1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, Report on ABS performance in 2015-16  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/10/2016   
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The ABS, as an agency of the Australian Government, 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.

As the accountable authority for the ABS, the Australian Statistician is required to establish and maintain an appropriate system of risk oversight and management for the ABS and an appropriate system of internal controls.

The ABS’s Internal Control Framework sets out corporate governance structures and processes. This assists ABS staff members to undertake their responsibilities effectively, in a way that meets community expectations of public accountability, probity and openness.

Corporate governance arrangements ensure the effective operation of the ABS, including transparency in decision making, operation and accountability by promoting strong leadership, sound management and effective planning and review processes.


An important feature of ABS corporate governance is the role played by governance committees, which are active in developing policies and strategies, identifying ABS priorities, assessing and responding to risks and opportunities, and monitoring ABS performance. The major governance committees in place during 2015-16 are outlined in table below.


Executive Leadership GroupThe Executive Leadership Group (ELG) advises the Australian Statistician. Its role is to provide strategic oversight of the organisation and determine policy. ELG's role includes giving high-level focus to strategic client engagement, internal leadership and the key priorities of the organisation. ELG meets fortnightly to ensure ongoing attention is given to strategic issues affecting the future of the organisation, including statistical business transformation, statistical risk management and strategic client engagement. ELG sets the strategic directions for the ABS and refers its strategic decisions to the Senior Management Group for implementation.
ELG membership consists of the Australian Statistician (chair),the Deputy Australian Statisticians and the General Manager, Strategic Partnerships and projects Division.

Senior Management GroupThe Senior Management Group (SMG) is an advisory body chaired by the Chief Operating Officer. It focuses on cross-cutting issues to support ABS transformation, manage risks and ensure the efficient and effective delivery of the ABS work program. SMG meetings also address other issues, including statistical and corporate policy, financial management, dissemination matters, and human resource management. SMG membership consists of the Chief Operating Officer (chair) and the ten General Managers. Other senior officers attend as required for particular items. SMG meets weekly.

ABS ManagementABS Management Meetings play a major role in setting and communicating ABS strategic directions and priorities. The meetings are held twice a year and involve all ABS Senior Executive staff (SES). They provide an opportunity for SES to discuss big picture issues, take stock of lessons learnt, look ahead and discuss strategic issues and plans. Recently the Management Meetings have included workshops on risk management, developing a high performing workforce, and working with Ministers.

Audit CommitteeThe Audit Committee is responsible for providing independent assurance and assistance to the Australian Statistician on the ABS's financial and performance reporting responsibilities, risk oversight and management, and system of internal controls, including those applied to ensure legislative compliance and the execution of the functions of the ABS.
The committee meets a minimum of five times a year. It consists of five members, three of whom are external. Their appointments are based on their personal qualities, experience and skills, including their ability to demonstrate independence on matters before the Committee. An external member (currently Ms Jennifer Clark) chairs the Committee.

Protective Security Management CommitteeThe ABS maintains a comprehensive security framework, overseen by a Protective Security Management Committee chaired by a Deputy Australian Statistician. The security framework ensures that both physical and computer security are maintained.
The committee is a key means of ensuring the ABS meets its legal requirement not to divulge identifiable information and to ensure there is policy to meet the security and privacy related requirements of legislation including:
  • Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013
  • Census and Statistics Act 1905
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975
  • Privacy Act 1988
  • Crimes Act 1914.

Statistical Strategy CommitteeThe Statistical Strategy Committee is an advisory committee to the Deputy Australian Statistician, Statistical Services Group, for the ABS statistical work program, with outcomes of strategic importance being reported to the Executive Leadership Group. Key areas include statistical risk management, cross cutting statistical issues and overall priorities, and strategic relationships. Membership includes the Deputy Australian Statistician (chair) and General Managers from Statistical Services Group, General Managers from the Statistical Business Transformation Group and the General Manager Census and Statistical Network Services.

Statistical Business Transformation Program Executive BoardThe Statistical Business Transformation (SBT) Program is the major business transformation program for the ABS. The SBTP Program Executive Board is chaired by the Australian Statistician with membership consisting of the three Deputy Australian Statisticians and three external members, Mr David Whiteing (CIO, Commonwealth Bank of Australia), Mr David Borthwick (Senior Consultant) and Mr Peter Harper. The Board has the overarching authority of the SBT Program and is responsible for the investment decision and associated commitments to government, ensuring the ongoing alignment of the Program with the strategic direction and goals of the ABS.

Statistical Business Transformation Program Delivery BoardThe Statistical Business Transformation (SBT) Program Delivery Board is responsible for driving the program forward and delivering the outcomes and benefits. Members provide resource and specific commitments to support the Senior Responsible Officer (and Chair), who is accountable for the successful delivery of the SBT Program.

The SBT Program Delivery Board meets fortnightly and also reports to the SBT Program Executive Board.

2016 Census Program BoardThe Census 2016 Program Board provides oversight and support to the Program to meet its stated targets and deliver on its goals for the 2016 Census. The Board is chaired by the Chief Operating Officer. It monitors and reviews the performance of Census projects through monthly Census 2016 project progress reports, reviews risks and issues and provides advice to the Census Program Manager and Program Owner.


The ABS risk management framework aligns with the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy and is subject to continual improvement. The framework ensures there is a mechanism for monitoring and identifying shifts in risk exposure and the emergence of new risks. It also articulates tolerances for new risks and actions required when risks reach certain levels.

In addition to general risk management, the Accountable Authority Instructions (AAIs) and the framework identify mechanisms for specialist risk management which address persistent risks. These include: fraud (managed consistently with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework); work health and safety; information and communication technology security; and disclosure risk (relating to privacy and confidentiality which is part of ABS core business).

The ABS Audit Committee takes an overarching perspective of the independent assurance activities of the ABS providing independent assurance and assistance to the Australian Statistician on the ABS’s financial and performance reporting responsibilities; risk oversight and management; and system of internal controls, including those applied to ensure legislative compliance and the execution of the functions of the ABS.

The ABS is undergoing a major transformation. The Australian Government investment of $257 million to modernise ABS infrastructure over five years is the foundation for the ABS to transform for the 21st Century. This once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the infrastructure, capacity and capability of the ABS brings with it a period of rapid change and an increased exposure to risk.

In response to this, the ABS has given increased priority to ensuring that statistical risk (for example, lack of coherence between published statistics, or breaks in time series) is well managed. A new framework has been applied to the Labour Force, National Accounts, Consumer Price Index and Estimated Resident Population. Key statistics which contribute to these series are being progressively brought onto the new framework throughout 2016-17.

The 2016 Census Program undertook reviews of overall program risks, statistical risks and financial risks during 2015-16 as part of its broader risk management strategy. The 2016 Census Program Board reviews and provides guidance on risk management for the Census of Population and Housing, including financial, operational, information technology and statistical risks.


The ABS has a Fraud Control Plan to provide the framework and associated guidance for fraud prevention, detection, investigation, reporting and data collection procedures and processes that meet the specific needs of the ABS and broader government obligations. It is 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 biannually 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.


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.

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 main economic indicators, are subject to further protective security measures.

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 subject to an annual compliance review by an accredited independent assessor. 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 audited. There were no unauthorised access incidents into ABS computing systems during 2015-16.


As an Australian Government agency, the ABS must comply with the Privacy Act 1988, including the Australian Privacy Principles. These govern the way personal information about any person – including staff, clients and respondents – should be collected, stored, used and disclosed. The ABS has a Privacy Policy published on the ABS website.

The ABS has a Privacy Officer who advises on privacy issues internally, investigates allegations of misuse or unauthorised disclosures regarding personal information, and monitors the external environment to keep up-to-date on privacy issues that could affect ABS operations.

The ABS maintains a close relationship with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, advising the Commissioner regularly of the ABS’s forward work program, providing documents pertaining to surveys collecting personal information and seeking advice on any new ABS initiatives about which privacy advocates may have concerns.

During 2015-16 the ABS participated in Privacy Awareness Week, which is an initiative of the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities Forum to promote awareness of privacy issues and the importance of the protection of personal information.


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’s IPS plan is available on the ABS website: www.abs.gov.au


The Statistical Clearing House (SCH) is the mandatory central clearance point for business surveys that are run, funded, or conducted on behalf of the Australian Government. Its key objectives are to minimise the load placed on businesses by Australian Government surveys, reduce unnecessary survey duplication, and ensure surveys are fit-for-purpose.

In 2015-16,144 surveys were submitted for clearance. Of these, 71 received a full SCH review and approval, 13 received fast track approval, 5 were cancelled by agencies after submission, 19 were still being reviewed, and 36 were out of scope of SCH review. There was also one survey that did not receive SCH approval due to duplication concerns. Surveys categorised as "fast track approval" are those where the overall respondent burden is considered minimal.

The SCH has helped promote good statistical practices through the release of survey information guidelines on their website (www.nss.gov.au).


The ABS was subject to mid-stage Gateway Reviews of the Statistical Business Transformation (SBT)Program in October 2015 and June 2016, both conducted by review teams led by Michael Roche on behalf of the Department of Finance. Both reviews resulted in a Delivery Confidence Assessment (DCA) of Green/Amber, with the June 2016 review report indicating that ‘delivery confidence is trending towards Green’. A Green/Amber DCA indicates that ‘Successful delivery of the Program seems probable however constant attention will be needed to ensure risks do not become major issues threatening delivery.’

While the October 2015 review report included 13 recommendations, of which 5 were deemed critical and 5 essential. The June 2016 review report included 6 recommendations, of which 2 were essential. The critical recommendations in the October 2015 review report focused on risk management, assurance, change management, and program monitoring and reporting, as well as on establishing clear deliverables for the design phase and re-engineering. The essential recommendations in the June 2016 report were focused on re-engineering, and the data processing and analysis component of the program.

The ABS is working to address the recommendations, noting the review team’s observation that the organisation had already identified the areas of focus noted in the June review report. The next Gateway Review of the SBT Program is planned for October 2017.


There were no other external reviews in 2015-16, with no reports issued by the Attorney-General, Parliament or the Commonwealth Ombudsman. There were no individual or administrative review decisions of relevance to the ABS.

There were no adverse comments relating to the ABS from the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, Parliamentary Committees, or courts or tribunals during 2015-16.


Committee/InquiryDescription of submission/information provided

Senate Education and Employment Standing Committee Inquiry into current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact on students and families associated with inadequate levels of support. In August 2015, the ABS provided a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Standing Committee. The submission responded to issues of relevance.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs Inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.In September 2015, the ABS provided a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs. The submission provided input for the government response in relation to recommendation no. 23 of the report.


The ABS undertakes its procurement and contracting activities in accordance with the Commonwealth Procurement Policy Framework, the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, and AAIs. The ABS advertises an annual procurement plan on AusTender, and the plan is reviewed and updated throughout the year.

The ABS has a centralised area of expertise, which provides procurement and contracting support to operational areas, as well as providing direct involvement for more complex procurement projects. Information on procurement policy and practices is available to staff through an internal procurement portal.

The ABS continues to invest in developing procurement skills and reviewing processes to ensure that efficiency and value-for-money outcomes are achieved.

Information relating to expenditure on contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website: www.tenders.gov.au.


The ABS supports small business participation in the Australian Government procurement market. Small and Medium Enterprises and Small Enterprise participation statistics are available on the Department of Finance website: www.finance.gov.au.

ABS support for small business includes using the Commonwealth Contracting suite for low-risk procurements under $200,000 and communicating in clear, simple language as well as presenting information in an accessible format.

The ABS recognises the importance of ensuring that small businesses are paid on time with electronic systems or other processes, such as payment by credit card. The results of the Survey of Australian Government Payments to Small Business are available on the Department of the Treasury website: www.treasury.gov.au.


The ABS engages consultants when it requires specialist expertise or when independent research, review or assessment is required. Before engaging consultants, the ABS takes into account the skills and resources required for the task, the skills available internally, and the cost-effectiveness of engaging external expertise. The decision to engage a consultant is made in accordance with the PGPA Act and related regulations including the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and relevant internal policies.

Annual reports contain information about actual expenditure on consultancies. Information on the value of contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website: www.tenders.gov.au.

Consultancy contracts from 2013-14 to 2015-16 are shown in Table 5.3. During 2015-16, 14 new consultancy contracts were entered into, involving total actual expenditure of $4.9 million. In addition, three ongoing consultancy contracts were active during the 2015-16 year, involving total actual expenditure of $0.1 million.

Consultancy contracts from 2012-13 to 2015-16

New consultancy contracts
Ongoing consultancy contracts

Number of new contracts
Number of ongoing contracts



During the 2015-16 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’s asset management policies are set out in the AAI’s and supporting financial management procedures. Further details on the ABS’s asset policies are contained in note 2.2 of the ABS’ Financial Statements.

An asset register records details of all assets held by the ABS. An annual stocktake process 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.


During 2015-16, the ABS delivered one advertising campaign. The campaign was to raise and maintain the levels of public awareness and participation for the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.

Further information on the campaign is available at www.abs.gov.au and in the reports on Australian Government advertising prepared by the Department of Finance and published at www.finance.gov.au.

Under section 311A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the ABS is required to disclose payments over $12,700 (including GST) for advertising and market research.

During 2015–16, the ABS’ total expenditure for advertising and market research over the reporting threshold was $3,430,958 (see table below).

Advertising and market research payments over $12,700 in 2015-16

Expenditure ($. INC. GST)

Market Research Organisations
Whereto Research Based Consulting Pty Ltd2016 Census – Creative Concept Testing

Media Advertising Organisations
BWM Dentsu2016 Census – Communications Campaign
Dentsu Mitchell Media Australia Pty LtdRecruitment advertising
Ethnic Communications2016 Census – Multicultural Communications Campaign

Public Relations Organisations
Fenton Strategic Communications Pty Ltd2016 Census – Management and Implementation of Media and Public Relations

Total Payments over 12,700