back to article Australia Bureau of Statistics may wind back internet usage data collection

The Australian Bureau of Statistics might discontinue the country's only authoritative survey about Internet users in Australia, as the cash-starved organisation prepares for another round of layoffs. Facing a three-year cut of 10 per cent in its funding – $29 million out of its $290 million allocation – the ABS has published …

  1. Neoc
    Black Helicopters

    Let me get this straight...

    Days after the NBN comes under attack for poor performance and crappy service, the ABS announces it will cut its reports about Internet usage.


    1. julianh72

      Re: Let me get this straight...

      Yep - call me cynical, but scrapping the collection of statistics on household internet usage just when the NBN is approaching "peak monumental cock-up" status sounds awfully convenient to me.

      "Move along people - there's (literally) nothing to see here. (Because we didn't measure anything.)"

      1. Diogenes

        Re: Let me get this straight...

        Standard budget defense tactic.

        From Thomas Sowell in 1983...

        Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency's budget were cut, what would it do?

        The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

        The example was deliberately extreme as an illustration. But, in the real world, the same general pattern can be seen in local, state and national government responses to budget cuts.

        At the local level, the first response to budget cuts is often to cut the police department and the fire department. There may be all sorts of wasteful boondoggles that could have been cut instead, but that would not produce the public alarm that reducing police protection and fire protection can produce. And public alarm is what can get budget cuts restored.

  2. veti Silver badge

    Double standard, or just saving effort?

    Is this the same government that requires its ISPs to store all their users' complete internet histories for 2 years? Why, I believe it is. And the government itself can't even afford to store a few statistics?

    I guess if you can trawl through everyone's internet histories, then a separate survey of internet usage becomes redundant...?

    1. Pu02

      Sack the data scientists & feed global big-data; abuse has no political consequence

      Ministers are sold on storing data. But in doing so, they are picking IT winners. They do because it is so easy to bamboozle everyone when things go wrong or decisions get questioned.

      Using (querying, maintaining, normalising, curating) data to ensure its accuracy and relevance attracts no investment, even though this is where the value is. It is the only way to uncover what is actually happening in society and support planning.

      It is no coincidence that ministers will not buy into using the data however as they don't care about having quality information. All they care about is justifying their agenda. For that, all they need to claim is that they have the largest dataset as what anyone makes of it is never questioned.

      Transparency and democracy is now so degraded that things like correct or appropriate statistics are considered 'academic', of no value or worse, 'alternately factual'. Obviously this is better left to the Borg, it's influencers and maven advertisers...

      Not that the ABS knew the first thing about how to own, manage, secure or use data in the information age. Anything at all. But then again, neither does the government... <expletive deleted>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sack the data scientists & feed global big-data; abuse has no political consequence

        PuO2, citation for ABS incompetence please ? Of all the Oz government bodies I have laboured in, they would be the most focussed on their Constitutional duties. ABS have been trying to keep going for years but like other departments, suffered with the deliberate gutting of government bodies by "financial salami slicing" so the unregulated bodies that fund the bodies that fund the political parties can buy or buy more public assets cheap or have a monopoly granted in the name of private sector efficiency.

        IMHO, this another case of shooting the messenger so the spin merchants can lie unhindered by a reliable source.

        1. post-truth

          Re: Sack the data scientists & feed global big-data; abuse has no political consequence

          WOW! You're dead right. I didn't work for the ABS even in consulting gigs, but I have strong circumstantial evidence supporting your position that they're the most focused on their (albeit informal?) Constitutional duties.

          To me the rot set in 1980-ish, when the government ordered the ABS to start focusing collection of its unemployment statistics in obviously deprived areas like South Yarra and Toorak. The ABS, to its eternal credit, went on strike. I have never, before or since, seen such selfless behaviour by any government department in any nation. Didn't work of course, only slowed down the remorseless march of policy mediocrity, but undying kudos. Te morituri salutant!

          The reason I remember this is that just beforehand, as a new grad I made my first and only employment application to the APS. The ABS was not one of my options and my chosen departments turned me down after interview (I stupidly revealed my obviously insane ideas about using data to build predictive algorithms in order to support policy). But 4-5 months later, after the strike and after I'd taken a different career path, out of the blue I received an unconditional job offer letter from the ABS piggy-backing on my application. I was no statistician, though my science degree (maths/computer science/physics) included kibitzing a final-year statistics subject: forecasting, which fascinated me enough to start modelling. Perhaps more importantly, my strongest fields were methodology and the philosophy of science, studied repeatedly within my four-year philosophy degree. So perhaps someone realized I might be handy to build internal defences? Nothing else made sense to me. I've always wondered what might-have-been if the timing had been different...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sack the data scientists & feed global big-data; abuse has no political consequence

            Post-truth. ABS link is not informal. ABS exist under the Oz Constitution specifically to ensure accurate head count for the Electoral Commission which also was one of the more focused Federal Government bodies. ABS up to recently still had senior public servants of the old school who saw their duty as providing accurate data without fear or favour to the Australian community.

            Informal contact over recent years suggests this leadership are being pushed out via the infamous efficiency dividend aka salami slicing that is gutting most of the public service ready for outsourcery of many functions. It was rumoured years ago in relevant departments that outsourcing to accounting firms or credit card companies for tax, social service assessments and payments was discussed but this not reported in media as far as I know. Do you see a pattern emerging ? Both major clones in government behave the same behind a hot air screen.

            Dirty Sock Note. For non-oz readers the two major parties in Oz are indistinguishable except in the tone of speeches given about the less than well off. <sarcasm> Both kowtow equally to any multinational showing equal opportunity for all. </sarcasm> This seems to be the new normal everywhere.

      2. post-truth

        Re: Sack the data scientists & feed global big-data; abuse has no political consequence

        Damn, you ninja'd me, I should have read further before posting!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think the problem was

    That the ABS was compiling statistics on the number of dick moves by recent Liberal governments.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tony Abbott to the rescue

    Papyrus or wet clay tablets anyone?

  5. post-truth

    The very best thing about this news is that evidence-based policy is now officially a thing of the past.

    Instead, we can get up on our hind legs in the parliament and say, truthfully hand on heart, "our new Space Agency's policy of subsidizing coal-powered rockets is undeniably the best thing since sliced coal, and there is absolutely no evidence suggesting otherwise, and there never will be".

    Next move: roll on the dismemberment of the CSIRO (or whatever they call it this week). Scientists are almost as dangerous and un-Australian as statisticians. Some of them are even climate-asserters, and we know climate is a fiction. Stick 'em on the dole queue: it's the only language they understand.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Coal powered rockets? Yes!

  6. Tim99 Silver badge

    "The very best thing about this news is that evidence-based policy is now officially a thing of the past."

    Evidence-based policy is certainly a thing of the present: "Here is my policy, now find evidence to support it - If you find evidence that does not support my policy, do not report it."

    1. veti Silver badge

      That would be "policy-based evidence".

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