1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics - Annual Report, 2018-19  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/10/2019   
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Special Articles

The Annual Report includes three special articles:

ABS – Leading skills and capability development across the Australian data landscape
Modernising economic and financial statistics
Statistical Business Transformation Program achievements

1. ABS – Leading skills and capability development across the Australian data landscape

The ABS’ enabling legislation establishes the ABS at the centre of the Australian data landscape - to lead, coordinate, and collaborate with others in relation to statistical activities. The ABS has a long history of driving improved statistical capability both domestically and internationally.

Today’s decision makers have access to a vast data landscape with information available from a range of public and private organisations. This includes data from small online surveys, real-time tracking of business processes, and complex big data.

As the data landscape has shifted, so too has the approach taken by the ABS to build statistical capability amongst its users and stakeholders, both at home and overseas. The ABS has been building capability through secondment of staff, provision of statistical training programs, and international statistical development.

During 2018-19, the ABS had 11 staff seconded to state or territory government agencies and 12 staff seconded to Australian government agencies. In 2019, the Western Australian (WA) Department of Justice (DoJ) sought assistance from the ABS to refresh the sample design of the WA government’s drug prevalence research. An ABS officer was seconded to the DoJ to update the testing regime and build the expertise of DoJ staff.

The ABS has also worked across the broader APS, aiming to improve data literacy and enhance practical analytical skills across government portfolios.

The ABS Statistical Learning Platform (established in 2016) allows staff from external agencies to enrol in online statistical capability courses. In 2019, more than 20 agencies and organisations accessed the platform, including the Australian Tax Office (ATO), Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS), and IP Australia. At 30 June 2019, more than 500 individuals were active members of the portal.

The ABS is also supporting whole of government work force planning by sharing the statistical job roles used within the ABS. The ABS has established a range of data and statistical job roles, which outline the core activities and capabilities of staff working in statistical functions. The APS-wide approach to workforce planning is being led by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC).

Since 2013, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has provided funding that allows the ABS to help other countries to enhance their statistical systems and meet their reporting obligations under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The ABS delivers programs in five countries, with a team of more than 30 world-class experts from within the ABS working directly with their counterparts in other National Statistical Offices (NSOs).

While the ABS will continue to provide decision makers with access to statistical support, there is increasing demand for more advanced skills. This includes demand for data scientists who can analyse and interpret large integrated datasets. While demand is increasing, there are fewer new graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills available to fill the data science roles.

As a leader in the analysis and interpretation of large datasets, the ABS will look to leverage its expertise to continue building data capability across Australia.

2. Modernising economic and financial statistics

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) collects data from the financial sector (e.g. banks, building societies and credit unions) for the ABS and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The current version of the set of forms used to collect these data was introduced in 2002. The forms have not been comprehensively updated since then.

Over the past few years, APRA, the ABS and the RBA have worked with the finance industry to modernise Australia’s financial sector data. These data are used in key economic outputs such as the ABS’ national accounts releases, RBA’s financial aggregates, and APRA’s statistics on Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs). The new Economic and Financial Statistics (EFS) collection will significantly improve the information available on financial conditions in Australia. This information is important in understanding what is happening in the economy and identifying any risks to financial stability.

The new EFS collection will include:

    • classifying loans by purpose to better meet user needs and provide more accurate data on items such as whether lending is for owner-occupier homes or investment
    • collecting much more detailed data on loan approvals and loan and deposit balances
    • using the most up to date classifications available for industry and the economic sector
    • using definitions that align with current international standards for economic statistics.

Modernising the EFS collection is a large, complex project and is being implemented in phases, over multiple financial years. Over the past three years, APRA, the RBA and the ABS have focused on consulting with the financial sector on the design of the new forms and providing detailed guidance on how to report. During this period banks and other reporting institutions adapted their systems to report on the new forms. A key milestone for the project was achieved in April 2019, when we received data for the first phase of the EFS project (including detailed balance sheet information). This information will be reflected in monthly outputs from the RBA and APRA, quarterly APRA publications, and in the quarterly ABS publication Australian National Accounts: Finance and Wealth.

In 2018–19, there were multiple parallel runs (where APRA collected data from the new EFS collection and the ABS, RBA and APRA analysed the new data while continuing to collect and publish data on the current basis) to assess the new data ahead of its release in 2019–20. Parallel runs will continue in 2019–20. Table 3.1 shows the publications that will change as a result of the EFS collection and the timing of these changes.

Table 3.1: Publications changing as a result of the EFS collection

First EFS data release

Reference Period
Release Date

Reserve Bank of Australia

Financial Aggregates

Australian Prudential Regulation Authority

ADI Statistics
ADI Performance Statistics
ADI Property Exposure Statistics

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Australian National Accounts: Finance & Wealth
Lending to Households & Businesses
Australian System of National Accounts
Australian National Accounts: State Accounts
Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure & Product

Providing better economic and financial data to help inform important decisions about the economy will continue to be a focus in 2019-20 as we move to the next phases of the EFS project.

3. Statistical Business Transformation Program achievements

The way the ABS collects, analyses and shares data is being modernised. Through the Statistical Business Transformation (SBT) Program a range of initiatives are being undertaken to digitally streamline processes, to deliver benefits and reduce statistical risk.

Improving the way we collect data

Our new data acquisition capabilities are delivering efficiencies in the way we collect data. Our use of innovative household approaches, in addition to increasing self-enumeration rates, is improving user experiences for ABS data providers and survey respondents.

This year a Data Acquisition Taskforce was established to drive this transformative work. Milestones achieved include:
    • migration of a range of administrative data sourced from Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies to enhanced acquisition capabilities
    • increasing the availability of online data collection. For the first time participants in ABS Special Social Surveys such as the Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) and the General Social Survey (GSS) were offered the option to complete their survey online. Across multiple collection campaigns we saw between 20 and 35 per cent of respondents take advantage of this new option.
    • migration of selected annual and sub-annual (more than once a year) business surveys to new collection infrastructure.

Increased use of enabling infrastructure

Our use of the Next Generation Infrastructure platform increased during the year. A range of new and existing ABS information and communication (ICT) systems were migrated to take advantage of the increased automation and scalability of this new environment. As part of these migrations enhanced testing and deployment practices were introduced to support the increased use of agile development approaches across the ABS.

We delivered enterprise security and access management solutions to underpin technical capabilities introduced by the SBT Program. These capabilities deliver efficiencies in the management of data access through increased standardisation and automation.

The ABS Intelligent Coder is ready for use; it will improve the efficiency and accuracy of statistical coding and classification of data, through the use of machine learning capabilities.

Improving how we share data

Application Programming Interface

This year we introduced the ABS Indicator API. This new data sharing services releases data faster. Now, we can digitally provide key economic data to approved media partners, split seconds after the 11.30.00am embargo, enabling them to programmatically access selected market moving indicators instantly.

The API technology that underpins this new service will be extended in 2019-20, enabling other ABS customers to access our wide range of ABS data releases instantaneously.

ABS DataLab

Use of ABS DataLab continued to grow this year. We saw an increase in the number of approved researchers, as well as an increase in the range of data sets available through the DataLab.

New ABS website progresses

To enhance reliability and responsiveness, our existing ABS website moved to a new infrastructure platform. This enables faster publishing of ABS statistical releases and provides increased capacity in response to the increased usage of the website experienced over the year.

We also released ABS Beta, www.beta.abs.gov.au, to ABS customers and stakeholders for their feedback. ABS Beta enhances the accessibility of ABS content and showcases new content guidelines as well as publishing tools and standards.

Over the coming year and into the future

Work resulting from the SBT Program will continue to migrate into our business as usual processes for data acquisition and information dissemination. Adoption of these capabilities enhances the way we produce high quality data and deliver solutions, and enables us to inform Australia’s important decisions into the future.

Figure 3.1: SBTP Timeline and Achievements March 2016 - June 2019


March 2016
Refreshed ABS website released.

May 2016
Updated ABS Stats mobile app released.

December 2016
ABS DataLab introduced. DataLab is now widely used to securely provide access to confidentialised ABS microdata across government.
June 2017
Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) delivered allowing efficient deployment and management of ICT processing, storage and applications.

Successful trial of new ABS Indicator API data services with Commonwealth Treasury and other key stakeholders.

September 2017
Enterprise Data Management Environment (EDME) and Metadata Registry and Repository (MRR) delivered.

October 2017
Statistical Workflow Management System and Statisticians Workbench delivered, providing centralised access and management of statistical workflows and processing tools.
January 2018
Health Literacy Survey (HLS) becomes first collection to use the new data acquisition solution, creating a more integrated and robust process for collecting statistical data.

February 2018
Security Identity and Access Management (SIAM) capabilities delivered.

Household Survey Innovation panel established. This panel allows trials of new collection approaches to be undertaken using a representative sample of households, providing insights into the impact of changes in approach.

May 2018
New data acquisition capabilities to collect Special Social Survey (SSS) data. For the first time respondents in SSS collections have the option to respond online. Take-up rates exceed 25% with successful follow-up undertaken by ABS field interviewers.
June 2018
Successful trial of ABS Indicator API data services undertaken with financial media outlets. This new technology allows for the instantaneous delivery of ABS statistics.

August 2018
Constrained optimisation introduced for supply use tables in National Accounts. This reduces the effort required to balance supply use tables and reduces the statistical risk associated with this function.

September 2018
SIGBOX, a secure dropbox, is delivered providing a revised and more secure approach to management of pre-embargo briefings with Commonwealth agencies.

Updated provider materials for Monthly Population Survey trialled with Survey innovation panel. Increases take-up rate of web collection from 18% to 25%.
September 2018
Refined approaches to sample design and intensive follow-up agreed. This change will reduce collection effort and costs with minimal impact on statistical quality.

November 2018
Production release of ABS Indicator API data services to approved media partners. Delivers market sensitive indicators to partners immediately upon lifting of embargo.

ABS Intelligent Coder delivered. Intelligent Coder uses machine learning to improve the accuracy and efficiency of statistical coding.

December 2018
New ABS Provider Portal released, allowing providers to see all ABS obligations in a single place.

Beta of ABS website released for external feedback. Beta of new Internal Publishing Environment released for user Testing.
January 2019
First use of Data Acquisition to capture business data. Business Expenditure on Research and Development survey dispatched with enhanced collection tool utilising in-form edits.

First use of Data Acquisition to capture administrative data. Data transfer from ATO uses new secure data transfer facilities.

February 2019
Collections from Queensland Registry and Department of Home Affairs on boarded to new data infrastructure.

March 2019
Trial Process and Analyse tools supported pre-processing of GSS Dress Rehearsal responses including statistical coding of occupation, industry and education data.

ABS mobile app updated to reflect new Commonwealth electoral boundaries.
April 2019
All ABS market sensitive statistics migrated to Indicator API, allowing the instant delivery of ABS statistics.

May 2019
Release of the HLS publication, the first collection to use new Data Acquisition capabilities. Data made available in TableBuilder and ABS DataLab, providing real time access for users.

The GSS achieves online completion rate of over 30% in the first production use of online collection for ABS SSS.

ABS DataLab further utilised to support inclusion of 2015-16 Agriculture Census data integrated into the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE).

Job Vacancy Survey (JVS) is the first sub-annual business survey to use new data acquisition capabilities. Published data maintains its quality.
June 2019
New ABS Internal Publishing Environment (IPE) goes live and migration of existing web content begins.