Australian Bureau of Statistics

Last updated

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Agency overview
Formed 8 December 1905;112 years ago (1905-12-08)
Preceding agency
  • Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics
Headquarters Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Employees 2,824 (at June 2015) [1]
Minister responsible
  • Michael Sukkar, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer
Agency executive
ABS House which is the headquarters for the Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS House.jpg
ABS House which is the headquarters for the Australian Bureau of Statistics

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

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.



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. [4]

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. [4]

Department of the Treasury (Australia) Australian government department

The Department of the Treasury is the Australian Government department responsible for economic policy, fiscal policy, market regulation, and the Australian federal budget. The Treasury is one of only two government departments that have existed continuously since Federation in 1901, along with the Attorney-General's Department.

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. On 20 August 1957, the NSW Bureau of Statistics was merged into the Commonwealth Bureau. [5] 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. [4]

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]

A statutory authority is a body set up by law which is authorised to enact legislation on behalf of the relevant country or state. They are typically found in countries which are governed by a British style of parliamentary democracy such as the UK and British Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. They are also found in Israel and elsewhere. In Britain, many such bodies are termed QUANGOs because of their semi-autonomous nature.

Organisational vision and values

The ABS purpose is to "inform Australia's important decisions by partnering and innovating to deliver relevant, trusted, objective data, statistics and insights". [6]

The ABS values work in conjunction with the broader Australian Public Service (APS) values [7] and include Impartiality, Commitment to Service, Accountability, Respect and Ethical Behaviour. [8]


From 2015 an investment of $250 million over five years by the Australian Government [8] is being used to modernise ABS systems and processes, with the aim of delivering the best possible statistical program in more efficient and innovative ways. [8]

Census of population and housing

The ABS undertakes the Australian census of population and housing (census). The census is conducted every five years under the authority of the federal Census and Statistics Act 1905. [9]

The last Australian census was held on 9 August 2016. This was Australia's 17th national census.

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 2016 census were available on the ABS website from 27 June 2017. [10]

2016 census

A move was undertaken by the ABS to largely implement the census online through their website and logins rather than through traditional paper forms. [11] The 2016 census was unavailable for 43 hours from 7.30 pm on 9 August due to a series of events which prompted the ABS to take the form offline. [12] The Chief Statistician, David Kalisch, said the website was closed after multiple internet (distributed) denial-of-service attacks targeted the online form. The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) confirmed the incident was a DDoS attack and that it did not result in any unauthorised access to, or extraction of, any personal information. [13] [14]

The online census web page was back up at 2:30 pm on 11 August. [15] A Senate inquiry was held into the census events. [16] An independent panel established by the Australian Statistician to quality assure the data from the 2016 census found it was fit for purpose, comparable to previous Australian and international censuses and can be used with confidence. [17]

Work program

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

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. Popular publications include:

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

In August 2017 the Treasurer issued a direction to the ABS to undertake a statistical collection into the views of Australians on the electoral roll about same sex marriage. [37] This is now referred to as the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

International engagement

The ABS engages in international and regional statistical forums including United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Committee on Statistics and Statistical Policy (CSSP), and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Conference for European Statisticians (CES).

The ABS has a partnership with DFAT to deliver statistical and institutional capability building programs for the Indo-Pacific region, both in-country, and by hosting development visits. The ABS has also hosted international development and study visits from countries including China, Japan, Canada, Korea, and Nepal. [38]

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. [39] 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.

See also

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<i>Wilkie v Commonwealth</i>

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