Extra funding for the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Dr Nicholas Horne

The 2015–16 Budget provides an extra $234.7 million in funding for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) over five years from 2014–15 to ‘enhance the core capacity’ of the ABS; this includes $85.2 million in capital funding over the period.[1]

ABS systems and infrastructure

The majority of the $234.7 million in extra funding, $219.6 million over 2015–19, is earmarked for a ‘business transformation programme’ involving process and systems change and statistics infrastructure investment, with the largest component of this ($151.9 million) to be spent in 2016–17.[2] Just over $11 million of the $234.7 million will be allocated over 2015–19 for the ongoing production of the input output tables that facilitate the national accounts.[3]

The Government announced funding for ‘critically urgent upgrades to [ABS] ICT systems’ in advance of the Budget, and noted that the ‘current ICT infrastructure is highly vulnerable to failure and error... the ability of ICT staff to maintain the existing systems is becoming increasingly compromised’.[4] In 2013 the then Australian Statistician expressed concerns over the ‘wide range of ageing and fragile business processes and supporting infrastructure used by the ABS’ together with the ABS’ ‘difficult capital position, which is barely adequate to ‘keep the lights on’’.[5] Similar concerns regarding ABS systems were expressed by then acting Australian Statistician in 2014.[6]

The census

The Government has also confirmed the 2016 national census (the last census was conducted in 2011), envisaging that ‘more than two-thirds’ of those providing census data are expected to do so online.[7] Media reporting earlier in 2015 noted a possible move to a 10-year census together with a focus on greater digital completion.[8] The media reported criticism of a 10-year census cycle from the Opposition and research professionals, with leading demographers and other experts arguing that a 10-year census would constitute a ‘retrograde step’.[9]

Agency resourcing

The 2015–16 Budget increases total ABS resourcing appropriations from $391.9 million in 2014–15 to $505.4 million in 2015–16; programme costs for the ABS are expected to rise over 2015–17 due mainly to the 2016 census and the business transformation programme.[10] The Government also intends to look to ‘new sources of revenue from sophisticated and commercial users of data and through better data services’; the Budget estimates revenue from other sources retained by the ABS under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth), such as amounts offsetting costs in relation to activities or relating to asset sales, to be $44.2 million in 2015–16.[11] Average ABS staffing levels are forecast to increase slightly from 2,580 ASL in 2014–15 to 2,670 ASL in 2015–16.[12]



[1].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, p. 172.

[2].          Ibid. An additional $36.8 million is to be provided in 2019–20.

[3].          Ibid.

[4].          J Hockey (Treasurer) and K O’Dwyer (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer), New investment to modernise the ABS, media release, 7 May 2015, pp. 1–2. 

[5].          Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Annual Report 2012–13, cat. no. 1001.0, ABS, Canberra, 2013, p. 2.

[6].          Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Annual Report 2013–14, cat. no. 1001.0, ABS, Canberra, 2014, p. 2.

[7].          J Hockey (Treasurer) and K O’Dwyer (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer), New investment to modernise the ABS, op. cit.

[8].          D Uren, ‘Seeking consensus on a smarter approach to census that saves’, The Australian, 19 February 2015; D Uren and J Kelly, ‘ABS wants census every 10 years’, The Australian, 20 February 2015; S Wright, ‘National head count faces five-year delay’, West Australian, 20 February 2015.

[9].          J Kelly, ‘Leaders reject 10-year census’, The Australian, 10 March 2015; D Uren and J Kelly, ‘ABS wants census every 10 years’, The Australian, op. cit.

[10].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.16: Treasury Portfolio, pp. 69, 73.

[11].       J Hockey (Treasurer) and K O’Dwyer (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer), New investment to modernise the ABS, op. cit.; Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 1.16: Treasury Portfolio, op. cit., p. 69.

[12].       Australian Government, Agency resourcing: budget paper no. 4: 2015–16, p. 139. ASL (Average Staffing Level) shows full-time equivalent staffing incorporating adjustments for casual and part-time staff: ibid.

 

All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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