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Brawl over ABS data as part-time jobs collapse

Users of Australian Bureau of Statistics data may be required to pay for access after Treasurer Joe Hockey raised concerns about the Bureau’s funding after it owned up to errors in its calculation of monthly jobs data.

Before releasing today’s labour force figures, the ABS conceded it had made a mistake in estimating the creation of 121,000 jobs in August, revising this to 32,100 jobs.

The figures were skewed because of the Bureau’s “seasonal adjustment” calculation, with the ABS dropping this calculation from today’s figures which showed the number of jobs falling by nearly 30,000 for September. This fall was driven by a collapse in part-time jobs of 51,000.

The ABS results have proved volatile over recent months, with the unemployment rate scaling heights of 6.4 per cent in July. This has now been revised by the ABS to only 6 per cent following its recalculation of the July and August figures.

That recalculation means today’s official increase in the unemployment rate to 6.1 per cent puts it at its highest level in more than a decade.

The ABS has responded to the concern over its statistical processes by announcing a review to examine a new method of accounting for seasonal adjustments from October onwards.

According to The Australian, Treasurer Joe Hockey flagged the prospect of cabinet considering a “user pays” system to help fix funding issues at the ABS. The measure would force people to pay for data downloaded from the Bureau.

The ABS has been subject to Labor’s more stringent efficiency dividend imposed across the public service, while the Abbott government cut the agency’s funding by $50 million over three years in this year’s budget.

The Community and Public Sector Union has railed against the cuts, claiming it is preventing staff from doing their jobs properly.

“Surveys have been cut altogether, we’ve seen changes to the methodology for doing surveys that really aren’t working properly,” said CPSU deputy national president Alistair Waters. “Moving to trying to collect data online, that’s just leading to an awful lot of workarounds being done and often that’s just leading to interviewers having to go back into the field and re-interview people.”

Mr Hockey appears to share some of these concerns. “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.