1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2005-06  
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Contents >> Section 3 - National Statistical System >> Chapter 3 - National statistical service

Chapter 3 - National statistical service


The ABS provides statistics on a wide range of economic and social matters, covering government, business and the population in general. It is involved in extensive data collection through censuses, surveys and from administrative data sources. However, the ABS is just one of many providers of statistics that are used to inform research, discussion and decision making within governments and the community (albeit the largest). The relative importance of other providers is likely to increase with the greater use of administrative data for statistical purposes.

  • The national statistical system consists of the organisations and arrangements, formal and informal, that together provide statistics.

  • Australia's national statistical service is the range of statistical services that are collectively provided for Australia.

The national statistical service provides an accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and meaningful picture of the economy, society and the environment to support the formulation and monitoring of policies.

For Australia, responsibility for an effective national statistical service lies with the ABS. The ABS' enabling legislation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act (1975), establishes the ABS as Australia's central statistical authority, responsible for providing statistical services to all Australian governments, and the community. The functions described in the legislation provide for ABS to both collect, compile, analyse, and disseminate statistics, and to work with other organisations on statistical activities.


Statistical leadership has grown in importance due to a number of factors, including the increasing complexity of the Australian economy and society (meaning that production of existing statistics is often commensurately more complex), and the increasing plurality of data providers. The wide range of statistics being produced by agencies other than the ABS, including through administrative and transactional data bases, is driving a need to ensure that the overall Australian statistical system is cohesive, and that the ABS role in this system is clearly defined. These changes coincide with an Australian government agenda that is emphasising greater information sharing (create once, use many), and coordinated policy and program initiatives across agencies.

To provide statistical leadership, the ABS has broadened the concept of its statistical role to exercise leadership not only in relation to statistics collected by the ABS, but also data produced or available from other government and non-government agencies.

The agencies who own data are often best placed to produce statistics from these data bases as long as they have the staff with the appropriate skills. However, where other agencies do not have the appropriate skills, the ABS is often asked to assist.

The ABS has identified a variety of activities to progress the role as a statistical leader:
    • develop and promulgate statistical frameworks and standards, consistent with relevant international standards, to promote coherence
    • provide facilities to help with the application of these frameworks and standards
    • advise on statistical methods, quality and other processes to maximise the quality and credibility of statistics
    • advise on management of statistical data
    • provide support for collection activities
    • develop the skills of those involved in the production and analysis of statistics
    • enhance accessibility to national statistics through the National Data Network or other means.

In pursuing the development of the National Statistical Service, a unit, the NSS Leadership Branch, was established in February 2006. The Branch assists the ABS in improving the management of external relationships and advancing its statistical leadership role. To further support these endeavours, two additional senior executive positions were also created in the Economic and Population Statistics Groups to allow an increased focus on building and strengthening collaborative arrangements with agencies at senior levels.

Some of the main achievements in terms of the National Statistical Service are:
    • the National Data Network, a national platform for acquiring, sharing and integrating data relevant to policy and research, was further developed. The National Data Network is planned to move from demonstration to production phase during the first part of 2007 (see chapter 11 for more information)
    • in close consultation with other agencies, information development plans are progressively being developed and supported to identify and prioritise information needs across areas, sectors or population groups together with plans for meeting these needs (see chapter 11 for more information)
    • supporting the Australian Government Statistical Forum, and fora in each state and territory, to share information on better statistical practice (see chapter 11 for more information)
    • outposted statistical officers assisted a range of Australian, state and territory governments and agencies. Outposted officers facilitate the access to, and understanding of, statistics, and strengthen statistical coordination across host agencies. Some outposted officers complete specific project work to assist the host agency (see chapter 9 for more information)
    • the external training program conducted by the National Statistical Training Institute was reviewed to target the content and structure of courses more at users needs, and a number of training courses were conducted for users of ABS statistics (see chapter 9 for more information) and
    • a range of stronger collaborative relationships with other agencies were developed. (see chapter 11 for more information)
Image: The Hon Peter Costello MP, Treasurer, speaking at the event celebrating the centenary of the ABS and 100 years of statistics on 8 December 2005
The Hon Peter Costello MP, Treasurer, speaking at the event celebrating the centenary of the ABS and 100 years of statistics on 8 December 2005


As noted earlier, the ABS is the largest contributor to Australia's national statistical system. The ABS has statistical programs covering economic statistics and population and social statistics (the two outputs of the ABS). These programs both produce a wide range of statistical information, as well as activities to advance the national statistical system and support other contributors to the national statistical service.

At the broad level, the activities undertaken within these statistical programs cover:
    • developing, producing, analysing and disseminating high quality statistics in a cost effective way
    • coordinating and facilitating the development, production and dissemination of statistics by others, and
    • providing comprehensive and integrated standards, classifications and frameworks for areas of statistics.
The work schedule of the statistical programs is determined after extensive consultation with governments, businesses and community groups, and with the advice of the Australian Statistics Advisory Council. Active use is made of the range of user, reference and advisory groups that have been established to engage with users of statistics. These are explored further in chapter 9.

In determining the work program, account is taken of the:
    • needs of key users
    • benefit of statistics to decision makers and researchers
    • load on data providers
    • availability of skilled resources to undertake the work, and
    • costs associated with the activities.
As well, the ABS seeks to ensure that its activities complement the activities of other agencies, resulting in a comprehensive statistical service for Australia.

The effectiveness and efficiency of the statistical programs is enhanced by wide ranging inputs from the ABS corporate and statistical support areas. These inputs include methodological, technological, dissemination, human resource and financial support.

The ABS continues to improve the efficiency and productivity of its survey operations and staff through the re-engineering of its business processes. On the economic statistics side, an Input Data Warehouse (IDW) and an E2E (end to end) systems environment are now well established with several collections using the new arrangements. On the population statistics side, work has continued on the development of integrated end-to-end information technology systems and processes for household surveys, and improved work practices. For more information on these issues, see chapter 15 and chapter 17.

The following chapters present the key directions and highlights for economic statistics and population and social statistics. The section on population and social statistics includes additional information on the preparations for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing, which was a major activity in 2005–06.

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