ABC CANBERRA DRIVE
TUESDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Malcolm Turnbull’s unnecessary marriage equality opinion poll, Malcolm Turnbull’s tax cuts for big business, Census fail, housing affordability, Malcolm Turnbull’s second rate NBN.
LAURA TCHILINGUIRIAN: Staff numbers at the Australian Bureau of Statistics will be cut by 17 per cent next year. It’s going to result in the loss of 480 jobs. Now up to about 100 staff were given voluntary redundancies back in march and there were about 120 staff members who were axed late last year as well. So, what is this all going to mean? Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh joins me. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good afternoon, Laura. How are you?
TCHILINGUIRIAN: I’m well. What are your concerns over this announcement?
LEIGH: I’ve got concerns for Canberra and concerns for the rest of Australia. For Canberra, this is yet another cut to a public service which has been so savagely slashed over recent years by the Liberals. But for the rest of Australia, they rely on the data that the Bureau of Statistics produces. When councils are considering where to put new investment, they look to ABS data. When state and territory governments look at new bus routes, they look at the Bureau of Statistics. Businesses look to the Bureau of Statistics data for consumer demand. As we policy makers deal with challenges like housing affordability, of course we’re looking to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. They’ve been doing such good work and such vital work for Australia, Laura, that it’s just so deeply unfair that they’re being punished because Malcolm Turnbull wants to give his big business mates a $65 million tax cut.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: Well, the Bureau’s suggested that we could see reductions to surveys on car sales, household use of information technology, household and lending finance and tourism maps from next year to avoid compromising the core economic stats. It is going to be focussing more on those things.
LEIGH: I guess this is their solution to the National Broadband Network stuff-up, isn’t it? Let’s just stop asking questions about IT usage. Their solution to your housing affordability crisis in Australia is ‘let’s not have any surveys on housing finance’. It’s a sort of back-to-the-dark-ages, stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach to evidence. It’s deeply disappointing to me Laura, as somebody who as a former professor of economics was a heavy user of Bureau of Statistics data and now as a policymaker relies very much on those experts. This is an organisation that was left without a head for nearly a year as there was infighting within the Government. They had three ministers responsible for the Census in the year before it and then lo and behold they were surprised when the Census site crashed on Census night, costing millions of Australians millions of hours of their time. The Bureau of Statistics has been abysmally treated by the Abbott-Turnbull Government. It really deserves better than these savage cuts that we’re hearing about today.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: What would a potential Labor Government do?
LEIGH: You just need to look at our track record. Over the course of our time in office, overall public service numbers increased in line with population with public service numbers increasing every year under Labor – except for our final year, where they fell by just a couple of hundred. We didn’t think that it was ever appropriate to give something like a marriage equality opinion poll to the Bureau of Statistics, because we want them to do important work of collecting the data that we need to build a better country. The Bureau of Statistics has done their best in dealing with this unnecessary marriage equality survey, but really it’s been a distraction from their main game.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: They’ll obviously, as [David] Kalsich has said, they’ll start to focus more on more core statistics.
LEIGH: But we’ve already lost really important surveys. Laura, I’ll give you one example – many other countries do a time use survey. This is really important in terms of gender equity and understanding how household work is being done and what paid work is being done. And yet Australia hasn’t done a time use survey in over a decade. We’re well behind the rest of the world in understanding this really vital aspect as to how our society and our economy is changing. We’ve seen the scrapping of the Measures of Australia’s Progress report, which was a publication of the Bureau of Statistics that tried to take a much more holistic view of wellbeing in Australia. These sort of cuts make us less able to deal with the big challenges that are coming at Australia through technology and globalisation.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: What else do you think the Australian Bureau of Statistics could do, besides cutting staff?
LEIGH: They shouldn’t have been given the marriage equality task. I know they got some extra resources for that, but it was undoubtedly a distraction for senior management. They need to focus on the surveys that are most vital for Australia and I don’t blame them for looking at what they have to cut back on. I people I blame are Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, who really seem to think that it’s ok with gross debt now going over half a trillion dollars to be giving a massive, unfunded company tax cut to the big end of town. It won’t boost growth, even on their own numbers, and the consequence is that Canberrans have to pay the price.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: Well, the Bureau is going to make its case tomorrow. It’s going to appear before a senate estimates committee, where it’s going to face questioning over the rollout of the same-sex marriage survey and the census. This will be a chance for them to express how they fell, I guess.
LEIGH: Absolutely. Again, I have no quibble with the quality of the public servants at our Australian Bureau of Statistics. I had the pleasure of dealing with a range of them, both in their professional capacities and in the terrific fun run that they do every year. I admire the Australian Bureau of Statistics – it is a great Australian organisation with a great track record. But it just can’t run on the smell of an oily rag, and that’s all it’s been given by the Turnbull Government.
TCHILINGUIRIAN: Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, thank you so much for talking to us today.
LEIGH: Thank you, Laura.