1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2001-02  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/10/2002   
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Contents >> Section 1 - Summary of Operations >> Chapter 2 - How the ABS Operates - ABS Corporate Governance

ABS corporate governance arrangements ensure transparency in decision making and operation, and accountability to stakeholders by promoting strong leadership, sound management and effective planning and review. The operations and performance of the ABS are subject to both internal and external scrutiny. The results of this scrutiny inform senior management discussion. The scope of internal management and review and external advisory and review bodies is described below.

Internal Scrutiny

Internal scrutiny takes the form of:

  • periodic reviews of statistical collections and service functions. In reviews of statistical collections, external users are widely consulted and, in some instances, external users assist the review team. Internal reviews cover both the effectiveness and efficiency of various ABS activities;
  • benchmarking, which is a key part of the ABS strategy to assess the value for money of its statistical outputs, to understand and learn from best practice, and to improve performance;
  • annual reports from all Assistant Statisticians and Regional Directors to the Executive Meetings as discussed below; and
  • an internal audit program, conducted by external service providers, covering different facets of ABS operations and overseen by the Audit Committee. Internal audits undertaken during 2001–02 included reviews of: 2001 Census Field System; Procedures Associated with Recording, Dispatching and Valuation of Bookshop Inventory; Mobile Phones; Credit Cards; Travel, Cabcharge and Australian Government Corporate Credit Card Incidental Payments; Interviewer Claims for Travelling Time and Motor Vehicle Allowance; Fringe Benefits Tax; E-Commerce; End User Personal Computer Fleet Management; and Information Technology Purchasing.

An important feature of ABS corporate governance is the role played by senior management committees, which are active in identification of ABS priorities, ensuring appropriate planning and implementation to address those priorities, and effective monitoring of ABS activities. These major senior management committees are as follows:
  • ABS Management Meetings
    ABS Management Meetings involve the Australian Statistician, the Deputy Australian Statisticians, First Assistant Statisticians and Regional Directors. Expert advisers are also called as required. The Management Meetings play a major role in determining ABS strategic directions, priorities and resource allocations. The meetings occur at least twice a year. Among other things, the Management Meeting agrees on the ABS forward work program which is taken to ASAC for comment and approval before finalisation.
  • Executive Meetings
    Executive Meetings are held weekly and involve the Australian Statistician, the Deputy Australian Statisticians and all First Assistant Statisticians. Regional Directors also provide written input to each meeting. Each Assistant Statistician and Regional Director in the ABS reports to the Executive Meeting annually in respect of their area of functional responsibility. Their reports cover matters such as significant achievements, indicators of performance, emerging issues, strategies adopted to manage them, and resource management. In addition, the meetings address emerging corporate issues.
  • Protective Security Management Committee
    The ABS maintains a comprehensive security framework, overseen by a Protective Security Management Committee chaired by the Deputy Australian Statistician, Economic Statistics Group.
  • Audit Committee
    The ABS Audit Committee is chaired by a Deputy Australian Statistician, and includes senior management representatives from the Corporate, Technology, and Statistical areas of the ABS. An external, independent member (Mr Len Early) has been appointed to the Audit Committee during 2001-02. Also, a new Charter has been developed for the Committee. The Committee sets a work program for reviews drawing on recommendations from ABS managers and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). The work program is undertaken by external audit contractors and covers compliance and risk management issues. A broader review program, involving internal and external reviewers, looks at other issues of efficiency and effectiveness. The Committee meets at least 4 times a year and reports to each ABS Management Meeting on internal and external reviews undertaken, and the outcomes of those reviews. It also reports to the Executive Meetings as appropriate.
  • Information Resources Management Committee
    The Information Resources Management Committee is chaired by the Deputy Australian Statistician, Population Statistics Group, and consists of the Deputy Australian Statistician, Economic Statistics Group, all First Assistant Statisticians, a nominated Regional Director and appropriate Assistant Statisticians. The Committee considers matters of strategic significance concerning data and information management and related policy, and major issues relating to the application of information and communication technology in the ABS. It also has responsibility for the strategic management of cost recovery activities of the information technology and technology services areas of the ABS. The Committee meets a number of times each year, and reports to each Management Meeting and the Executive Meeting as appropriate.
  • Human Resource Strategy Committee
    The Human Resource Strategy Committee is chaired by the First Assistant Statistician, Corporate Services Division. The Committee involves all First Assistant Statisticians, a nominated Regional Director and the Assistant Statistician, Business Strategies Branch. This Committee provides the ABS with high level guidance on key human resource issues. Policy issues that are considered by this Committee include work force planning, staff development and training, remuneration, occupational health and safety, and workplace diversity. The Committee meets several times each year, and reports to each Management Meeting and the Executive Meeting as appropriate. Its activities have been strengthened during the course of the year.

External Scrutiny

External scrutiny takes the form of:
  • consideration by ASAC of ABS priorities and proposals for the forward work program. Council advises the Australian Statistician and the Minister, and produces its own annual report on issues considered and advice given;
  • audits by the ANAO, either of ABS operations specifically or as part of cross-agency audits. Audits conducted by the ANAO which involved the ABS included: Internal Budgeting (ANAO Audit Report No. 52); Senate Order of 20 June 2001 (ANAO Audit Report No. 33); an Analysis of the Chief Financial Officer Function in Commonwealth Organisations - Benchmark Study (ANAO Audit Report No. 28); and Internet Security within Commonwealth Government Agencies (ANAO Audit Report No. 13);
  • review of statistical activity by various advisory committees and user groups. These include:
  • standing and ad hoc expert advisory groups, comprising key government, business, academic and community representatives. The groups provide advice on statistical priorities and developments in fields such as labour, Indigenous health and welfare, agriculture, economics, housing, environment, mining, statistical methodology, housing, crime and justice, tourism, transport, research and development;
  • user groups established to advise the ABS on the concepts, content and dissemination programs of individual major household surveys;
  • Commonwealth/State working groups or committees, often attached to Ministerial Councils, which provide advice on emerging needs, priorities and areas for cooperation; and
  • advisory boards established for the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, the National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics, the National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics, the National Education and Training Statistical Unit, and the National Centre for Rural and Regional Statistics. The boards provide advice on statistical priorities and data standards, and monitor and support the implementation of agreed collections. The forward work program for each statistical centre is agreed between the Australian Statistician and the board.

During 2001-02, the ABS Fraud Risk Assessment and revised ABS Fraud Control Plan were endorsed by the Attorney General’s Department. The ABS has also drafted a fraud control policy which covers fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting procedures. In addition, annual fraud data was provided to the Attorney General’s Department.

There were no adverse comments from the ANAO, the Ombudsman, the courts or the tribunals during 2001-02.

Information on Freedom of Information is provided in Appendix 10. Information on inquiries by Parliamentary Committees and reports by the Auditor General are provided in Appendix 11. Information on documents tabled in Parliament is provided in Appendix 12.

The Australian Statistics Advisory Council

As described above, ASAC was established by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 to assist the ABS to fulfil its role. The Council is the key advisory body to the ABS and provides valuable input to the directions and priorities of the ABS work program and reports annually to Parliament.


The provision of a high quality national statistical service is a complex management exercise because of the diverse nature of user requirements and, in most instances, the lead time required to develop statistical collections. While the ABS recognises that it is impossible to satisfy all demands, in order to maintain relevance it seeks to react positively and responsibly to the demonstrated needs of its users. At the same time, the ABS is conscious of the constraints on public spending and on the workload placed on providers of information for its collections. Continued effort is made to review and, where possible, reduce provider load.

The ABS maintains a three-year forward work program which is rolled forward on an annual basis. The program is based on the set of components described in Appendix 1. Work programs are developed, resources are allocated, and performance indicators are established at these and lower levels.

Each year relative priorities and competing resource requirements of all program components are formally and extensively considered by senior management. Particular attention is given to:
  • the extent to which particular statistical activities continue to be justified vis-a-vis other work for which a demand has been expressed by users;
  • the cost imposed on respondents to collections, in terms of time and effort;
  • prospective total resources available to the ABS within the three-year period;
  • the market potential and revenue implications of the various initiatives proposed;
  • productivity gains which have been achieved or which might be possible in the future; and
  • the relative share of resources spent on statistical and non-statistical work.

Proposals from managers of program components are considered by senior management, generally following consultation with major users. The proposed forward work program and resource estimates which emerge are then considered by ASAC. The work program is finalised in the light of ASAC advice.

The culmination of the year’s planning cycle is a comprehensive document, the ABS Forward Work Program, which describes for each ABS program, the outputs, clients and uses of the statistical information, and the main medium term developments. The document is available for public scrutiny and comment. A copy can be located on the ABS web site.


The ABS would not be able to operate effectively without the trust and confidence of data providers. The legal requirement not to divulge identifiable information, and the strong confidentiality and security ethos which permeates the attitudes of ABS staff, are the most important elements of the ABS security screen. They are reinforced by a range of measures relating to the perimeter security of all offices, the security measures protecting the computing environment from any external access, and the security measures implemented for individual data holdings.

Some features of the major elements of the security framework are described below.

Undertakings of Fidelity and Secrecy Under the Census and Statistics Act 1905

The Census and Statistics Act 1905 obliges ABS staff to maintain the secrecy and security of all data reported to, and held by, the ABS. Staff sign an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy under the terms of the Act. The personal responsibility of all staff is a crucial element of ABS culture. It is the foundation upon which the security of ABS data holdings is built.

The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release. There have been no known cases of any ABS officer breaching the undertaking of fidelity and secrecy.

Physical Security

All ABS premises are physically secure against unauthorised access. Entry is through electronically controlled access systems activated by individually coded access cards and monitored by closed circuit television. Anyone entering ABS premises is required to wear an identity pass. Particularly sensitive output data are subject to further physical security measures, including additional access control, supervision and secure storage.

Computer Security

Access to ABS computing systems is based on personal identifiers that are password protected. The computer systems are regularly monitored and usage audited.

Additional access control systems are used to protect any data designated ‘sensitive’. Access to sensitive data is only granted under the authority of area line management (the ‘owners’ of the data) on the basis that access is required by the staff member to carry out their duties.

The ABS computer network has a secure gateway which allows connection to some Internet services. The secure gateway has been established in accordance with Commonwealth guidelines and has been accredited by the national communications and computer security advisory authority, Defence Signals Directorate.

Security Audits

The ABS has an ongoing program of security audits and reviews of computer systems and the physical environment.

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