Australian Bureau of Statistics

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Australian Bureau of Statistics
ABS Logo Small mono.png
Agency overview
Formed 8 December 1905
Preceding Agency Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics
Headquarters Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Employees 3,055 (at June 2013)[1]
Minister responsible The Hon Steven Ciobo MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer
Agency executive Jonathan Palmer, Acting Australian Statistician[2]
ABS House which is the headquarters for the Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is Australia's national statistical agency. 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 in order 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.[3]

Organisational mission and values[edit]

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.[4]

The ABS Values work in conjunction with the broader Australian Public Service (APS) values[5] and include Integrity, Relevance, Service, Access for All, Trust of Providers and Professionalism.

Census of Population and Housing[edit]

The ABS undertakes the Australian Census of Population and Housing. The Census is conducted every five years under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

The last Australian Census was held on 9 August 2011. This was Australia's sixteenth 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.[6]

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 web site.[7] The next Census of Population and Housing is scheduled for August 2016.[8]

Work Program[edit]

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 the Australian dollar, commodity prices and many more areas. These publications include:

  • Consumer Price Index [9]
  • National Accounts [10]
  • International Trade of Goods and Services [11]
  • Housing Finance [12]
  • Retail Trade [13]
  • Building Approvals [14]
  • Labour Force [15]
  • Wage Price Index [16]
  • Lending Finance [17]
  • Business Indicators [18]
  • Job Vacancies [19]
  • Sales of New Motor Vehicles [20]
  • Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure [21]
  • Balance of Payments [22]

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.[23] 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.[24]
  • Crime: The ABS publishes a suite of crime publications including individual releases covering offenders,[25] crime victims,[26] the corrections system [27] and prisons.[28]
  • Average Weekly Earnings: This is a twice-yearly publication that looks at weekly earnings across states and territories; industries; and public and private sectors.[29]
  • Demography: The ABS publishes a number of demography releases including data on population,[30] population growth [31] and projections,[32] interstate and overseas migration,[33] births,[34] deaths [35] and overseas arrivals and departures.[36]
  • 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 [37] 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,[38] Schools,[39] and Education and Work.[40] 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.[41]
  • 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.[42]

Australian Statistician[edit]

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

The most recent incumbent (since March 2007) was Brian Pink.[43] Mr Pink retired in January 2014.[2] Ian Ewing and Jonathan Palmer will each act in the role of Australian Statistician respectively from Monday 13 January until Friday 14 February 2014, and from Monday 17 February until Friday 28 March 2014.

Australian CensusAtSchool project[edit]

The Australian CensusAtSchool is based on a program developed by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) Centre for Statistical Education in the United Kingdom.[44] The UK project has been extremely successful in improving statistical literacy and was successfully extended to all provinces in South Africa. Since then, other organisations have adapted the project to suit their local environment, namely Canada, New Zealand, the Office of Economic and Statistical Research (OESR) in Queensland and the Noel Baker Centre for School Mathematics in South Australia. After the success of the OESR and Noel Baker initiatives, agreement was gained from both the South Australian and Queensland projects for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to take the national lead in this project.

The project was introduced to schools in 2005 by the ABS with two key objectives:

  • the development of statistical literacy among students in years 5 – 12 across Australia
  • to promote the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

CenusAtSchool is a non-compulsory education project that aims to improve statistical literacy through analysis of real data, and assist them in making sensible, informed decisions. It is a free internet-based data collection and analysis project designed for students in years 5 to 12. Students respond to questions of interest about themselves by completing the CensusAtSchool online questionnaire.[45] The questionnaire response data is then released back to teachers and students providing real, raw, relevant data for use with supporting activities across curriculum in all states and territories. Students can generate random samples of response data from an Australia-wide database via the Random Sampler facility.[46] This statistical tool allows students to extract a wealth of up-to-date information about sleeping and eating habits, student lifestyles, favourite music and sport activity, attitudes to topical social and environmental issues, technology and much more.

Recent innovations[edit]

Run That Town – A free strategy game that uses real ABS data to show how it can be used in the community.

ABS IPhone app – ABS statistics via your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. The mobile application has four sections: Key Economic Indicators, Census Data, real-time Population Clock and About the ABS. Includes Census data and map viewing by Commonwealth Electoral Divisions.

Betaworks – A "sandpit" environment that showcases new web design concepts and enhancements to the community.

Interactive data – Includes the animated Population Pyramid which shows the change of population distribution over time, and the Inflation Calculator which shows the purchasing power of an amount of money between two chosen dates.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics - Annual Report, 2012-13
  2. ^ a b The Australian Statistician to retire (Media Release)
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  43. ^ "Appointment of Australian Statistician". Press Release, Treasurer of Australia. 13 December 2006. Retrieved 12 January 2007. 
  44. ^ [1][dead link]
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  46. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics – CensusAtSchool. Retrieved on 21 August 2013.

External links[edit]