The ABS operates within the confines of its legislation and the resources available. The ABS appropriation is reducing in real terms due to continuing efficiency dividends, whole-of-government savings and reduction in new policy proposals over many years.
The ABS has had an average annual appropriation of around $290 million over the past 20 years (and less in recent years) to deliver our regular annual statistical program, together with around $36 million in user funding. This excludes funding for the Census of Population and Housing, Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP), and the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017-18. Over the next three years the ABS’s appropriation will fall by approximately 10 per cent. In line with this decline in funding, average staffing levels will need to decline by around 17 per cent over the next two years.
CHART 1: ABS FUNDING, 2000-01 TO 2020-211
Within the ABS appropriation envelope for the statistical program:
- around 55 per cent of appropriated funds are allocated to the economic and environment statistical programs;
- around 25 per cent of appropriated funds are allocated to the demography and social statistical program (including the Household Expenditure Survey, Survey of Income and Housing and the General Social Survey); and
- 20 per cent of appropriated funding relates to statistical infrastructure such as methodology, standards and frameworks, address and business registers and geospatial methods.
Changes in government policy and funding create challenges and opportunities for the ABS. For instance, the Government’s significant streamlining in red tape for travellers departing Australia through the cessation of the Outgoing Passenger Card has required the ABS to invest up to $2 million (with additional ongoing costs) in sourcing alternative data to ensure continued reliable estimates of state and territory populations. These population estimates are critical to the distribution of federal funding to the states and territories, and to the determination of electoral boundaries.
The Government has provided funding to the ABS for two major strategic initiatives:
- the Government’s $257 million investment over five years in the ABS’s Statistical Business Transformation Program (SBTP) will, along with a significant investment by the ABS itself, deliver efficiencies, a better experience for our customers and reduce the statistical risks associated with aging infrastructure. Savings associated with anticipated efficiencies have been factored into the ABS’s funding base from 2020-21.
- the 2017-18 Federal Budget included funding for the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) initiative. This is a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to collecting, analysing and using existing public sector data, safely and securely, to provide new insights on complex policy issues. The ABS received $37.7 million of the overall $130.8 million funding over three years. This is to develop its data integration capability and deliver a data integration service to the Commonwealth Government.
In addition, under the direction of Government, the ABS is undertaking the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Funding of $122.0 million has been provided in 2017-18 to conduct and publish statistical information from the survey.