1006.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics - Forward Work Program, 2019-20  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/10/2019   
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1. Environmental and organisational context

ABS statistics and analysis empower decisions across government, business, and in the communities of every day Australians. Guided by the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 the ABS continues to collect, compile, analyse and disseminate statistics that remain relevant for Australia.

1.1 Environmental context

In the provision of high quality statistics, the ABS needs to constantly evaluate its program in light of the changing external environment. Maintaining the relevance and quality of statistics requires a continuous focus on enhancing methods, data sources and practices. It also requires vigilance in re-shaping the program to ensure we are measuring changes in the economy and changes in government and community priorities and expectations.

In 2019-20, focus will continue on seeking to enhance measurement of growing sectors of the economy, digital activities and globalisation. At the same time, the ABS will be delivering on an ambitious measurement program around living conditions, including Indigenous health and social support, mental health, household time use, personal safety and education.

Increasingly, place-based socio-economic policy and assessment of land use, resource use and the associated environment is being prioritised by communities and governments. The ABS will develop this capability as resources permit.

With increasing demand for data coupled with technological advances that will enable increased access to a plethora of information (often instantaneously), the role and practices of the ABS will need to continue to evolve in an increasingly crowded and complex data landscape. The need for data literate analytical capability across the public and private sector will continue to grow and remains a major challenge. This is occurring against the back drop of growing public awareness and concern about the appropriate use of their information.

The ABS is actively supporting the Australian Government’s data policy, by working with the National Data Commissioner, to enable a national data system that maximises the value of data, while ensuring the community can be confident about the public sector use and protections of their information.

1.2 ABS strategic directions

To position the ABS for the future, the ABS has articulated four longer term goals. These goals point to the agency the ABS aspires to be. These strategic directions are as follows:

  • Continue to invest in the production of high quality data and statistics
  • Be recognised as a leader in the Australian data landscape
  • Demonstrate leadership in data skills and capability building across Australia
  • Deliver new data solutions and services

1.3 Infrastructure modernisation

2019-20 is the final year of the ABS’ five-year program to modernise its information technology infrastructure and statistical business processes. This transformation program has delivered against the original program objectives to:
  • Improve customer outcomes through more seamless interfaces that reduce red tape for providers of information and increase the availability of information for the users of ABS statistics; and
  • Reduce risk to our statistical outputs by improving statistical processing systems and supporting technology infrastructure.

The objective of delivering financial efficiencies is yet to be fully realised. This reflects delays in the delivery of statistical processing capabilities and the need to adopt a cautious approach in transitioning the current statistical programs to the new infrastructure. This cautious approach has been designed to protect the quality and continuity of ABS statistics during the transition.

The ABS has started using cloud computing as part of its information technology infrastructure. This includes the use of cloud service providers from the Australian Signals Directorate Certified Cloud Services List. An example is our new data integration lab that allows access to large scale computing for researchers using our large integrated datasets. These services are configured in line with advice from the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

The ABS has a large security uplift program running in 2019-20 to better safeguard citizen data in line with community expectations. The ABS will be focussing on raising maturity against ACSC’s Essential 8 Maturity Model.

1.4 Workforce strategy

The ABS operates in an environment where there is increasing external demand for staff with high quality data and statistical capabilities. Over coming years it is expected the growth in demand for data scientists will outpace overall employment growth, and Australian businesses will make significantly increased investment in data analytics capabilities.

Within this context, the ABS Workforce Strategy 2019-23 provides a four year outlook to ensure that the ABS continues to attract, develop and retain high quality staff and equip them with required skills and knowledge. The strategy includes four streams to drive high organisational performance:
  • Increase the capacity and capability of the ABS workforce through development and recruitment to address gaps;
  • Identify, monitor, and predict where specialised and general skills and knowledge are required to responsively meet short, medium and long term needs;
  • Support innovative ways of working to achieve high performance and efficiency; and
  • Improve the ABS’ position as an ‘employer of choice’ to retain and attract the best employees.

As Australia’s National Statistical Office we are well placed to assist data capability development in the Australian Public Service (APS). The ABS is working with public sector partners to determine how we can assist government employees to develop data analytical skills. This includes investigating:
  • Making statistical training developed by the ABS easily accessible by other APS staff;
  • Increasing opportunities to undertake secondments to and from the ABS; and
  • Developing a data related job roles and capability framework to support a sector wide approach to professionalising the data workforce.

1.5 Financial context for 2019-20

The level of ABS resources is a combination of Government appropriation and user funding for data products and services.

In 2019-20, the ABS will receive an annual appropriation of $261.7 million and user funding of $49.5 million. This appropriation is marginally higher than the $258.6 million appropriated in 2018-19 due to additional funding to conduct a Time Use Survey, produce the Labour Accounts publication, and various other minor cyclical funding adjustments.

This base funding excludes funding for the Census of Population and Housing, which is appropriated separately, the Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP), capital and low value asset replacement funding. In 2019-20 Census funding will increase by $44 million to $74.8 million as the program ramps up.

The ABS appropriation largely funds the demographic and economic statistical programs; data acquisition and enabling services such as information technology. Data acquisition (including surveys, data cleaning) accounts for around a quarter of the ABS appropriated funding.

By contrast, the social statistics program is largely reliant on user funding. Seventy-five per cent of the $49.5 million in user funding in 2019-20 supports the social statistics program, with a small proportion supporting the industry, environment and agricultural statistical programs and data integration.

Appropriated funding for a number of activities ceases in June 2020, including funding for the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA), labour accounts and research into measuring the non-market service sector.

1.6 Medium term funding outlook

Over the past decade the need for prioritisation has become sharper as the ABS’ ongoing appropriation has reduced. Funding in 2019-20 in real terms is 28 per cent lower than a decade ago. This takes into account the additional funding of $31.2 million (excluding capital) over five years provided to the ABS in the 2018-19 Budget and 2018-19 MYEFO (refer Chart 1).

The ABS has achieved efficiencies by reducing:
  • Corporate overheads;
  • Staffing numbers, through several rounds of redundancies and not replacing staff leaving the organisation;
  • Our property footprint through activity based working and sharing with other government agencies; and
  • Direct information collection methods, where administrative and transactional data can be used.

These efficiencies are offset by rising costs of:
  • Household surveys, particularly the monthly Labour Force Survey;
  • Data security protections; and
  • Qualified expert staff recruitment and development.

Future efficiencies will be dependent on changes in the way the ABS collects information, such as further use of administrative data, more e-form collection, and the efficiency with which we compile and analyse this information, such as more automation of coding and editing.

CHART 1: Real ABS operating funding1, 2000-01 to 2022-23

    1. Excludes funding for SBTP, the Census of Population and Housing and the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Depreciation funding of approximately $30m per annum was removed from 2010-11 onwards.
    2. Base funding after WCI, Efficiency Dividend, efficiencies following SBTP and Whole-of-Government Savings. Includes ongoing NPP funding and offsets for property savings.
    3. Base funding excludes the reclassification of Departmental Capital Budget funding for low value asset purchases.

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