3412.0 - Migration, Australia, 2011-12 and 2012-13 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/12/2013   
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Australia has had a very rich and comprehensive set of passenger data underpinning its official statistics for almost 40 years, with every person arriving in or departing from Australia providing important statistical information when they complete their incoming and outgoing passenger cards. This information has become one of the most important data sources for understanding the movement of people in and out of Australia, with migration continuing to be the most significant determinant of the extent of change in the size and composition of our population.

This information from passenger cards is complemented by some supplementary information from visa applications and passports in the Travel and Immigration Processing System (TRIPS), which is maintained by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) as the source for monthly ABS statistics on overseas arrivals and departures (OAD) and quarterly net overseas migration (NOM).

High quality passenger movement data is essential for:

  • Australia's official population estimates, through quality estimates of NOM;
  • the Australian Migration Planning Framework;
  • key national economic and tourism indicators;
  • forecasting NOM into the future;
  • International Trade & Balance of Payments statistics;
  • compiling the International Accounts and the Tourism Satellite Account;
  • estimating National Income and Consumption; and
  • creating benchmarks for the International Visitors Survey.


Each year there are more than 30 million overseas arrivals and departures crossing Australia's borders, but only about 1% of these movements end up part of NOM estimates. Given the historical variability of NOM and its current contribution of around 60% of Australia's population growth, accuracy in its measurement is critically important in determining accurate quarterly estimates of the resident population (ERP) for Australia and each of the states and territories. Currently, passenger card data is the only available source with the necessary coverage of all travellers to accurately estimate the change in state and territory populations resulting from NOM.

Estimates of the populations of the states and territories are used for a number of critically important public purposes including:
  • determining the number of seats for each state and territory in the House of Representatives;
  • the allocation of GST and other funds to the states and territories, and
  • for key public planning.

These public uses of population estimates are so important the ABS is actually required to produce robust estimates by a range of Commonwealth legislation, including the Census and Statistics Act 1905, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 and Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995.

The Census and Statistics Act 1905 includes a particular requirement for the Australian Statistician to compile and publish population estimates for each State on a quarterly basis. This requirement was included in the Act following a High Court decision in the Electoral Case (Attorney-General Cth; Ex rel. McKinley v The Commonwealth (1975) 135 CLR1). The High Court noted that "it necessarily follows that the States' respective populations be reliably determined". As a result, any decision which might impact on this reliability would need to take into account whether the change afforded grounds for the High Court to hold that the number of each State's members in the House of Representatives is not in proportion to its population, as required by the Constitution. In this regard it should be noted that an addition of just 656 people in the ACT's population would have given it three rather than two seats at the February 1997 electoral re-distribution.

It is therefore essential that the ABS is able to continue to use quality passenger data to effectively estimate the quarterly net overseas migration for each state and territory.

The future of passenger data

The passenger card was introduced in 1965 and has been an effective record of a person’s entry into and departure from Australia for almost 50 years. Although some passenger data is also now collected via a number of administrative processes, the data collected from passengers on the cards is still essential. In the future it is expected that passenger data will be captured in an electronic format, as an ongoing source of quality information about all movements into and out of Australia.