1002.0 - Australian Statistics Advisory Council - Annual Report, 2018-19  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/10/2019   
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Year ahead: 2019-20

The 2019-20 ASAC Statement of Intent frames the Council’s priorities over the coming year.

ABS work program and resourcing

Organisational objectives outlined in the ABS’ 2019-20 to 2022-23 Corporate Plan are:

    ABS statistics are trusted and used to inform important decisions;
    partnerships to enable better decisions; and,
    new statistics to support Australia’s emerging priorities.

These are concerned with maintaining the quality and coverage of existing collections, as well as expanding them where there is likely to be a significant payoff. The Council will continue to lend support to the ABS in relation to resourcing strategies, prioritisation decisions for investment in statistics and infrastructure, and identification of key risks.

ABS customers’ expectations continue to rise and demands for access to ABS data have been increasing. This places pressure on the ABS to continue investing in key statistical assets if it is to ensure provision of data that is most relevant to customer needs.

The Council is highly supportive of the ABS’ continued efforts to maintain the high quality of core statistical products, while ensuring Census preparations remain on track.

2021 Census of Population and Housing

As noted in the Year in Review: 2018-19 section, the ABS has made significant progress in its preparations for the 2021 Census, including work needed to inform recommendations to government on Census topics, and key technology procurements. Risk management, resourcing and technology are all expected to require ongoing attention.

The next twelve months are a critical phase that includes the key milestones of building core digital infrastructure, detailed preparation for field operations, and completion of a significant test in late 2019. The latter, which will be voluntary, will enable an assessment of the ‘response window’ and further testing of some potential Census content, as well as aspects of field enumeration.

ASAC will continue to advise the ABS on strategies for effective engagement with government, media and the community, including messaging around the handling of key privacy and data security matters.

ABS transformation initiatives

At its conclusion in June 2020, the ambitious SBTP is expected to have delivered the vast majority of benefits to clients and external users of ABS data. Prudent decisions have been taken to minimise emerging risks to core statistical products and processes.

Transformation needs to lead with the broader messages around increasing the public value delivered by the ABS and governments making better use of ABS data and capability. Transformation will be an ongoing challenge for the ABS as it continues to build capabilities and skills that meet the future needs of the nation and respond to the opportunities and challenges of an evolving data landscape.

As noted previously, the ABS has recently been giving detailed consideration to future priorities, to capitalise on new statistical and technological capabilities and a stronger innovation culture. ASAC is being consulted by the ABS as part of this process, which will see existing priorities around investment in quality data and new data solutions expanded by a greater focus on the ABS’ position as a leader nationally in statistical systems and skills development.

ABS role within an evolving institutional landscape

Progressing a range of reforms to Australia’s data system remains a core focus for the Council, including initiatives to promote coherence across data users and custodians.

The Council recognises a need for:
    reduced data duplication, to improve efficiency and remove inconsistencies;
    efficient ways to share and use data safely;
    building capability across government (both domestically and internationally) to effectively manage and analyse data; and
    efficient management of public data through effective stewardship.

ASAC will assist the ABS as it seeks to clarify its roles and responsibilities within this evolving data landscape, with the ABS being well positioned to provide stewardship for efficient data collection and access. In addition, the Council will work with the ABS to identify data gaps and assess opportunities for developing data solutions and capability building, along with advocating for the ethical management and use of data.

In 2018, the Australian Government commissioned an independent review of the Australian Public Service (APS).The final review report will be made available in the second half of 2019, which may present an opportunity for both the Council and the ABS to provide a response to recommendations on planned reforms for the APS.

An effective, cooperative relationship with government is important to advancing the ABS’ leadership role within the wider institutional environment. The Council and its chairperson can assist the ABS in this both directly and in their own dealings with governments.

Building and maintaining trust and social licence

Building and maintaining trust are essential to progressing the ambitious data agendas of Australian governments. The ABS has been heavily involved in work by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to develop a whole-of-government framework to underpin public trust in data use.

The ABS is also developing internal strategies consistent with the wider framework. The Council has stressed the importance of the ABS proactively engaging the public in a conversation about data use, especially around privacy and data security concerns and in the lead up to the 2021 Census.

ABS capability

The ABS is internationally recognised for its capabilities in data methodologies and techniques. It continues to develop the skills of its staff as a core investment in public sector capability. The wider sharing of these skills domestically, including in standardised data practices, can broaden the expertise of data users around the country. A lack of public sector staff with the requisite skills can lead to the mishandling of data, and loss of public trust.

The Council believes the ABS has the skills and capability to provide greater leadership across the public sector (state, territory and Commonwealth) and will seek to assist in its efforts to enhance its role nationally.