1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Int Relations


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is a key member of the international statistical community and plays an active role in international statistical activities. The ABS contributes constructively in a wide variety of international forums, with staff keeping abreast of the latest techniques and developments in other leading national statistical offices (NSOs).

The ABS is committed to sharing its knowledge and welcomes visitors from NSOs worldwide. It also provides technical assistance to statistical agencies in developing countries and has been funded by AusAID to support NSOs in the Pacific and Indonesia.

The ABS International Relations Strategy articulates the future directions of international work. An important function of the ABS, as specified in section 6(f) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 (Cwlth), is " … to provide liaison between Australia, on the one hand, and other countries and international organisations, on the other hand, in relation to statistical matters." The Strategy provides practical ways that the ABS can engage in those international forums that contribute to the development of international standards and better practice implementation.

The ABS supports Australia’s interests though a range of activities, including participation in the development of international standards and provision of statistical capacity building to Australia’s neighbours. Through these activities, the ABS ensures that international standards are relevant to Australia and that our nearest neighbours have the measures of progress needed to support their social and economic development.

The ABS continues to make a valuable contribution through its participation in the United Nations Statistical Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Committee on Statistics and the Economic Commission for Europe Conference of European Statisticians. It also participates in various working groups and taskforces of these and other organisations. The ABS provides statistical leadership through participation in various international forums as both members and chairs.

This article highlights three particular internationally-focused activities:

  • establishing a statistical network to improve the effectiveness of statistical systems development
  • influencing the direction of household income statistical standards, and
  • supporting the capacity of national statistical offices in neighbouring countries.


Around the globe, NSOs are experiencing a range of common challenges. They include the increasing difficulty faced in meeting the demands of users who require increased detail in existing statistical products, web-based services, and products that integrate several data sources.

To share experiences, expertise and resources, the ABS is co-ordinating an international collaboration initiative (the Statistical Network). The Network’s intention is to collaborate with like-minded NSOs to co-design and co-develop projects for delivery. These projects aim to harmonise statistical methods, systems, and capabilities across the international statistical institutions in the Network. The Network consists of six countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden.

The Statistical Network has agreed that, rather than solving specific information technology problems, a better approach would be to focus on the development of a platform that is flexible enough to meet the variety of new challenges likely to arise in the future. The Network aims to achieve an information technology environment and corresponding systems that would allow production and customisation of data on a mass scale. Combining resources and effort to develop these projects will ensure that other NSOs can benefit from the work done by the Network. This is especially true for developing countries, which could reap the benefits of new systems without a major investment.


The ABS continues to make a significant contribution to the development of international standards through effective representation on a number of international committees and working level taskforces. A particular example is in the area of household income statistics.

During 2010 and 2011, the ABS led a small Task Force, under the auspices of the Conference of European Statisticians Bureau. The purpose of the Task Force was to update the Final Report and Recommendations of the Expert Group on Household Income Statistics (2001), commonly referred to as The Canberra Group Handbook, with the latest international standards and best practice in household income measurement. The second edition of the Handbook provides a consolidated reference for those involved in producing, disseminating or analysing income distribution statistics and will be used by statistics producers and users alike.

A broader work program, also led by the ABS, is being driven by an OECD Expert Group on micro statistics on household income, consumption and wealth. The Expert Group’s brief is to develop a statistical framework for the integrated measurement and analysis of micro-level household income, consumption and wealth statistics, and to develop standards and guidelines for micro-level household wealth statistics.


The position that ABS holds internationally brings with it a responsibility to provide assistance and leadership, particularly to our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region.

An important part of ABS international relations activities is directed to technical assistance provided to statistical agencies in developing countries. Major goals of the ABS international engagement program are to ensure that Australia's neighbours:
  • have sufficient and reliable statistical indicators for their governments to make sound decisions on the economy, society and the environment, and
  • that their citizens have sufficient information to participate in the democratic process.

The ABS provides a mix of intensive support to particular countries in the region, including hosting visits from countries that are keen to learn about methodological techniques, stakeholder management, statistical processes, international standards and governance models. The ABS development program aims to transfer both knowledge and practical skills.

In 2010, the ABS received requests from nine countries in the region and hosted 17 delegations, addressing a range of technical and statistical areas. Visitors gained knowledge and information about particular subject areas but also had opportunities to ‘problem-solve’ some of the challenges they face in compiling their statistics in-country. These exchanges also provide ABS staff with a valuable opportunity to learn about different methodological approaches used and the challenges in data collections in other countries.

In the area of longer-term engagement, the ABS has secured specific funds from AusAID for Indonesia and the Pacific region. In addition, the ABS has signed memoranda of understanding with Mongolia and Timor-Leste.

The ABS has had long-term engagement with the BPS (Statistics Indonesia) and this was renewed through a four-year Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2010 by the two statisticians. The partnership between ABS and BPS is centred on improving the capability of BPS staff and improving the methods used to collect and compile statistics. In particular, support and assistance are designed to help BPS manage change and reform with the Change and Reform for the Development of Statistics Plan 2012–2016. The ABS has been funded by AusAID for the delivery of this work.

Whilst Timor-Leste is identified by AusAID as being a ‘post-conflict fragile state’, the institutions of government are beginning to take shape. Assistance is still needed to rebuild its public service and systems of government. It is in this area that the ABS can provide valuable assistance.

In November 2010, the ABS entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Timor-Leste National Directorate of Statistics (NDS) for statistical capability development. One of the main areas of co-operation was in the development of an economy-wide business activity survey designed to measure economic performance and provide data to support budgetary decisions. The ABS, funded by the Asian Development Bank, provided practical support throughout the project’s life cycle.

Under this project, an ABS officer assisted the Timor-Leste NDS to develop, conduct and release the Business Activity Survey. An important outcome of the project was the transfer of skills and knowledge to staff of the NDS.


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.