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As an agency of the Australian Government, the ABS is accountable to the Parliament, and ultimately to the public, through the Treasury ministers, the Parliamentary committee process, and the tabling of its annual report.
In November 2018 the Executive Board reviewed the effectiveness of the governance model implemented in mid-2017. The Board endorsed updates to membership and responsibilities of each forum to further strengthen the governance structure that enables effective and efficient decision making within the ABS.
The major governance fora in place for 2018–19 are outlined in Table 6.1.
Changes to governance fora during 2018–19:
Australian Statistics Advisory Council
The Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC, the Council) is the ABS’ key advisory body and was established under the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975. In line with its legislated functions, ASAC represents government and community interests by providing independent advice to the Minister responsible for the ABS and to the Australian Statistician on the improvement of Australia’s current statistical services and longer-term statistical priorities. The Council also reports annually to Parliament.
The Chairperson of the Council is Professor Gary Banks AO, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. ASAC members are drawn from a broad cross-section, including the Australian Government, state and territory governments, business and academia. The Council’s diversity helps shape the advice it provides on the ABS’ strategic management and transformation. ASAC also provides valuable input into the directions and priorities of the ABS work program. The representation of all states and territories on the Council is critical to achieving whole-of-government support for improvements to the statistical system.
As set out in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975, the role of the Council is to advise the Minister and the Statistician in relation to:
a) the improvement, extension and coordination of statistical services provided for public purposes in Australia
b) annual and longer-term priorities and programs of work that should be adopted in relation to major aspects of the provision of those statistical services
c) any other matters relating generally to those statistical services.
Australian Statistics Advisory Council – March 2019
The mission of the Council is to contribute to the effective development of Australia’s statistical assets, by providing the Minister and the Australian Statistician with independent, relevant and timely advice on national priorities.
The past year saw a number of changes to the Council’s membership.
The Council welcomed the appointment of the following senior state/territory government representatives in the second half of 2018: Mr David Braines-Mead, Deputy Under Treasurer (Northern Territory); and Mr Alistair Jones, Executive Director (Economic Business Unit), Department of Treasury (Western Australia).
Community representation on the Council also increased in the first half of 2019, with the appointment of Mr Adam Boyton, Chief Economist (Business Council of Australia), and Ms Meghan Quinn PSM, Deputy Secretary, Macroeconomic Group (The Treasury). In addition, two members of the Council accepted re-appointment: Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark, Professor of Economics (The University of Sydney), and Dr Luci Ellis, Assistant Governor (Reserve Bank of Australia).
Risk oversight and management
The ABS implemented a new Risk Management Framework in 2018–19. While risk management continues to centre on the vigilance and initiative of staff and managers, the ABS has adopted a layered approach to risk that ensures an appropriate level of monitoring and oversight at both the business unit and enterprise levels. While our most complex projects and business critical functions adopt a very active stance on risk, other aspects of our business that are less exposed to irregular and uncertain environmental forces adopt a less intensive model that is, nevertheless, equally fit-for-purpose.
Our new Risk Governance and Accountability Arrangements have established a comprehensive set of responsibilities and accountabilities for staff and managers and allocated clear roles to specialist subject-matter committees for close oversight of relevant risk categories. The Terms of Reference for all internal committees have been reviewed and updated as necessary to ensure risk management responsibilities are both prominent and unambiguous. The ABS uses 11 risk categories, with tailored risk appetite levels, to give structure to our risk analyses and reporting.
The ABS continues to apply the ‘3 Lines of Defence’ model for our risk management, which combines: suitably trained and attentive business-unit level staff and managers; appropriately skilled and accessible corporate risk advisors and third party consultants; and independent expert external auditors. This proven model is further reinforced for our high-risk projects, such as Census 2021, with dedicated staff and advisors who can facilitate and sustain a level of focused risk management appropriate to the activity.
The Executive Board has continued to play an active role in shaping and overseeing the strategic risk appreciation process. In addition to quarterly routine risk reports, the Board actively solicits risk ‘deep dives’ for areas of significant or emerging risk. This is further reinforced through the use of senior executive level project boards that maintain active oversight of major project risks. As in past years, the Executive Board has been active in communicating the importance of improved risk consciousness within the business. In ‘town hall’ presentations to the organisation, and in Group-level gatherings, individual members of the Board have routinely stressed the importance of continuing to work on further maturing our risk capability.
The ABS Audit Committee has also played a critical role in sharpening the focus on risk assessment and management. This injection of external independent advice continues to provide the ABS with insight into better practice and is a trusted source of positive critique for the Australian Statistician and the wider Executive Board on the effectiveness of our risk management framework and risk culture.
The ABS has a Fraud Control Plan in line with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework 2017 and requirements of Section 10 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (the Fraud Rule). It includes strategies for ensuring all reasonable fraud control measures are taken and provides the framework and associated guidance for fraud prevention, detection, investigation or otherwise dealing, reporting, and procedures that meet the specific needs of the ABS and broader government obligations. This includes activities to build on fraud awareness and guidance for staff on reporting fraud through appropriate mechanisms. It is also supported by a fraud risk assessment which records identified fraud risks, treatment strategies, responsibilities, dates for implementation and reporting obligations.
The ABS Fraud Control Plan is reviewed and updated biennially. The fraud risk assessment is reviewed every two years or more frequently where the ABS has identified significant changes to fraud risk exposure. The ABS Audit Committee has oversight of ABS fraud control activity.
A fraud control assessment was conducted by an independent assessor in the December 2017–January 2018 period. This assessment found that ‘Compared to 2016, the ABS’ residual fraud risk has decreased due to increased oversight of existing controls and the implementation of new controls in key areas’. Nonetheless, changes in the nature of fraud risk mean that the ABS must continue to be alert to the potential for fraud. The fraud risk assessment specifically pointed to the growing use of flexible working arrangements and the risk posed by third parties as aspects of ABS operations that require close attention in future.
Compliance with finance law
Sections 17AG and 17BE of the PGPA Rule require that Commonwealth entities’ annual reports must include a statement of any significant issues or instances of non-compliance in relation to the finance law. Entities must also notify the responsible Minister under paragraph 19(1)(e) of the PGPA Act during the reporting period and outline the actions taken to remedy the non-compliance. As the Finance Minister has responsibility for the finance law, accountable authorities should also provide a copy of their notifications of significant non-compliance with the finance law to the Finance Minister.
Security of information provided to the ABS is key to maintaining the high levels of trust that enable the ABS to operate effectively and fulfil its mission. In June 2019 the Information Security Branch was merged into a new Security and Infrastructure Branch to bolster the operational governance of the ABS computer network.
The ABS’ statistical work programs rely on information technology (IT) systems, and the ABS invests in significant security controls and risk assurance functions to support these systems. The Security and Infrastructure Branch collaborates with relevant business areas to ensure systems monitoring, security assessments and management of IT-related risks are consistent with the ABS’ operational and risk management requirements. Security controls and risk assurance functions are supported by a regular testing regime, informed by expert security services including Australian Government cyber intelligence entities.
All ABS premises are physically secured against unauthorised access. Entry is through electronically controlled access systems, activated by individually coded access cards and monitored by closed circuit television. Areas of the ABS producing particularly sensitive data, such as market sensitive statistics, are subject to further protective security assurances including additional personnel security background checks.
The ABS computer network has a secure gateway which allows connection to internet services including the ABS website. The secure gateway was established in accordance with Australian Government guidelines and is reviewed bi-annually by an accredited independent assessor endorsed by the Australian Signals Directorate. Access to ABS computing systems is based on personal identifiers and strong authentication services. Databases are accessible only by approved users. The computer systems are regularly monitored and usage is audited. There were no unauthorised access incidents into ABS computing systems during 2018–19.
The ABS is taking a strong approach to ensure the security of the upcoming Census in 2021. Drawing on the MacGibbon Review of the incidents surrounding the Census in 2016, and other insights, the ABS has enacted additional security governance measures, ensuring security is built into all systems that will support the taking of the Census in 2021.
In 2018 the Australian Government amended the Privacy Act 1988 to further protect the privacy of Australians. The amendments introduced the Privacy Amendment (Notifiable Data Breaches) Act 2017 on 22 February 2018 and the Privacy (Australian Government Agencies – Governance) APP Code 2017 (Privacy Code) on 1 July 2018. The ABS has not had a notifiable data breach and was compliant with the requirements of the Privacy Code from date of commencement (July 2018).
The ABS has a Privacy Officer and a Privacy Champion, both of whom are active in promoting privacy in the ABS. They provide leadership and advice on privacy issues and promote a positive privacy culture that values and protects personal information, while also assisting the ABS to meet the legislative requirements of the Privacy Code. The ABS participated in, and was a sponsor of, Privacy Awareness Week in 2018–19 to promote awareness of privacy within the ABS.
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, the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme and the Privacy Code.
The ABS continues to take a strong ‘privacy by design’ approach to protecting the privacy of Australians. As planning and preparation for the 2021 Census of Population and Housing ramps up, so does its privacy program to ensure the information provided by people participating in and working on the Census is kept private. Preparation of a privacy impact assessment of the 2021 Census is underway. It will be undertaken by an independent service provider and will be published on the ABS website 12 months before the Census is held in August 2021.
Information Publication Scheme
As an agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), the ABS is required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS).
Each agency must display a plan on its website showing what information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements.
The ABS’ IPS plan is available on the ABS website.
Australian National Audit Office reviews
The ANAO published two performance audits in 2018–19 that examined aspects of ABS business.
The first of these was the Report on Statistical Business Transformation Program – Managing Risk which began in late 2017 and was finalised in August 2018. This review identified areas of improvement in the oversight of risk that have been comprehensively addressed through the finalisation of the new Enterprise Risk Management Framework.
The second review of relevance was the Closing the Gap report which looked at the arrangements for monitoring, evaluating and reporting progress towards ‘Closing the Gap’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage. The review found that the ABS had successfully collated and reported data to the support agencies with program oversight responsibilities. The ABS has accepted, and is implementing, the recommendation that quality assurance checks and approvals are more systematically documented.
Statistical Business Transformation Program – Gateway Reviews
The ABS has been the subject of five Gateway Reviews of the Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP), the most recent being in January 2019. These reviews are conducted on behalf of the Department of Finance.
The January 2019 review looked at the Program in relation to: policy context and strategic fit; business case and stakeholders; risk management; review of current phase; assessment of intended outcomes and benefits; and readiness for next review phase. In addition to a comprehensive review of program documentation, the review team interviewed senior staff from across the ABS. The ABS received positive feedback from the review team about the commitment and professionalism of all the staff interviewed.
The ABS has accepted and is addressing the six recommendations made by the Gateway Review Team.
The next mid-stage review of the Program is scheduled for mid-November 2019.
There were no other external reviews in 2018–19 that had a significant effect on the operations of the entity, with no reports issued by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner issued a decision (AICmr 7) on 25 February 2019 where part of the ABS’ decision to withhold information under s55K of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 was set aside and a new decision was made by the Information Commissioner. There were no other individual or administrative review decisions of significance to the ABS.
There were no adverse comments or findings relating to the ABS from the Auditor-General, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, or courts or tribunals during 2018–19.
Submissions to parliamentary committees
ABS procurement and contracting activities are undertaken in accordance with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. These rules are applied consistently to procurement activities through the Accountable Authority Instructions, supporting operational guidelines and procurement framework.
No contracts with the value of $100,000 or greater (inclusive of GST) were let during 2018–19 that did not provide for the Auditor-General to have access to the contractor’s premises.
Initiatives to support small business
The ABS supports small business participation in the Commonwealth Government procurement market. Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Small Enterprise participation statistics are available on the Department of Finance website.
ABS procurement practices support SMEs by adopting whole-of-government solutions to simplify interactions. This includes using the Commonwealth Contracting Suite for low-risk procurements valued under $200,000.
The ABS recognises the importance of ensuring that small businesses are paid on time. The results of the Survey of Australian Government Payments to Small Business are available on the Department of the Treasury website.
The ABS engages consultants when it requires specialist expertise or when independent research, review or assessment is required. Decisions to engage consultants during 2018–19 were made in accordance with the PGPA Act and related regulations, including the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and relevant internal policy.
Annual reports contain information about actual expenditure on contracts for consultancies. Information on the value of contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website.
During 2018–19, 38 new consultancy contracts were entered into involving total actual expenditure of $3.5 million. In addition, 29 ongoing consultancy contracts were active during the period, involving total actual expenditure of $4.2 million (Table 6.3).
There were two major drivers of the ABS’ continued use of consultancy services in 2018–19:
During the 2018–19 financial year the ABS did not exempt any contracts or standing offers from publication on AusTender on the basis that they would disclose exempt information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The ABS’ asset management policies are set out in the Accountable Authority Instructions and supporting financial management procedures, which is in accordance with relevant accounting standards and Department of Finance requirements. Further details on the ABS’ asset policies are contained in note 2.2 of the Financial Statements.
An asset register records details of all assets held by the ABS. An annual stocktake is conducted to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information held on the register. The capital management plan sets out the ABS’ longer-term asset requirements and funding sources for ongoing asset replacement and investment. The capital budget process is integrated with strategic planning and is conducted in conjunction with the annual operating budget process.
Advertising and market research
Under section 311A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the ABS is required to disclose payments over $13,800 (GST inclusive) for advertising and market research in the annual report.
During 2018–19, the ABS’ total expenditure for advertising and market research over the reporting threshold was $798,448 (GST inclusive) (Table 6.4), the vast majority of which was expended on explorative research on public attitudes and behaviours towards Census and media monitoring services.
Further information on these advertising campaigns is available at www.abs.gov.au and in the reports on Australian Government advertising prepared by the Department of Finance. Those reports are available on the Department of Finance’s website.
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