National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS)

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


    The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) between August 2002 and April 2003. The 2008 NATSIS was conducted between August 2008 and April 2009. The survey provides information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations of Australia for a wide range of areas of social concern including health, education, culture and labour force participation. The 2008 NATSISS included for the first time children aged under 15. The NATSISS will be conducted every 6 years to enable changes over time to be monitored.

    The NATSISS builds on past ABS surveys and complements these collections, notably the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS) and 2002 and 2006 General Social Survey (GSS). It was developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders such as Commonwealth and State/Territory government bodies, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Land Councils and research agencies. Individuals in both non-remote and remote areas were involved in focus groups and field testing to ensure the questions were relevant and culturally appropriate.

    Information was collected by personal interview from approximately 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over throughout Australia, including those living in remote areas. Up to three randomly selected Indigenous people were chosen from selected households to participate in the survey. Trained ABS interviewers conducted the survey using face-to-face interviews. In non-remote areas interviewers used a notebook computer to record responses, while in remote areas a paper questionnaire was used. Interviewers obtained the consent of a parent or guardian before interviewing those aged 15 to 17 years.


    The ABS has recognised that there is a user need for a range of statistics to monitor the well-being of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Throughout 1998 and 1999, ABS conducted extensive consultation with a range of users in developing the Indigenous Survey Strategy. Based on this consultation, a broad survey strategy has been developed to deliver a variety of statistics to inform public policy and programs in areas such as health, housing, education, employment and social and cultural well-being. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) is a central focus of this strategy and was conducted in conjunction with the General Social Survey (GSS) of all Australians.

    The NATSISS collects a broad range of information in one survey, which provides a better picture of many aspects of the well-being of Indigenous Australians. This will assist both the Indigenous and the wider community in policy analysis and program development aimed at providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

    The objectives of the NATSISS were to collect data that:

    • provide broad information across key areas of social concern;
    • explore the extent of participation in society and the barriers to that participation;
    • allow for inter-relationships between different areas of social concern to be explored and provide insight into the extent to which people face multiple social disadvantage;
    • provide comparisons with the non-Indigenous population through the General Social Survey and other surveys;
    • provide previously unavailable information at the National and State/Northern Territory and broad regional levels; and
    • measure change over the last 8 years through comparison with the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey.


    The survey includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over who are usual residents in selected private dwellings. Visitors to private dwellings were excluded, as were persons in institutions (such as hospitals and nursing homes) and special dwellings (such as hotels and boarding houses). The 2008 NATSISS included children aged under 15 years.

    The following persons were excluded from the scope of the survey:

      • Non-Indigenous persons;
      • Short-term visitors (i.e. those staying for less than one month);
      • Non-Australian diplomatic staff and non-Australian members of their households;
      • Members of non-Australian defence forces stationed in Australia and their dependents;
      • Overseas visitors (i.e. people whose usual place of residence is outside Australia); and
      • People in Special Dwellings.

    The NATSISS was conducted in urban, rural and remote areas across Australia.


    Conceptual framework

    Not applicable

    Main outputs

    Most NATSISS data is available at the person level for persons aged 15 years and over and in the 2008 NATSISS children aged under 15. Some items are also available at the household level. Timeseries data will be available for most items when the 2008 NATSISS has been output. Some items may be compared with similar data collected from NATSIS 1994, GSS 2002 and other ABS household surveys.

    Data available from the survey include:

      Social marital status
      Family type
      Household type
      Relationship in household
      Number and age of people in household
      State/Territory of usual residence
      ASGC Remoteness Structure
      Socio-Economic Index of Relative Disadvantage (SEIFA)
      Capital City/Balance of State
      Indigenous status
      Children ever born
      Children still alive
      Number of dwellings lived in during last 12 months
      Main reason for last move

      Culture and Language
      Identification with clan, tribal or language group
      Attendance at cultural events
      Participation in/payment for cultural activities
      Main language spoken at home
      Difficulty communicating with service providers
      Whether speaks an Indigenous language
      Recognition of homelands/traditional country
      Access to homelands/traditional country

      Family and Community
      Family stressors
      Involvement in social activities
      Participation in physical activity/sport
      Capacity in which participated in physical activity/sport
      Support in time of crisis
      Neighbourhood/community problems
      Whether respondent taken away from natural family
      Whether relatives taken away from natural family
      Access to child care
      Voluntary work

      Self assessed health status
      Disability status
      Smoker status
      Alcohol risk levels
      Substance use

      Tenure type
      Landlord type
      Rent/mortgage payments
      Household facilities
      Number of bedrooms
      Major structural problems
      Repairs and maintenance conducted in last 12 months

      Access to motor vehicle
      All modes of transport used in last 2 weeks
      Main reason for not using public transport
      Perceived level of difficulty with transport
      Level of educational attainment
      Main reason did not complete Year 12
      Full time/part time educational participation
      Type of educational institution
      Vocational training
      Field of vocational training
      Relevance of training to employment

      Labour force status (incl. CDEP)
      Duration of unemployment
      Hours usually worked
      Full time/part time status of employment
      Job security
      Employment sector
      Duration on CDEP
      All reasons not looking for work
      All difficulties finding work
      Main difficulty finding work
      Whether work allows for cultural responsibilities
      Access to employment support services
      Reason did not use employment support services

      Income (personal, household)
      Main source of income (personal, household)
      Sources of personal income
      Type of government pension/allowance
      Time on government support

      Financial Stress
      Cash flow problems (collect in non-remote areas only)
      Ability to raise funds in an emergency
      Days without money for basic living expenses
      Strategies to meet basic living expenses
      Whether has a bank account
      Method of accessing bank account

      Information Technology
      Whether telephone at home
      Use of a computer (eg. home, school, community centre)
      Use of internet (eg. home, school, community centre)
      Purpose of usage of Internet (eg. private, work, study)
      Frequency of Internet use

      Crime and Justice
      Victim of physical/threatened violence
      Access to legal services
      Type of legal services used in last 12 months
      Age first formally charged by police
      Whether arrested in last 5 years
      Number of times arrested in last 5 years
      Imprisonment in last 5 years


    The NATSISS uses standard ABS data items and classifications where appropriate. Major classifications included are:

    • Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC)
    • Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED)

    Other concepts (summary)

    Not applicable

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory
    Part of State Metropolitan
    Part of State Extra-Metropolitan
    Other (specify below)

    Comments and/or Other Regions

    The sample was drawn from urban, rural and remote areas in all States and Territories. The sample was distributed among States/Territories in a way intended to allow the production of reliable State/Territory estimates.

    Subject to data quality considerations, national-level data may be made available for each of the five Accessibility and Remoteness Index for Australia (ARIA) categories.

    Data for 8 of the 36 ATSIC regions and synthetic estimates for other ATSIC regions may be available, subject to data quality considerations.

    6 Yearly

    Frequency comments


    While the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey was conducted for the first time in 2002, some of the information collected in the NATSISS has been collected in a range of other ABS collections including:

    • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS) 1994
    • Australian Housing Survey (AHS) 1999
    • Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (CHINS) 1999 and 2001
    • National Health Survey (Indigenous)
    • Population Census
    • Labour Force Survey
    • General Social Survey
    • Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers


    Data availability comments

    Results from the NATSISS are available in the national level publication National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2002 (Cat. no. 4714.0), which was released in June 2004. Authorised users can also access microdata using the Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) through the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) (refer to Cat. no. 4720.0).

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