1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 1 Jul 2020 - 30 Jun 2021  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/10/2021   
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The Council commends the ABS for the manner in which it has responded to the needs of the Government and the Australian community as the global COVID-19 pandemic continued into 2020–21. The Council also acknowledges the significant preparation and engagement efforts undertaken in the lead up to the 2021 Census.

The Council held two meetings during 2020–21: in November 2020 and April 2021 (see 'ASAC 2020–21 meeting agendas' for details).


The ABS’ objectives for 2020–21 (as outlined in its Corporate Plan) were:

  1. produce high-quality statistics
  2. improve access to ABS statistics
  3. reduce burden on data providers
  4. produce new statistics and data.

The topics discussed at the Council meetings this year aligned with these objectives, with a particular focus on the coming Census and ongoing data issues related to COVID-19.

COVID-19 response

In particular, while providing core products and services, the ABS delivered a timely, innovative and collaborative response to demands associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council members were complimentary in their feedback to the ABS on its response to COVID-19, noting its innovative efforts to provide time critical data and constructive ongoing engagement across jurisdictions. This was seen as having led to an increase in confidence and support for the ABS. Of particular note were:
  • the policy usefulness of alternative data assets such as Single Touch Payroll (STP) and banking transactions data
  • the provision of more timely insights across a range of statistical products
  • ABS support for the Treasury's COVID-19 recovery monitoring efforts
  • increased collaboration with states and territories.

ABS funding

The Council maintained its support for the ABS in its efforts to have its funding increased. It was pleased at the positive outcome from the October 2020 Budget.


The Council continued to receive updates from the ABS on preparations in the lead up to Census Day on 10 August 2021. In addition to a range of activities and milestones, the Council discussed:
  • the ABS incident and crisis management approach for Census
  • ABS plans for managing the potential effects of COVID-19
  • how the ABS would manage communications relating to any misinformation about the Census
  • the leveraging of state and territory stakeholder relationships to promote Census employment opportunities and communications.

In 2020, the Council made a submission to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit of ABS preparedness for the 2021 Census. During 2020–21, the Council was informed by the ABS that recommendations from the ANAO audit had been fully addressed.


With the ABS seeking opportunities to work with big data suppliers, including from the banking and retail sectors, the Council discussed the significant potential for this to create public value while reducing respondent burden. Concerns were nevertheless expressed around:
  • possible implications of burden and costs being shifted to private enterprises
  • experiences with private enterprises seeking remuneration for sharing their data
  • potential privacy impacts depending on the degree of detail in big data sets.


The Australian Public Service (APS) Data Professional Stream was established to lift the data capability of the workforce by sourcing, growing and mobilising data expertise across the APS. In September 2020, the Australian Statistician, Dr David Gruen, was appointed as the inaugural Head of the Data Profession.

The Council expressed support for this key capability-building initiative and emphasised the importance of data literacy within the public sector. Members discussed:
  • opportunities for collaboration across governments, as well as with tertiary providers, STEM organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
  • the qualifications sought in the Data Stream, given the different approaches to analysis brought by data scientists, statisticians, econometricians, etc.


Council meetings provide an opportunity for the ABS to receive information and advice about emerging statistical issues across the jurisdictions and sectors represented. In addition to those already identified, members highlighted the following priorities:
  • a strong ongoing appetite from state and territory governments for quarterly Gross State Product data
  • assistance from the ABS in explaining differences between STP and the Labour Force Survey data to Ministers and other stakeholders within the states and territories
  • gaining a more detailed understanding of labour force supply issues in sectors that rely on overseas workers, e.g. construction, tourism and fruit picking.