The Australian Statistician has issued a warning to the government of just what will be lost if the Australian Bureau of Statistics faces further funding cuts.
In his final annual report before retiring in December, David Kalisch said the bureau faces a "conundrum" - demand for data and statistics is growing as technological advances, but government funding has been slashed by 30 per cent in real terms over the last decade.
"While the ABS is more efficient and effective than it was previously, funding cuts of this level inevitably reduce the service we can provide for governments, businesses and the community," Dr Kalisch said in the report released on Monday.
If the budget cuts were to continue, major surveys that are relied upon for government decisions and inform the Reserve Bank of Australia would be in the firing line.
"Our economic, labour market and population statistics have been prioritised, and are consuming an increasing share of our budget funding," Dr Kalisch said.
"These will now be the statistics at risk if there are further cuts to ABS funding over future years."
While Dr Kalisch acknowledged the government had put aside extra funding for a new time use survey and a mental health survey, budget cuts had led to essential social statistics like the Australian Health Survey, the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers and Indigenous-specific surveys being funded by third parties.
Dr Kalisch said it was encouraging that the government had signalled investment in data at the start of the 46th parliament, but also warned the existence of more data than ever before didn't mean it was reliable.
"Some of this new big data is not reliable enough to be used as the basis of government or RBA decisions," Dr Kalisch said, before going on to use a very political example of what can happen when less robust data is relied on.
"Recent political polls in Australia provide just one example demonstrating how misleading information can be produced through unrepresentative data collections."
In the lead up to the federal election in May, political polling overwhelmingly pointed to a Labor victory, to the point where some federal departments had under-cooked Blue Books that had to be rewritten for an incoming Liberal government.
Dr Kalisch said the bureau is expanding the types of data it uses, including retail scanner data, and is "actively assessing potential use of satellite data and other new data sources".