Australian Budget 2019: Census 2021 gets AU$38m to ‘address issues from 2016’

Almost AU$40 million in additional funding will be provided to the ABS that aims to prevent incidents like the 2016 Census debacle from reoccurring in 2021, while the government will continue to digitise its services.

The Australian government will allocate an additional AU$38.3 million over the next three years to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to deliver the 2021 Census following "issues arising from the 2016 Census".

The funding will help the ABS respond to recommendations from the Senate Inquiry and the MacGibbon Review, the government said in its 2019-20 Federal Budget on Tuesday.

In August 2016, the ABS had experienced a series of denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated, which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.

See also: ABS seeks vendor to deliver 2021 Census in the cloud

At the time, the ABS called out IBM for failing to adequately address the risk posed to the Census systems it was under contract to protect, and that IBM should have been able to handle the DDoS attack.

Government slightly expands some data-sharing initiatives

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs will gain AU$82.4 million in funding over the next four years to expand data being collected through the Single Touch Payroll (STP).

The data is being collected by the ATO and used by Commonwealth agencies.

"STP data will be expanded to include more information about gross pay amounts and other details. These changes will reduce the compliance burden for employers and individuals reporting information to multiple government agencies," Budget documents said.

As of July 1, 2020, income support recipients will report fortnightly on their income, with this data to be shared with the Department of Human Services (DHS).

"This measure will assist income support recipients by greatly reducing the likelihood of them receiving an overpayment of income support payments (and subsequently being required to repay it)," the government explained.

"The efficiencies from this measure will be derived through more accurate reporting of incomes. This measure will not change eligibility criteria or maximum payment rates. The resulting efficiencies will be redirected by the government to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities."

AU$5.2 million is also being given to the Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities portfolio to design a freight data hub for data collection, protection, dissemination, and hosting; and AU$3.3 million to establish a freight data exchange pilot so industry can access freight data in real time and survey road usage for freight purposes.

Digitisation of government services

The 2019-20 Budget is also looking to push forward the digitisation of government services, with the National Library of Australia being given AU$10 million over the next four years -- AU$2.5 million each year -- to set up a Digitisation Fund.

"The Digitisation Fund, which will also seek philanthropic contributions, will enable the continued digitisation of the NLA's significant collection and expand its availability to all Australians through its online database, Trove," the Budget documents said.

"Priority projects to be completed under the Digitisation Fund include the digitisation of the papers of eminent Australians such as Sir John Monash and Sir Robert Menzies, as well as all Australian books, journals, and newspapers published before Federation."

The National Archives of Australia is similarly set to guide Commonwealth agencies and departments to "promote and provide widespread access to the national archival collection through a national network of reading rooms, reference services, and education and public programs, taking advantage of the opportunities provided by known and emerging technology".

The ATO is also getting AU$70 million over two years to prepare for its migration from an existing data centre provider to an alternative data centre facility.

"The funding will also be used to prepare a second pass business case that will identify the full cost of activities required to complete the data centre migration project," the government said.

Additional "analytical capabilities" for the Department of Treasury and other agencies will also be provided for under AU$6.9 million in funding over the next four years.

The Federal Court of Australia will also continue developing the digital court program throughout 2019-20 with an aim of delivering faster and less expensive access to the justice system.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs digitisation project is then expected to attain net efficiencies of AU$16.8 million over the next four years, with the program including enhancements to the MyService online portal; using new IT systems with better security and reliability; increasing the use of data and analytics; and reforming and improving "inefficient and outdated processes".

The government is also providing AU$2.9 million over three years for innovation across the agriculture industry. Under the project, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will adapt new technologies for rural areas; determine R&D priorities alongside industry; and invest in innovation, with the goal of "one new technology entering commercialisation phase with private sector participation each year".

The federal government is planning to make all of its services digital by 2025.

Including its AU$550 million innovation boost for Adelaide announced two weeks ago, the government is committing AU$5.7 billion in upgrading the cities and regions of Townsville, Launceston, Western Sydney, Darwin, Hobart, Geelong, and South East Queensland.

How much of the Budget becomes enacted remains to be seen, as the government is expected to call a May election this weekend.

Australian Budget 2019 Coverage