5.1 Before Federation in 1901, each Australian colony recorded its trade independently, and trade with other colonies was recorded under trade with the rest of the British Empire. In the years before 1901, aggregation of colonial records provides an indication of Australia's total trade. However, those results are subject to error as uniform records were not kept and consistent treatments were not applied. Commodity data are not available in a useable form for this period.
5.2 The Customs Act 1901 required traders to report details of export and import cargoes to the then Department of Trade and Customs. Much of the information collected under the Act has statistical value. After Federation, the data were regularly accessed by state government statisticians to compile their own merchandise trade tables. The first official national merchandise trade tables Trade and Customs & Excise Revenue of the Commonwealth of Australia were produced by the NSW Government Statistician for the calendar years 1903, 1904 and 1905.
5.3 When the new federal parliament passed the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the Commonwealth Statistician was empowered to collect statistical information including statistics in relation to exports and imports. The first publication of trade statistics by the Commonwealth Statistician occurred in 1906, from documents acquired under the Customs Act and supplied to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics by the Department of Trade and Customs.
5.4 International merchandise trade statistics for Australia were first presented on a financial year basis in respect of 1914-15. Monthly international merchandise trade statistics were first presented in August 1917 and have been compiled on this basis ever since.
5.5 Disclosure of information by Customs to the ABS is currently provided for under the Customs Administration Act 1985. Data supplied to the ABS under the Census and Statistics Act are deemed to have been 'furnished in pursuance of the Act' (Sections 10 and 11) and are thereby protected by the secrecy provisions of Section 19 of the Act. Chapter 6, Legislation of this publication discusses the confidentiality of trade data in more detail.
5.6 The Review of the Australian Customs Service, December 1993: the turning point (Conroy Report) proposed an expanded role for Customs in data collection, assessment and analysis (Recommendation 61, paragraph 13.19). The ABS argued that this could result in a duplication of, or a reduction in, the role of the ABS as the central statistical authority. The Commonwealth Government subsequently rejected this recommendation, recognising the ABS' legal authority to compile and disseminate trade data.
5.7 To do this effectively, the ABS must ensure the appropriate use of international and national standards and classifications, undertake various steps to ensure the quality of the data collected and disseminated, develop and use effective processing tools and systems, apply confidentiality restrictions where required, and establish reliable and timely dissemination methods for users of the data.