Cathy McGowan: Member for Indi

Regional economic data for rural and regional businesses - Question Time

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (14:18): My question is to the Minister for Small Business. The Australian Bureau of Statistics forward work program for 2016-17 includes a statement from the Australian Statistician that the ABS will not have the resources necessary to undertake all the activities that fall within its legislative mandate. Significantly, for those of us who live in regional Australia, this program identifies regional economic data as an area the ABS may cease or wind back.

Given the growth and development that is happening in regional Australia, including both of our electorates, we clearly need more data not less. Can the minister please give a guarantee to the people in our electorates and the rest of Australia that the ABS will receive the funding and resources it needs to give us people doing planning in rural and regional Australia the information we need? (Time expired)

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina—Minister for Small Business) (14:19): I do thank the member for Indi for her question. It is an important one. The Australian Bureau of Statistics routinely examines the priorities and the statistical series it will undertake in any given 12-month period. This is simply a forward working plan—a planning document.

I note that recently the member for Fenner, sitting opposite, created some unnecessary panic about the survey releases and the work of the ABS. Last week the member for Fenner wrongly asserted that the ABS is unable to collect the statistics which it is legally required to and that its users want. This is not the case, Member for Fenner. The reports that the ABS is merely looking at and consulting on, which the member for Indi referred to, are not legally required to be undertaken.

That said, the ABS's forward work program published last week is a signal for the upcoming consultation process. The ABS is committed to quality stakeholder engagement. No changes will be made without full consultation with stakeholders, Member for Indi.

The regional economic data, which the member for Indi referred to, is classified as tier 3 data, and it will be under review, along with other datasets in tier 3. This data is used to produce a national regional profile on an annual basis, the latest of which was released on 30 June this year.

I can understand why the member for Indi is interested in this data set, as it provides information by region. She and I used to share a common border before the New South Wales boundaries were redistributed prior to the last election, and I can assure the member for Indi that no decisions will be made without full consultation with all stakeholders.

This side of the House recognises the importance of data and the role that the ABS plays.

Mr Shorten interjecting—

Mr McCORMACK: That is why this government has invested in the ABS, Member for Maribyrnong, while under Labor the ABS faced $44 million in cuts. This government invested $257 million—more than a quarter of a billion dollars—in the 2015-16 budget to support the ABS to transform its current business operating model and modernise its infrastructure.

The former statistician Brian Pink said in his 2012-13 ABS annual report, reflecting the last full year that Labor was in office:

… I remain concerned about the wide range of ageing and fragile business processes and supporting infrastructure used by the ABS, our difficult capital position, which is barely adequate to 'keep the lights on', and the impact these are having on our costs and on our staff.

That was in Labor's last year. The government rectified this and provided the ABS with a significant investment of $257 million. The ABS will continue to provide the high-quality data collection and statistical series which governments, businesses and other sectors rely on to make informed decisions. (Time expired)

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