One of the less publicised elements of the 2017-18 Budget released on Tuesday was the decision to slash funding to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Tucked away in Budget Paper 4; Agency Resourcing is a reduction in funding for the agency of some $218m (33.6%) for the next financial year. Further cuts are projected in 2018-19 and 2020-21 to bring expenses down to $375m by 2020-21 from $622m 2016-17.
Where these massive cuts are to be found is left unclear. The Budget papers note that “(a) number of Commonwealth agencies are taking advantage of technology and other innovations to provide more productive and efficient ways of working such as establishing flexible working environments, including converting offices to open plan and activity based working facilities, to enable co-location and improving remote access technology to allow staff to work from anywhere” and that these reforms will save the ABS some $5.5m per annum from 2018-19. However, that would appear to be only a small contribution to the budgeted cuts of more than $220m by that time.
The same Budget paper also notes a reduction in ABS staff by 408 (14%) next year although a note to this table states that ” (t)he projected decrease is due to various reforms within the Department and Machinery of Government changes that moved staff to the Department of Employment and the Department of Finance.” But it provides no further information about the scale of those staff movements or the impact they might have on ABS services.
For some time we have been concerned about the lack of reliable and timely regional data coming from the ABS (and other agencies) and the impact this might be having on decision and policy making. It was for this reason that we developed the Conus Trend Regional Labour Force series. In discussions with senior officials in the ABS it has become clear that they acknowledge the need for better regional data, and are aware of the needs being expressed to them by “clients” for such data. To quote one such senior ABS official when discussing the Conus Trend series, “we continue to be reminded of the interest in small area labour market statistics by our clients, so it is good to hear that someone is trying to fill in some of the gaps.”
Cuts such as those announced this week will do nothing to help the ABS providing much needed regional data in the future. We are therefore committed to continuing to develop and enhance the Conus Trend Regional data-sets and hope to be soon releasing our Conus Trend Industry Employment series for Queensland regions.
The most recent Conus Trend data-sets for regional labour force and building approvals can be found on our Reports page.