Who wrecked the ABS?


From the AFR:

Mr Hockey said the government was “actively looking” at a user-pays system for ABS data and that he would be taking proposals to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

But he declined to take responsibility for the fiasco, instead censuring Labor for the errors.

…The ABS had $50 million stripped from its budget by the previous government and is losing about 115 staff.

The cuts are mainly a result of repeated efficiency dividends by the former Rudd and Gillard governments.

Before retiring in January the head of the ABS, Brian Pink, pleaded for $300 million to “keep the lights on” and to modernise its 30-year old technology systems.

“The overall situation has been progressively impacting on the time and effort required to produce key official statistics on time and to the quality expected by our users and now seriously compromises our longer-term sustainability,” he wrote in the agency’s annual report.

I’m unsure of the timeline here. Leith reported in July that:


As part of the Federal Budget, the ABS was forced to cut its expenditure by $50 million over three years, which has led to 100 staff being cut from the organisation. This followed a $20 million reduction in funding by the former Labor Government, which also saw the labor force survey sample size reduced.

Sounds like Hockey signed off on the Labor cuts at the very least.

The fact is both political parties are to blame and the ABS is suffering for the same reason that all of Australia’s crucial infrastructure is, the economic model that relies upon government surpluses to guarantee huge offshore private debts does not allow for public investment in the vital arteries of the commons.


The failing ABS is a symbol of a failing economic model and if the public is required to pay for data then that’s only one more step towards the Government hiding its role in the overall debacle.

About the author
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal. He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.