1006.0 - Forward Work Program, 2016-17  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/10/2016   
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            STRATEGIC PRIORITIES FOR 2016–2017

            Four broad strategic priorities have been identified for 2016–17 to continue to deliver and maintain trusted official statistics, transform and modernise the business, and reduce costs.


            Australia’s 17th national Census of Population and Housing has a reference date of Tuesday, August 9 2016. The Census is the largest statistical collection the ABS undertakes and one of the most important. The Census requires a peak of 1,200 office staff and 38,000 field staff and costs $470m over a five year period.

            By counting the number and key characteristics of people in Australia on Census night, the Census provides a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of the states, territories and local government areas, determining the number of seats allocated to each state and territory in the House of Representatives; distributing billions of dollars of federal funding to the states and territories and affecting state grants to local government areas.

            The breadth of topics collected provide a comprehensive picture of Australia through statistics on people, families, household structure, dwellings, population groups (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) providing insights for population groups and small geographic areas.

            The 2016 Census took a ‘digital-first’ approach with most households receiving a letter with a login code delivered by Australia Post instead of a paper form delivered by a Census field officer. This resulted in an online response rate of approximately 60% in 2016 compared to 33% in 2011.

            This approach was enabled by the development and use of a comprehensive address register. Paper forms were initially distributed to some locations and people were provided with a paper form if they requested one. The reduced use of field staff and the decrease in paper forms will deliver significant cost savings, improved workforce safety, and a reduced impact on the environment.

            Census data will be released two months earlier than any previous Census, with the first release of Census data available in April 2017, and more detailed releases throughout 2017.

            Special strategies were implemented to ensure an accurate count of all population groups, including people living in remote areas, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse, elderly, youth and homeless.

            The ABS took the online Census form website down for 40 hours starting from 7:30pm on Census Night. As a result, many households were unable to submit their form on August 9. This attracted public criticism and raised concerns about ABS capability and the impact on Census quality. Despite the outage, the ABS is on track to deliver a quality Census, with the usual quality checks planned in 2016-17.

            All paper forms are being scanned and then destroyed in a secure facility in Dandenong, Victoria. All data, from paper and online, will be quality assured and coded between August 2016 and March 2017 in the ABS Data Operations Centre in Belconnen, ACT.

            Names and addresses collected during the Census, previously retained for about 18 months, will be retained for up to four years. The secure, but still temporary, retention of names and addresses will enable the ABS to produce statistical information pertinent to key policy issues.


            Delivering and maintaining quality demographic statistics: Demographic statistics, including Estimated Resident Population (ERP), will remain a high priority. ERP is a core activity under ABS legislation, and a critical input into economic indicators, electoral boundaries and allocation of Goods and Services Tax revenue to the states and territories. In 2016–17 the focus will be:

              • working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) to ensure the quality of ERP as DIBP transitions from hard copy outgoing passenger cards for international travellers to electronic smart gates, as this information is critical in establishing quality state and territory population estimates
              • producing a high quality set of rebased population estimates from the 2016 Census.
            Delivering and maintaining quality economic statistics: These include National Accounts, Consumer Price Index (CPI) and labour force statistics, noting that:
              • the National Accounts are a compilation of many critical data sources, including international accounts; business indicators and industry statistics; Government Finance statistics; and household-based survey information
              • the focus for the Labour Force Survey in 2016–17 will remain re-building credibility and enhanced risk management.
            Other priorities for the economic statistic programs in 2016–17 include:
              • improving risk management to ensure the continued quality of the main economic indicators and their inputs
              • continuing to develop new data sources and processes to reduce collection costs and meet emerging policy demands (e.g. use of transaction data for compilation of CPI and enhanced measurement of service and non-market industries)
              • building on experimental and pilot work to increase the ABS’s capacity to assess and measure productivity
              • implementation of the outcomes from the Government Finance Statistics review 2015.
            Delivering statistics of importance to significant government outlays and public policy: These programs include statistics on health, disability, carers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, education, business characteristics, innovation, agriculture, environment economic accounting, transport, tourism, labour demand and Information and Communications Technology. Many of these statistics are funded by other government agencies.
            Sustaining the quality and efficiency of the household survey and business survey program, while transforming the ABS infrastructure and business processes, will continue to be a priority. Key deliverables in 2016–17 include:
            • dissemination of the 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers and the 2015–16 Household Income and Expenditure Survey
            • development of the 2017–18 National Health Survey and Survey of Income and Housing
            • development of the 2018–19 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey
            • analysis of homelessness statistics following the 2016 Census
            • the 2016 Agricultural Census (and associated Land Management Practices Survey).
            A new National Data Acquisition Centre in Geelong officially opened in April 2016: In response to a request by the Australian Government that ABS consider relocating some functions to the Geelong region, the ABS has, with assistance from the Victorian and Australian governments and Deakin University, established a National Data Acquisition Centre. The Centre, which already employs about 200 staff, will drive best practice in centralised data collection. New survey response strategies will continue to be explored to ensure that ABS sample surveys achieve an optimal balance between reduced respondent burden, representativeness and the high response rates expected of accurate, trusted official statistics.


            The ABS established a highly valuable and secure data integration program in 2005. Since that time, ABS has enabled a richer statistical system by successfully delivering new policy insights for governments and the community, including:
              • A more accurate measure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy – a critical measure under the Closing the Gap agenda
              • A better understanding of how well migrants are adjusting to life in Australia and what factors are the most important for a successful settlement
              • A clearer picture of how a person’s education, employment and location impacts on the types of mental health services they receive.
            The ABS is an Accredited Integrating Authority, authorised to carry out data integration projects within a secure environment for statistical and research purposes. This accreditation is based on assessment that assures the public and Government that integration of data is undertaken in a safe and secure manner. The ABS requires all data integration project proposals to go through a rigorous assessment and approval process to ensure the project provides a significant public benefit and takes a privacy-by-design approach. In addition, staff members assigned to a project are never able to see all of an individual’s information together at any point of the data integration process and data access rights are only provided on a ‘needs to know’ basis – this is known as the ‘separation principle’. These protections are in addition to existing strong protections that all ABS staff are legally bound to never release personal information to any individual or organisation outside of the ABS.

            A key priority in 2016–17 is to expand and consolidate a number of important cross-portfolio data integration projects outlined below.

            Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment The ABS and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science have developed the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE), which contains detailed information on the characteristics and finances of Australian businesses.

            Formerly known as the Expanded Analytical Business Longitudinal Database (EABLD), this integrated data environment draws on several years of administrative data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and survey data from the ABS, enabling analysis of businesses over time and the micro-economic factors that drive performance, innovation, job creation, competitiveness and productivity. The BLADE therefore improves the evidence base for policy development and reform.

            For example, the BLADE has been used to examine the contribution of start-ups to job creation in the Australian economy, revealing that it is young small to medium enterprises that make the greatest contribution to overall jobs growth.

            Linked Employer-Employee Dataset (LEED)
            The foundational Linked Employee-Employer Database (LEED) project joins personal income tax data from the Australian Taxation Office with business level data from the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment, linking person level data with business level data for the first time. This enables multiple job holders to be identified and creates a potential future source of statistics on employee earnings. This foundation project represents an important first step towards a future LEED which will contain data linked across multiple years and include more detailed socio-economic and demographic information relating to employees. Through further linkage with other datasets, additional characteristics could be used to explore the drivers of firm level performance, such as the educational qualifications of employees.

            Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset
            The Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD) brings together a 5% longitudinal sample of Census data from 2006 and 2011, is used extensively to inform matters of importance such as employment outcomes arising from structural changes in the Australian economy. This provides a unique opportunity for researchers to access a very large and detailed longitudinal dataset and examine pathways and transitions of population groups.

            The 2014 Industry Report produced by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science used the dataset, for example, to analyse employment outcomes of Automotive Manufacturing workers. The analysis found that despite the magnitude of structural change in the Automotive Manufacturing Industry between the 2006 and 2011 Census and in light of the adverse economic conditions during that period, the employment outcomes for 2006 automotive workers were mostly positive - most workers exiting the sector managed to successfully transition to other industries or sectors.

            Following the 2016 Census, the Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset will be expanded to include a third time point. Over time, the ACLD will continue to grow in value as data from each successive Census are linked, providing a much more detailed longitudinal picture of changing patterns in social and economic conditions in the lives of Australians.

            Multi-agency Data Integration Project
            The Multi-agency Data Integration Project is a collaborative partnership between five Commonwealth Government agencies: Department of Health, Department of Social Services, Department of Human Services, Australian Taxation Office, and ABS. The partnership brings together Census data with administrative data from each Partner Agency to create a rich cross-portfolio data resource that can be used for research and policy purposes. The Project is currently in an evaluation phase and has significant potential to be extended across time (longitudinally) and expanded to include other data sources of importance to program evaluation and public policy.

            Microdata Futures
            ABS will continue to investigate opportunities to improve the availability of its vast holdings of microdata for statistical and research purposes, while also ensuring that data will not be released in a manner that allows the identification of an individual or business. The ABS is adopting the internationally recognised Five Safes Framework. By carefully assessing people, projects, settings, data and output, necessary controls can be put in place to increase public value from national statistics whilst protecting privacy and confidentiality - enabling official statistics to be produced and statistical analysis to be undertaken whilst preserving the secrecy of Australians and Australian businesses.

            Priority 4: Transforming the ABS for the future

            Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP): The $257m Government investment to modernise ABS infrastructure and business processes will reduce risks to statistical outputs; reduce costs; reduce red tape for providers; and achieve faster turnaround in dissemination of statistics. This will be achieved by:

              • reengineering and consolidating surveys and administrative data sources to achieve greater efficiency through further automation, reuse of information, use of new data sources and improvements in access to data
              • providing standardised authentication and authorisation mechanisms for data providers with a view to incorporating whole of government authentication and authorisation mechanisms
              • applying modern security and architecture in the provision of technology infrastructure
              • providing new methodological solutions, technical infrastructure and enterprise wide services to support reengineered business processes.
            Key infrastructure priorities in 2016–17 include:
              • implementing a new enterprise data warehouse and metadata repository. These are critical foundations that will support the delivery of new data acquisition, processing and dissemination capabilities starting in mid-2017
              • ramping up the focus of Enterprise Architectute to ensure effective integration of new enterprise wide capabilities with remaining legacy services
              • delivering security and identity access management infrastructure which will provide the right staff, in the right roles, with the authentication, authorisation and role management capability they require to access the new statistical infrastructure
              • completion of procurements to enable the ABS to acquire data from providers using enhanced digital channels (smart e-forms), and provide a portal for staff to process statistical collections (a Statisticians’ Workbench).
            Key statistical business priorities in 2016–17 include:
              • use of the business process re-engineering work completed in 2015–16 to validate ‘top-down’ benefit realisation work and to further validate requirements for enterprise wide capabilities, such as Data Acquisition
              • providing proof of concepts of new enterprise wide services such as the data processing environment and output estimation systems
              • delivering a virtual microdata laboratory to improve access to microdata for priority users and a service analytics capability that will enable the ABS to easily capture metrics about our users behaviour
              • progressing the consolidation of ABS business surveys to reduce duplication, strengthen coherence, and maximise the use of the ABS Business Register
              • progressing the integration and consolidation of ABS household surveys to reduce duplication, maximise the use of multiple data sources to produce higher value statistics, and configure the new ABS Address Register (i.e. the central source of addresses used in the collection of 2016 Census information) as the base for the selection of households in our survey program
              • make significant progress on exploring consolidation of ABS account compilation and index production activities
              • undertaking pioneer programs to validate the new statistical business processes
              • begin transition of data, metadata and registers to newly developed infrastructure.
            Partnerships, marketing and communication: A stronger focus on engagement, partnering and communication is fundamental to ensuring effective and widespread use of ABS statistics, and enhanced statistics through data integration and collaboration.

            Clear accountabilities for building and managing relationships with key stakeholders, particularly at the Australian and state and territory government levels, have been established. In addition:

            a more streamlined and efficient model for state and territory engagement will need to be bedded down in 2016–17

            refinement and consolidation of multiple interest groups into peak Economic and Population and Social Statistics Advisory Groups, and a refocussed State Government Statistical Forum, will be implemented in 2016–17

            a new communication strategy will focus on working effectively with influential stakeholders including the media; developing more data visualisation and dissemination opportunities; and promoting and marketing statistics.

            Developing the workforce: The ABS Workforce Strategy 2016–19 is designed to support workforce transformation. There will be a need to:
              • shift from a focus on collecting data through surveys to make greater use of and integrate administrative, transactional and other new data sources. This will require skills in data mining and integration, statistical analysis, leadership, new technology and software use, and stakeholder engagement and less process-driven administrative work
              • regularly review and adapt the office-based and interviewer staffing profile
              • develop a more agile and flexible workforce and organisational structures.
            In 2016–17, priorities will include:
              • implementing strategies to build the analytical capabilities of staff, to ensure they have the right skills to perform well in the transformed ABS
              • implementing new talent identification processes to drive higher performance
              • senior executives modelling the behaviours required to drive a high performing culture and create an environment where performance management is a positive and constructive ongoing conversation.