Australian Bureau of Statistics

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Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
Agency overview
Formed 8 December 1905; 115 years ago (1905-12-08)
Preceding agency
  • Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics
Headquarters Canberra, Australia
Employees 3,055 (at June 2013)[1]
Minister responsible
Agency executive
ABS House which is the headquarters for the Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is the statistical agency of the Government of Australia. The ABS provides key statistics on a wide range of economic, environmental and social issues, to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community.

The ABS website provides ABS data free of charge.


In 1901, statistics were collected by each state for their individual use. While attempts were made to coordinate collections through an annual Conference of Statisticians, it was quickly realised that a National Statistical Office would be required to develop nationally comparable statistics.

The Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS) was established under the Census and Statistics Act in 1905. Sir George Knibbs was appointed as the first Commonwealth Statistician. Initially, the Bureau was located in Melbourne and was attached to the Department of Home Affairs. In 1928, the Bureau was relocated to Canberra and in 1932, it moved to the Treasury portfolio.

Initially, the states maintained their own statistical offices and worked together with the CBCS to produce national data. However, some states found it difficult to resource a state statistical office to the level required for an adequate statistical service. In 1924, the Tasmanian Statistical Office transferred to the Commonwealth. Unification of the state statistical offices with the CBCS was finally achieved in the late 1950s under the stewardship of Sir Stanley Carver, who was both NSW Statistician and Acting Commonwealth Statistician.

In 1974, the CBCS was abolished and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was established in its place. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Act in 1975, established the ABS as a Statutory Authority headed by the Australian Statistician and responsible to the Treasurer.[4]

Organisational mission and values

The ABS mission is to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community, by leading a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service.[5] The ABS values work in conjunction with the broader Australian Public Service (APS) values[6] and include Integrity, Relevance, Service, Access for All, Trust of Providers and Professionalism.

Census of population and housing

The ABS undertakes the Australian Census of population and housing. The Census is conducted every five years under the authority of the federal Census and Statistics Act 1905.

The last Australian Census was held on 9 August 2011. This was Australia's 16th national census, and marked 100 years of national census taking in Australia. The 2011 census was the largest logistical peacetime operation ever undertaken in Australia, employing over 43,000 field staff to ensure approximately 14.2 million forms were delivered to 9.8 million households.[7]

The census of population and housing is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the ABS and one of the most important. The census aims to accurately measure the number of people and dwellings in Australia on census night, and a range of their key characteristics. This information is used to inform public policy as well as electoral boundaries, infrastructure planning and the provision of community services. Users of Census data include government, the media, not for profit organisations, researchers and academics, among others.

Results from the 2011 census are available on the ABS website.[8] The next Census of Population and Housing is scheduled for August 2016.[9]

Work program

The ABS has an extensive work program covering a vast range of topics and releases several hundred publications yearly.

Main economic indicators

The ABS publishes a suite of monthly and quarterly economic publications that are part of the core of the organisation's work program. These statistics are integral to the functioning of Australia's economy and impact areas such as interest rates, property prices, employment, the value of the Australian dollar, commodity prices and many more areas. These publications include:

  • Consumer Price Index [10]
  • National Accounts [11]
  • International Trade of Goods and Services [12]
  • Housing Finance [13]
  • Retail Trade [14]
  • Building Approvals [15]
  • Labour Force [16]
  • Wage Price Index [17]
  • Lending Finance [18]
  • Business Indicators [19]
  • Job Vacancies [20]
  • Sales of New Motor Vehicles [21]
  • Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure [22]
  • Balance of Payments [23]

Other major publications

Outside of the main economic indicators, the ABS has a number of other major publications covering diverse topics including:

  • Health: The 2011-12 Australian Health Survey was the most comprehensive survey on health and wellbeing ever conducted in Australia. For the first time, the survey also included a biomedical component with respondents having the option of providing biomedical samples such as blood and urine for testing. This allowed the survey to capture detailed health information from Australians such as the prevalence of conditions such as diabetes in the community. Many individuals were subsequently informed that they had medical conditions they were not aware of prior to testing.[24] Another component of the Australian Health Survey asked respondents to keep a food diary which was then used to obtain a rich picture of the nutritional intake and dietary preferences of the nation.[25]
  • Crime: The ABS publishes a suite of crime publications including individual releases covering offenders,[26] crime victims,[27] the corrections system [28] and prisons.[29]
  • Average Weekly Earnings: This is a twice-yearly publication that looks at weekly earnings across states and territories; industries; and public and private sectors.[30]
  • Demography: The ABS publishes a number of demography releases including data on population,[31] population growth [32] and projections,[33] interstate and overseas migration,[34] births,[35] deaths [36] and overseas arrivals and departures.[37]
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) collects information on the social situation of Indigenous Australians including on health, education, culture and labour force participation. The ABS also collects data related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders through the Australian Health Survey [38] as well as in many other regular publications in the areas of demography, education, employment and more.
  • Education: The major education publications are Childhood Education and Care,[39] Schools,[40] and Education and Work.[41] They look at all aspects of education in Australia from preschool up to undergraduate and postgraduate study.
  • Environment: The ABS has a comprehensive range of publications on environmental topics covering energy and water use, conservation activities undertaken by households, land management and farming and more. The innovative Land Account publication covering the Great Barrier Reef and utilising Google Maps technology was released in 2011.[42]
  • Research and Innovation: The ABS has been undertaking surveys to collect estimates from Australian organisations regarding expenditure on and human resources devoted to research and development (R&D) in Australia since 1978. The results allow the nature and distribution of Australia's R&D activity to be monitored by government policy analysts and advisers to government, businesses and economists.[43]

International engagement

International engagement is important to the ABS for a number of reasons. The ABS shapes, influences and leads the development of international statistical standards in order to enhance Australia’s international comparability, and improve the utility of international statistics for Australian decision makers across economic, environmental, population and social statistics. ABS international engagement helps make the global statistical picture more reliable and useful for Australia and its region. These enhanced international statistics inform the full spectrum of Australian policy making.[44]

During 2013–14, the ABS continued its focus on building capability in Asia and the Pacific region and leading work in statistical standards and methodology within the global statistical community. ABS executive and senior personnel chaired and actively participated in key international committees and working groups, providing leadership, influencing global standards and assisting regional outcomes.

The ABS also continued its partnership with AusAID to deliver statistical programs for Indonesia and the Pacific region through leadership and technical capability building programs both in country, and by hosting development visits. Over this period, the ABS also hosted international development and study visits from a range of countries including China, Thailand, Canada, Samoa and Singapore.[44]

Australian Statistician

Since 1975, the head of the ABS has been known as the Australian Statistician. Previously, the office was titled the Commonwealth Statistician.

The incumbent since 15 December 2014 is David Kalisch.[2] The previous incumbent (since March 2007) was Brian Pink.[45] Pink retired in January 2014.[3] Ian Ewing acted in the role from 13 January to 14 February 2014, and Jonathan Palmer acted from 17 February to 12 December 2014.

Improving statistical literacy

For official statistics to be best utilised within the community, there needs to be widespread understanding of statistical concepts and their application. The ABS has a number of programs in place to promote statistical literacy from school children up to professionals who may need to analyse data as part of their day-to-day work.[46]

Census At School

CenusAtSchool was a non-compulsory education project aimed at improving statistical literacy among school students through analysis of real data. It was a free internet based project designed for students in years 5 to 12. Students responded to questions about themselves by completing the online questionnaire. The responses were then released back to teachers and students providing accurate and relevant data for use in supporting activities across the curriculum.[47]

Sports statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics in partnership with the National Rugby League and Australian Football League, have developed a program that uses football to improve the statistical literacy of young Australians. The Footy Stats program provides a fun and interactive introduction to the world of statistics. The program involves kids participating in a range of footy activities while learning how to collect, analyse, interpret and communicate basic statistical concepts with the guidance of their teacher.[48]

The Education Services program, including Census At School and Sports Stats, concluded in August 2014.

Training programs

The ABS provides training on a range of topics to develop skills for high quality statistical collections and analysis within the wider community. These include courses on running your own survey, understanding time series data and principles of questionnaire design. These can be booked on the ABS website.

Social media and multimedia

The ABS maintains a social media presence on Facebook [49] and Twitter [50] with the aim of increasing the accessibility of official statistics while engaging with the Australian community. The organisation also has a number of other online initiatives, outlined below.

Run That Town iPhone app

Run That Town is a strategy game that uses real ABS data to illustrate the practical application of statistics to decision making within the community. Since May 2013, it has been downloaded over 70,000 times and has won numerous awards including in the Australian Mobile Awards, Epica Awards, Favourite Website Awards and the Interactive Advertising Bureau Awards.[51] It is available for free download from the Apple App store.

ABS iPhone app

The ABS mobile application has four sections: Key economic indicators, Census data, Real-time population clock, and About the ABS. It includes census data and map viewing by federal electoral divisions as well as access to the full ABS website. It is available for free download from the Apple App store.

Census Spotlight

Spotlight is an interactive application on the ABS website that takes some of the data from the 2011 census and turns it into an interactive movie to show the interesting things that the census captures about Australia's people and population. Spotlight can be used to create a personal infographic that can be shared with friends.

Other interactive features

Other interactive innovations from the ABS include the animated Population Pyramid - Australia showing change in the population distribution over time and the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator which shows the purchasing power of an amount of money between two chosen dates.

See also


  1. 1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics - Annual Report, 2012-13
  2. 2.0 2.1 Canberra Times. Retrieved 14 January 2015
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Australian Statistician to retire (Media Release)
  44. 44.0 44.1
  45. "Appointment of Australian Statistician". Press Release, Treasurer of Australia. 13 December 2006. Retrieved 12 January 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links