1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2007-08  
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Contents >> Section IV - National Statistical System >> Chapter 5 - The ABS and the National Statistical Service


The National Statistical Service (NSS) is the community of government agencies, led by the ABS as Australia’s national statistical organisation, building a rich statistical picture for a better informed Australia. The wide range of statistics being produced by agencies other than the ABS is driving a need to ensure the overall Australian statistical system is cohesive, and the ABS’ role in this system is clearly defined. These changes coincide with the Australian Government agenda emphasising greater information sharing and coordinated policy and program initiatives across agencies.

Values, infrastructure, content and capability are essential elements of a successful NSS.

Image of NSS pyramid

The objectives of the NSS are to:

  • deliver a high quality, up-to-date, comprehensive and coherent statistical picture of the economy, society and the environment, to assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion, within governments and the wider community

  • provide a world class official statistical service that retains the confidence and trust of the Australian society as providers to, and users of, official statistics

  • maximise the use, for official statistical purposes, of data available within government administrative systems by government agencies

  • minimise the burden of statistical reporting at all levels of the Australian community, and

  • document and retain, as an enduring national resource, key statistical outputs and their underlying data sources.

    The NSS provides trusted statistics to answer the questions that are important to Australians, their families and their communities. It enables Australians to assess the performance of their governments and to hold them accountable for outcomes. The NSS provides the foundation for evidence-based policy and, through feedback, drives innovation in service delivery to better meet the needs of all Australians, with the result of a better life through better public and private decisions.

    The NSS offers producers of official statistics a more cost-effective approach for delivering statistics in line with best practice, to meet their own information needs and the needs of others, and provides them with access to other statistical information that they need from other producers in the NSS.

    The NSS enables Australia to realise the full potential of its investment in statistical resources, by overcoming institutional and jurisdictional fragmentation. Such fragmentation adds costs through duplication and misdirected effort; increases provider load on businesses and households; makes finding relevant statistics difficult; and reduces the usefulness of statistics through a lack of comparability.


    As it currently exists, the NSS is nowhere near meeting its full potential. The existing NSS activities could be substantially improved, and the NSS could be significantly expanded to encompass a greater range of current and future statistical activities of government. To realise this full potential, there is an imperative to further develop a community of government agencies involved in official statistical activities that progressively:

  • develops, conducts and disseminates official statistics on the basis of shared values, principles and policies

  • protects individual respondent data, as required by legislation, through these shared values, principles and policies

  • maximises comparability of official statistical sources by shaping and adopting national (and, where appropriate, international) statistical standards, such as concepts, classifications, methods, metadata and data definitions

  • makes strategic use of existing information held within government administrations for statistical purposes, rather than treating it as a secondary resource

  • builds a community of professional statistical staff working across all levels of government by providing access to appropriate mechanisms, to share their knowledge and experience; and providing appropriate professional development opportunities

  • minimises the overall investment required to support the NSS, by facilitating the availability and accessibility of the information resources of the NSS through shared technical statistical infrastructure, and

  • manages and maintains Australia’s key official statistical resources, as an enduring national resource, by developing appropriate archival mechanisms for all official data produced by governments.


    NatStats08 Conference, Melbourne, 19–21 November 2008

    ‘Working together for an Informed Australian Society’

    The theme for the inaugural NatStats08 Conference focuses on fostering the growth of the statistical community, and developing a collaborative approach to national statistics.

    The conference will cover three key themes:

  • Informing the Nation
    Discussion will be centred around the type of statistics required, and the role statistics can play in future policy decisions, as well as strategies and ideas to improve the statistical base for the nation.

  • Measuring the Progress of Society
    This theme will provide an international and Australian perspective on measuring progress in society. Discussion will examine key issues such as social inclusion and provide regional input into the World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy, to be held in Korea in 2009.

  • Informing the Environment Debate
    Statistics are critical to informing environment debate and discussion within governments and the community. Climate change, natural resource management and water will be key discussion points within this theme.

  • More information about the conference is available at http://www.nss.gov.au/natstats

  • Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System

    The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is developing a comprehensive, across-government monitoring system. The system, known as the Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS), aims to provide statistical data on the safety, health, development, learning and wellbeing of children and young people in Victoria. The system derives data predominantly from across-government administrative systems and new data collections being implemented by the Victorian Government. This system will provide all levels of government and researchers with access to, and query options for, data on indicators related to children’s health, safety, learning, development and wellbeing.

    In October 2007, the Children’s Services Coordination Board, which is managing the VCAMS project, endorsed a proposal to undertake a collaborative project with the ABS, to explore the potential benefits and issues of using a National Data Network (NDN) solution, making data securely available through a web-based interface.

    This project has demonstrated the success of the collaborative approach for both parties. The Victorian Government was able to access the expertise and experience of the ABS in developing statistical systems, while the ABS was able to further its understanding of a NDN capability by working in an end-to-end environment on a ‘real life’ business problem.

    The Victorian Government is now moving to the next stage of the project, which will see the establishment of an Interdepartmental working group to lead the project across relevant government departments. The ABS will continue to be engaged in the project at both statistical and technical levels.

    Involvement in the Council of Australian Governments

    The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia, comprising the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). The role of COAG is to initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms that are of national significance, and which require cooperative action by Australian governments. The ABS is becoming more active in a number of COAG groups.

    The ABS has been invited onto an Australian Government Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) for the COAG Working Group on Climate Change and Water, which is chaired by Senator, the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change. This group aims to ensure there is an effective national response to climate change and sustainable water use across Australia. The ABS is also a member of an IDC to streamline greenhouse and energy reporting.

    The ABS is attending meetings of the COAG Working Group on Indigenous Reform: Sub-group on Building the Evidence Base, which is working on breaking down the government’s high level targets for Indigenous reform into manageable sub-targets and identifying ways to close data gaps. The ABS has also contributed to discussions about COAG’s intention to develop a national framework for reporting expenditure on Indigenous services in areas such as education, justice, health, housing, community services and employment.

    The ABS has worked closely with the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and state and territory representatives on the COAG Productivity Working Group to identify potential sources of information for the framework of outcomes, progress measures and targets being developed under the productivity agenda. In addition, new statistical work particularly relevant to data needs in the early childhood education area have been investigated.

    The Australia 2020 Summit

    The Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, convened the Australia 2020 Summit at Parliament House on 19–20 April 2008 to help shape a long-term strategy for the nation’s future. The objectives of the Summit were to explore the challenges facing Australia over the next decade and beyond, to discuss ambitions for Australia as a nation, and to identify policy mechanisms to realise those ambitions.

    The ABS provided statistical support in the preparation of briefing documents for the summit. This involved sourcing data for the agenda reports (from ABS and other sources), advising on statistical methods and the most appropriate ways of presenting data. The summit highlighted a number of significant data gaps that need to be addressed in order to progress the development of policies generated as a result of discussions at the summit.

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    Table 5.1: Economic statistics programs

    National AccountsThe National Accounts program provides quarterly and annual data about the level of economic activity and the structure of the Australian and state economies, within a coherent system of concepts and classifications.

    International AccountsThe International Accounts program provides statistics on Australia’s balance of payments and international investment position.

    International TradeThe International Trade program provides statistics on Australia’s exports and imports of goods and services. Statistics on merchandise (goods) exports and imports are derived from records lodged by exporters and importers with the Australian Customs Service.

    Financial StatisticsThe Financial Statistics program compiles statistics on the financial assets, liabilities, borrowing and lending of financial institutions, and on the stocks and flows of finance for the various sectors of the economy.

    PricesThe Prices program compiles the Consumer Price Index, the House Price Indexes, the Labour Price Index (which is an annual series comprising a quarterly Wage Price Index and an annual non-wage price index), and a range of Producer and International Trade Price Indexes.

    Public Sector AccountsThe Public Sector Accounts program provides Government Finance Statistics in respect of the Australian government, state and territory governments, their public non-financial corporations and public financial corporations, universities and local governments. The statistics are compiled predominantly from administrative data sources.

    Business IndicatorsThe Business Indicators program is responsible for the provision of a range of sub-annual main economic indicators. The indicators include: monthly statistics of turnover by retail and selected service industries; quarterly statistics of company profits, inventories, sales and labour costs; quarterly statistics of actual and expected new capital expenditure; and quarterly statistics of actual and expected mineral and petroleum exploration. These data are essential inputs into the compilation of quarterly and annual national accounts and Supply-Use tables.

    Innovation and TechnologyThe Innovation and Technology Statistics program provides data to assist the understanding of the impact of research, experimental development, innovation and new technologies on economic and social outcomes. It provides measures of the penetration of selected new technologies, particularly information and communication technology, within Australia.

    Business Demographics

    The Business Demographics program is responsible for the provision of a range of information about the structure, characteristics and performance of the economy and conceptual developments regarding business definitions and classifications. This information is part of a consistent framework for all ABS business statistics and includes the development of an Integrated Business Characteristics Strategy. A particular, but not exclusive, focus of the program is on providing information about small businesses.

    Economy Wide Statistics

    The Economy Wide Statistics program is responsible for the provision of annual statistics that measure changes in the operations, structure and performance of all private and public trading enterprises (with the exception of finance and insurance). These statistics are derived from an annual economic activity survey and Business Income Tax data from the Australian Taxation Office.

    AgricultureThe Agriculture program aims to satisfy the statistical needs of agricultural policy makers and other key users of agricultural statistics by providing reliable and relevant information on commodity production, as well as the economic and environmental aspects of agricultural operations. The main collections include: an annual agricultural survey; a five-yearly agricultural census; and a range of monthly, quarterly and ad hoc surveys covering specific aspects of agriculture and related activity.

    MiningThe Mining program provides annual data about the structure, performance and production of the mining, electricity, gas, water and sewerage industries, as well as quarterly data on private sector exploration for minerals and petroleum in Australia.

    ManufacturingThe Manufacturing program provides statistics on the structure, financial operations, performance and production of the manufacturing industry.

    ConstructionThe Construction program provides regular data on levels of activity in residential building, non-residential building and engineering construction. It also provides periodic statistics on the structure, performance and characteristics of the construction industry.

    TransportThe Transport program provides statistics about transport related activities, particularly relating to the composition and use of the road fleet in Australia. It also produces periodic statistics on the structure, performance and characteristics of the transport industry.

    Service Industries The Service Industries program provides detailed information about the operations, performance and structure of Australia’s service industries, including the not-for-profit sector, through a comprehensive program of periodic collections and use of non-ABS collected data. Statistics are produced for particular industries and activities in the following sectors of the economy: retail; wholesale; accommodation and food services; transport, postal and warehousing; information media and telecommunications; rental, hiring and real estate services; professional, scientific and technical services; administrative and support services; health care and social assistance; arts; recreation; and personal services.

    TourismThe Tourism program is responsible for producing regular, timely and coherent data on tourism activities. The data produced includes: the Australian Tourism Satellite Account, overseas arrivals and departures, tourism related exports and imports indicators, the Survey of Tourist Accommodation, and data collected under the Service Industries program.

    Environment and EnergyThe Environment and Energy program provides a focal point for the ABS to meet the growing need for environment and energy information, by integrating environmental, economic and social data.

    Table 5.2: The Population and social statistics programs

    Census of Population and HousingThe Census program conducts a five-yearly Census of Population and Housing. Its aims are to accurately and efficiently measure the number and key characteristics of people in Australia on Census night to provide a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of each state and territory. It also provides timely, high quality and relevant five-yearly benchmark data within areas of social concern (for example; population, cultural diversity, work, housing, families, education, labour force) for small geographic areas and for small population groups.

    DemographyThe key objective of the Demography program is to produce estimates of the recent and projected population, and analysis of the components of population growth and related demographic trends. These data are provided at the national, state/territory and regional level. There are requirements in legislation for population estimates. They are also widely used for electoral and funding purposes, as well as in research and to support policy formulation and planning.

    Labour StatisticsThe Labour Statistics program provides information about the structure and performance of the labour market. The program produces statistics on labour supply (such as labour force participation, unemployment, employment conditions and broader measures of labour underutilisation); labour demand (such as employment, job vacancies and labour costs); and industrial relations.

    HealthThe Health Statistics program provides information about aspects of the health of Australia’s population, and about health related services. This includes statistics relating to health status, mortality, disability, risk factors and impacts on sub-groups within the population.

    Education and Training StatisticsThe Education and Training Statistics program develops and compiles statistics from national administrative collections and the conduct of a number of surveys relevant to the education and training field. Key elements of the program in this field include the conduct of the annual National Schools Statistics collection; the regular conduct of a number of surveys related to education, training and work; and the work of the National Education and Training Statistics Unit.

    Crime and Justice StatisticsThe Crime and Justice Statistics program leads national statistical activity aimed at developing and improving the information available in this field. The program compiles and publishes national statistics on recorded crime, courts and corrections, and works to improve the quality of these collections in cooperation with statistical practitioners in the jurisdictions.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander StatisticsThe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics program has responsibility for leadership and coordination of national statistical activity about Australia’s Indigenous peoples, both across the ABS and more broadly. This includes consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and working in collaboration with a broad range of external agencies to achieve relevant and appropriate information. The main sources of statistics for this program are the six-yearly National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, the six-yearly National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey; and the Census of Population and Housing.

    Living Conditions StatisticsThe Living Conditions Statistics program provides information about the material living conditions of the population within a framework of areas of social concern and population groups. Household income, wealth, expenditure, housing, superannuation and other aspects of material living conditions are central to monitoring material wellbeing. Related areas of measurement and analysis include economic hardship and financial stress, which help to provide a wider picture of the material circumstances and living conditions of Australians.

    Family and Community StatisticsThe Family and Community Statistics program provides information about family and community wellbeing, including: time use; volunteering; work and family balance; and social capital. Statistics are provided for women, men, couples, one parent families, children, youth, older people, carers and other population subgroups.

    Culture and Recreation StatisticsThe Culture and Recreation Statistics program has responsibility for the leadership and coordination of national statistical activity in the fields of culture, sport and leisure.

    Migrant StatisticsThe Migrant Statistics program provides statistics on migrant settlement within Australia in the short and long-term. The unit provides data relevant to migrant populations, and is involved in the development and compilation of a range of survey and administrative data outputs relevant to migrants.

    Rural and Regional StatisticsThe Rural and Regional Statistics program aims to improve the availability of regional data including data at metropolitan, non-metropolitan, urban and rural levels. Activities undertaken under the program include improving access to, and dissemination of, ABS data and data from other sources, and developing new indicators where feasible.

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