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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.
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.
GOVERNANCE COMMITTEES FOR 2015-16
RISK OVERSIGHT AND MANAGEMENT
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.
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.
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.
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’s IPS plan is available on the ABS website: www.abs.gov.au
STATISTICAL CLEARING HOUSE
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.
STATISTICAL BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION PROGRAM - GATEWAY REVIEWS
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.
ABS SUBMISSIONS TO PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES IN 2015-16
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.
PROCUREMENT INITIATIVES TO SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS
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
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.
ADVERTISING AND MARKET RESEARCH
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.
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
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