its front line web services to make sure they would be usable, secure and suitably robust to handle the expected public interest and protect it from the effects of any malicious activity such as a distributed denial of service attack.
Having learned our lessons from Census night, we simulated a series of real life attacks in collaboration with technology partners based in Canada, Bangalore, Jamaica and Australia.
The simulations demonstrated that the ABS was able to respond and manage the risk of an attack on the ABS website, even where our service provider was not able to fully mitigate an attack. This provided assurance that we were prepared for the Census data release - a confidence shown to be justified in the smooth release of Census data on 27 June 2017.
ENHANCING AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DATA INTEGRATION CAPABILITIES
Australians and Australian businesses supply a considerable amount of information through surveys and other means to governments and other organisations. Through data integration - safely bringing information from different sources together for statistical and research purposes - the ABS is producing new statistical insights, without adding to the reporting burden on households and businesses.
Over the past decade, the ABS has invested in the capability and expertise to bring data together safely and securely to produce statistical information. The ABS has been an Accredited Integrating Authority under Commonwealth arrangements since 2012, and has extensive experience over many years integrating data from a range of sources, including ABS surveys, Census information and administrative data in social and economic spheres. Administrative data is not collected for statistical purposes and requires significant effort to make it suitable for policy research and evaluation. The ABS has expertise and experience to integrate and manage administrative data so that reliable statistics on Australian households and businesses can be produced.
This has led to the development of a suite of integrated data resources and the production of research findings that guide policy and improve the well-being of Australians, including:
- the Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD) - which has shown that automotive workers across Australia were generally highly mobile, with nearly half of those employed in 2006 employed in another industry in 2011
- the Business Longitudinal Analytical Data Environment (BLADE) - which has shown that young, small and medium enterprises contribute disproportionately to job creation
- the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) - which has shown that the level of educational attainment affects labour force participation and retirement outcomes for individuals at retirement age.
The ABS, in partnership with other government departments, played a key role in initiating and progressing the development of the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) proposal. The DIPA is a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to collecting, analysing and using existing public data, safely and securely, to provide new insights on complex policy issues. It builds on the Commonwealth Public Sector Data Management Agenda. It was allocated $130.8 million in funding over three years as part of the 2017-18 Federal Budget.
The ABS has been allocated $37.7 million in DIPA funding over three years as the primary Integrating Authority for the Australian Government. Our job, in collaboration with the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare and other agencies that collect information, is to create an evidence base which informs government decisions. The ABS will build on existing integrated data resources and enhance the value of these resources through expanding the range of data to enhance its usefulness.
The DIPA initiative is a government partnership, and the ABS is designing its contribution together with policy agencies, to generate new insights for governments and the community. These insights will improve the ongoing development of government policies, program design and evaluation and lead to more effective delivery of government services.
ABS TRANSFORMATION GOALS
- we collaborate with stakeholders to understand and respond better to the current and future external environment.
- our strategies enable rigorous statistics, strong partnerships and effective use of resources.
- our governance supports responsive decision-making, prioritisation and management of enterprise risk.
- we have a diverse, expert, motivated and agile workforce.
- we are high performing, aligned, engaged, innovative and accountable.
- our infrastructure is effective, efficient and adaptable.
ONGOING ABS TRANSFORMATION
The ABS is a complex business operation. Its statistical program encompasses economic, industry, population, social and environmental dimensions; it has diverse data capture arrangements and it operates from ten locations across Australia.
The ABS’s ambitious transformation agenda is arguably the most significant and comprehensive change in our history. Beginning in 2014-15 it is underpinned by an investment of $257 million to modernise infrastructure over five years through the Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP). The transformation is essential for the continued production of timely, relevant and quality statistical information required to inform decisions in a rapidly changing world.
In this, the second year of our transformation, we have already delivered significant improvements. Importantly, the ABS is working more collaboratively and constructively, drawing upon the skills and perspectives we have across the organisation, as well as working much more effectively with our partner agencies and key stakeholders.
More specifically, the past 12 months has seen the ABS:
- develop a new stakeholder and relationship management plan to enable better and more consistent collaboration and support to our key stakeholders and government
- deliver key foundational infrastructure that will underpin improvements to our statistical systems as part of SBTP
- develop and begin to implement a cultural enhancement strategy that will lead to better engagement with our staff and improve our ability to harness their abilities, capacity and diversity.
The greatest gains from our transformation agenda are still to come. The next 12 to 18 months will see the ABS implementing and integrating new systems and new information architecture to support our vision. The vision includes better statistical systems, improved processes and increased access to statistical information in ways that protect the secrecy and privacy of people’s information and information from businesses.
Building trust and confidence in our statistics is another critical dimension of our transformation. We have allocated additional resources to statistical risk management to ensure data quality and timeliness. Key economic and population statistics have been a particular focus for our statistical risk management this past year, with the ABS delivering quality statistics across our entire work program.
Another part of building this trust and confidence is improving the way we communicate statistical information. The ABS has dedicated additional resources to improve our communication with the media, stakeholders and the wider Australian community. We have also undertaken market research to better understand public and stakeholder perceptions of the ABS and the work we do - in particular the Census and our data integration program. I am confident this work will position the ABS to continue to be an internationally respected provider of official statistics, but also to become a better communicator of statistical information.
The ABS faces a range of challenges into the future including:
- delivering official statistics in an ‘information age’ where there is increasing pressure to deliver more statistical information, more quickly and in more creative ways
- operating in an environment where obtaining information from households and businesses is becoming more difficult
- likely further reductions in our resources due to the prevailing fiscal pressures.
These challenges are not unique to the ABS. At international conferences I’ve attended, it is clearly apparent that in a rapidly changing and evolving environment, national statistical organisations share many similar challenges.
In response to these demands and the inevitable tensions they create, the ABS is constantly examining and reconsidering the breadth of its statistical program, the ways it provides access to statistical information for research, policy and statistical purposes and the way it communicates statistical insights on our society, our economy and our environment. We also make greater use of existing administrative data through our data integration program, limiting expensive and intrusive data collection where possible.
There will continue to be complex decisions to be made around information use and requirements, data acquisition, dissemination, the privacy and security of data along with the potential integration of new information sources. The ABS operates, and will continue to operate, in a rapidly changing information landscape.
I have confidence that the ABS will continue to rise to these challenges and deliver reliable trusted information that is essential for informed decision-making in Australia.
TRANSFORMING THE ABS 2016-17
CONSOLIDATED LIST OF TRANSFORMATION ACHIEVEMENTS
|Updated the ABS Engagement Strategy and Relationship Management Plan - promotes best practice in partnerships.|
Working closely with stakeholders to improve ABS’s understanding of the future of official statistics.
- the COAG Data Transparency Taskforce on transparency of data on government spending and performance of government initiatives
- improving the quality of the Consumer Price Index by using scanner data
- understanding how satellite imagery data, telematics data, export transactions data and smart meter data can be used in the production of official statistics
- Chief Methodologists’ Network (international)
- international statistical standards and priorities
- the Task Team established by the UN Statistical Commission in the use of satellite imagery data for producing agriculture statistics.
Continued external engagement with key government stakeholders to improve relationships and understand changing policy requirements.
Contributed to and responded to government inquiries:
- MacGibbon Review
- Senate inquiry on 2016 Census
- Productivity Commission inquiry into data availability and use.
Increased media and social media engagement to raise awareness of importance of ABS statistics.
Qualitative Market Research (2016 and 2017) - gauge community views on the ABS to inform future communication activities.
|ABS Corporate Plan, Portfolio Budget Statement & Forward Work Plan setting clear direction for the future and contributing to better prioritisation of work
- focus on ABS informing important decisions.
Transforming Statistics program:
- use of Address Register and Business Register to improve sample efficiency
- Agricultural Census reduces data collection burden on smaller farms
- research, innovation and extensive consultation drives significant enhancements to the CPI and development of new Labour Force Accounts experimental estimates.
Successful 2016 Census data release:
- 95.1% overall response rate
- 63.3% online response rate
- 1.0% (down from 1.7%) under- count.
The Independent Assurance Panel concluded 2016 Census data is fit-for-purpose and can be used with confidence.
Centre of Excellence, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics and Community Engagement established.
$37.7 million in funding for ABS
Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) - brings ABS data together with administrative, transactional and other data to provide new statistics relevant to policy decisions.
|Evolving, flexible organisational structure and new governance structures established to support ABS transformation goals:
- Economic Statistics Advisory Group (ESAG)
- Population and Social Statistics Advisory Group (PSSAG)
- Executive Board and committees established - People, Finance & Resource Prioritisation, Network Services, Security, Census 2021 Program Board.
Expanded independent advice:
- Australian Statistics Advisory Council - broader membership and Gary Banks AO appointed as Chair
- established the Independent Census Assurance Panel to independently review and assure the quality of statistical outputs from the 2016 Census.
Microdata Access Policy review providing better access to microdata for government officials particularly within a safe and secure data environment
Action to improve the Enterprise and ABS Risk Management Frameworks
- appointment of a Chief Risk Officer and establishment of the Risk, Planning and Policy Branch to focus support on risk management
- developing a new risk management strategy, including revising the framework and improving capability
- enhanced approach to Statistical Risk Management.
Updated internal policies reflecting principles-based approaches with internal audit completed to improve delegations at appropriate levels.
|Greater staff mobility - exposing staff to experiences outside the ABS and bringing fresh perspectives to the organisation:
- staff exchanges underway to Commonwealth, state and territory government departments
- greater diversity and professional expertise across the ABS senior executive.
Mentoring, coaching and
training programs aimed at delivering transformation:
- analytical skills training program
- mentoring framework implemented
- Self-Learning Guide
- coaching for high performance
- new tailored induction program
- 360-degree feedback provided to all SES.
Supporting and increasing diversity in the workplace:
- Gender Diversity Network established and increased number of women in our senior executive. 50% women in SES positions
- ABS Pride Network established
- Disability in the Workplace Manager’s Guide launched
- Leveraging Aspergers Network established
- increased number of SES Diversity Champions.
Improvements in WHS case management and injury prevention - reducing our Comcare premium.
Online training tool Capability Plus wins gold at the 2016 Learn X Awards for Best New Technology Implementation.
ABS Workforce Strategy developed.
|People and Culture Action Plan 2017 & 18 developed and implementation commenced.|
Commenced Cultural Transformation Strategy to broaden the current approach to change, including:
- SES training
- staff culture survey and diagnostics to baseline culture
- strategic workforce planning.
Developed an approach to assessing and managing the people and culture implications of the broader ABS transformation.
Working with staff to establish and achieve our agreed target culture - high performing, aligned, engaged, innovative and accountable.
New Culture and Capability Branch established to drive and support cultural change.
|Significant progress achieved on|
our $257 million investment in improving ABS statistical business infrastructure and processes:
- three of our seven biggest Statistical Business Transformation Program procurements for foundational infrastructure finalised
- new tools piloted including Common Language Explorer and Common Authoring Tool
- NextGen desktop rollout completed across all ABS offices.
Improvements to ABS website with new homepage design and navigation implemented - to facilitate easier access to ABS information.
DataLab - delivering remote access to data and increased ability to handle large datasets with faster processing through new servers.
Total registered users: 491
ABS Stats Mobile App wins gold in the Government Services category of the DRIVEN X DESIGN 2017 TECH Design Awards.
Completed two office fit-outs as part of the Expanded Activity Based Working (ABW) arrangements - seven of ten offices have now moved to ABW.
Moved ABS Data Centre to the
Canberra Data Centre (CDC) - a whole-of-government data facility - without interruption to ABS ICT services.
I want to take this opportunity to once again congratulate the skilled staff of the ABS for their hard work and commitment and thank the Australian people for their ongoing support and trust. I also acknowledge the many national organisations that supply us with data critical to our statistical collections. In addition, we rely on the many state and territory agencies that provide the information essential for the compilation of economic, social, population and environmental collections.
The ABS’s ongoing partnerships with other government agencies, both within and outside Australia, have contributed significantly to the relevance and quality of our statistical products. It has been a challenging year for the ABS and I would like to acknowledge the support our Minister, the Hon Michael McCormack MP, has provided throughout the year.
David W. Kalisch