IT, internet surveys on ABS' chopping block

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IT, internet surveys on ABS' chopping block

Not enough resources to meet demand.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is planning to end over two decades of statistical collection on how the country's households use IT products as part of a drive to find millions of dollars of savings in its budget.

The ABS today detailed a handful of surveys that are on the chopping block as the agency grapples with a funding reduction of 10 percent per year from its $290 million annual budget over the next three years.

That funding shortfall will at least partially be met by a 17 percent cut in staffing levels over the next two years, chief statistician David Kalisch said today - equivalent to around 480 full-time jobs.

It follows a voluntary redundancy program earlier in the year in which as many as 100 staff left the organisation.

Kalisch said the agency is not able to meet high demand for statistics in areas such as mental health and time use because of its current workload, which includes a $250m transformation program, the marriage equality survey, and the Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA), alongside its normal roster of statistical work.

As a result, the ABS has proposed cutting a handful of surveys so it can focus on providing high quality statistics in a smaller number of areas.

One of the surveys it is proposing to ditch is for household use of information technology, which it has run every two years since 1996.

The last collection of household IT statistics was in 2014-15. The ABS is proposing the survey cease from 2018-19.

It has also suggested that its biannual collection of internet activity stats only be continued from 2018-19 if it can be funded externally. The agency currently receives about $39 million annually in funding from users of data like universities.

The collection of statistics on internet activity in Australia has occurred every six months since 2000.

"The ABS does not have the resources to undertake all the activities that our customers demand, and this has more than likely been the case for at least the last decade," Kalisch wrote in the agency's forward work program [pdf].

"... the ABS is using its available resources for the highest priority statistics and there is very little scope for reducing the statistical program.

"Significantly, some of our important statistical information, especially some key social statistics, are only possible through significant user funding.

"The ABS is grateful for this financial contribution and support."

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