THE ABS ROLE IN STATISTICAL DATA INTEGRATION
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 (the ABS Act 1975) articulates the functions of the Bureau, which specifically include the function of ensuring the coordination of the operations of official bodies in the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics and related information, with particular regard to:
- avoiding duplication in the collection by official bodies of information for statistical purposes;
- attaining compatibility between, and the integration of, statistics compiled by official bodies; and
- the maximum possible use, for statistical purposes, of information, and means of collection of information, available to official bodies (the ABS Act 1975, section 6).
The ABS Act 1975 gives the ABS the authority to integrate data from a range of sources and to support the maximum usage of these data by official bodies for statistical and research purposes.
STRENGTHS OF ABS IN DATA INTEGRATION
As Australia's national statistical organisation, the ABS has the infrastructure and expertise to enable it to undertake data integration projects. This includes specialists in statistical methodology and analysis, technology support, legal and policy advisors and subject matter experts. These specialist areas within the ABS support the functional areas undertaking statistical operations, including data integration. The existing technical infrastructure and ABS experience in data management provide it with the capacity to support the potentially large and complex files associated with high risk integration projects. The ABS already deals with large files, including the Census of Housing and Population data file, which contains over 20 million individual records.
As a national statistical organisation, the ABS has the capability to provide high quality data at a national, state/territory level and for regions. To ensure the ABS’s impartiality and independence from external influence, the ABS Act 1975 sets out the Statistician’s independence. The ABS has a long history as a trusted and respected national statistical agency. Not only has ABS been collecting and disseminating data for over 100 years, but it has been undertaking data linking projects using the Census of Population and Housing data since 2006.
The secrecy provisions of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 offer strong legislative protections. Section 19 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 forbids past or present ABS officers from divulging identifiable information collected under this Act, either directly or indirectly, under penalty of up to 120 penalty units (currently $25,200) or imprisonment for two years, or both. The full protection of this Act applies to any datasets brought into the ABS or integrated by the ABS. As a Commonwealth agency, the ABS undertakes its operations in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.
UNIQUE ABS ADVANTAGES IN DATA INTEGRATION
The ABS has a wide variety of existing datasets in social, economic and environmental spheres, allowing for cross-portfolio approaches to research.
There are also some data integration activities that only the ABS is able to undertake. Integration involving data collected under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 can only be undertaken by the ABS given the ABS’s obligation to ensure the secrecy of this information. This means, for example, that only the ABS would be able to conduct data integration activities involving data from the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing.
In addition, it is likely that some datasets will only be released to the ABS. For example, the ABS is currently the only agency authorised by taxation legislation to access identifiable information for statistical and research purposes.
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