Hockey blames lack of IT funding for ABS job stats woes

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey has blamed a lack of funding for IT upgrades for the Australian Bureau of Statistics as the reason for volatile unemployment data.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has blamed a lack of funding for IT systems at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) as one explanation for why the agency has decided to abandon employment data released for July and August.

The ABS announced on Wednesday that there were issues with the July and August jobs data that showed a rise in unemployment for July, and a rise in employment in August.

Hockey told journalists in Washington overnight that he is concerned about the volatility of the data, and blamed funding issues in part for the ABS' uncertainty over its data.

"The fact is the previous government left the ABS with insufficient resources to be able to upgrade their computer systems, and also some structural issues that need to be addressed, including the fact that they haven't got a chief statistician," he said.

In August, the ABS allocated AU$58.9 million in the agency's budget for technology services over the next 12 months, in a time when the agency is being forced to reduce its expenditure by AU$50 million over the next three years as part of budget cuts from the federal government.

Australia's former chief statistician Brian Pink warned in the ABS annual report in 2013 that ageing infrastructure and reduced budgets from the government have the potential to "seriously compromise" the agency's sustainability.

The ABS' first assistant statistician in the technology services division Patrick Hadley told ZDNet in January that there was always a focus "on doing more for less" in the agency as it prepares for the 2016 Census with the ABS 2017 transformation program.

"Any initiatives that we have to take cost and complexity out of the environment is something we pursue. It's a continual pressure for us, but there's also opportunities for us," he said.

According to the agency's Forward Work Program released in August, the ABS has a number of large IT projects due for completion at the start of the next financial year, including designing and building new tools to support a Statistical Enterprise Data Management Environment.

By July next year, the agency will also have implemented a move from 3,500 desktops running Windows 7 to remote computing with virtualised desktop environments using Citrix. The company has also deployed a fleet of iPads for its executives, using XenMobile for access to corporate applications.

An upgrade to the financial management system isn't due until July 2016.

The ABS is also planning to consolidate its datacentre environment, which currently operates out of a primary datacentre in Canberra, as well as seven state and territory computer rooms.

Despite all the projects that the agency is undertaking, Hockey would not indicate whether the ABS would get any additional funding from the government.

"I'm not writing out a blank cheque for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I don't write blank cheques. But we have been, for some months, working on a new plan for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, including better utilisation of resources and also better ways of collecting data and operating in a more contemporary fashion in the 21st century," he said.

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