1001.0 - Australian Bureau of Statistics -- Annual Report, 2006-07  
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Contents >> Section V - Performance Information >> Chapter 15 - Statistical standards and infrastructure

Section V - Performance Information

Chapter 15 - Statistical standards and infrastructure


The ABS has a lead role in avoiding duplication in the collection of statistics, attaining comparability between collections undertaken by different agencies, and maximising the utilisation of statistics.

The development and use of statistical standards and infrastructure underpins statistical work in the ABS. The use of a comprehensive set of robust statistical standards assists in providing an integrated and meaningful statistical picture of society and the economy.

Various aspects of statistical standards and infrastructure are needed for the effective collection and release of data, including:

    • classification schemes that categorise data element concepts (eg industry, occupation)
    • definitions of the concepts underpinning data elements (eg dependency, usual residence)
    • definitions of statistical units (eg business, family, income unit)
    • tools to enable coding of data to standard classifications, and
    • metadata repositories to store the information about data.
The ABS develops national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies, which are applied, as appropriate, to all ABS statistical collections, including business and household surveys. The ABS takes a leading role by encouraging other Australian Government and state and territory agencies to adopt these standards, frameworks and methodologies in their statistical activities. Extensive information about ABS standards is available on this site under Methods, classifications, concepts and standards.

The ABS also works closely with other agencies involved in the development of standards and frameworks. The ABS is leading the development of the National Data Network which provides infrastructure, protocols, standards and services to support the sharing and integrating of data across Australia. For more information see Chapter 10 Engagement with users and producers of statistics.

The national statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies align with international equivalents, and the ABS assists in the development of many key international statistical standards, frameworks and methodologies. For more information on the ABS involvement in international standards development, see Chapter 16 International engagement.


The review of key international macro-economic standards, which began in 2003, has focused on maintaining their relevance in a changing economic environment and on ensuring the various economic standards are appropriately aligned. The United Nations Statistical Commission agreed on a proposed set of changes at its meeting in February 2007. Drafts of the core chapters of the revised System of National Accounts and the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual, 2008 have been completed, incorporating significant ABS input. Release of the updated manuals is expected by mid-2009.

The ABS intends to implement the revised macro-economic standards, in conjunction with the implementation of Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification 2006, for the 2008–09 release of the annual National Accounts in November 2009. In June 2007, the ABS commenced consultation with key users on its implementation plans for the revised standards. Discussions have been held with the Treasury and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Productivity Commission and the ABS-convened Economic Statistics User Group.

Peter Harper, Deputy Australian Statistician and Ron McKenzie, Statistics New Zealand’s Principal Economic Statistician, Industry and Labour Group, at the celebrations of the 2006 ANZSIC release
Peter Harper, Deputy Australian Statistician and Ron McKenzie, Statistics New Zealand’s Principal Economic Statistician, Industry and Labour Group, at the celebrations of the 2006 ANZSIC release

The ABS has also contributed to the revision to the related OECD Benchmark Definition of Foreign Direct Investment, which guides the ABS reporting on foreign direct investment and the Manual on Standards in International Trade in Services.

The revised Australian Harmonized Export Commodity Classification was released by the ABS in electronic format in November 2006. It was revised to incorporate the new international standard, the Harmonized System 2007, and included correspondences between new and old statistical codes. An updated imports classification, the Combined Australian Customs Tariff Nomenclature and Statistical Classification, which is maintained by the Australian Customs Service, was released in November 2006. An ABS information paper, Changes on 1 January 2007 to Statistical Codes in the Export and Import Classifications (cat. no. 1233.0.55.001) was also released for the information of users. The January 2007 issue of International Trade in Goods and Services (cat. no. 5368.0), released in March 2007, presented both import and export of goods collected on the new basis.


The ABS has made a significant contribution to the work of the Australian Accounting Standards Board in harmonising Generally Accepted Accounting Principles/Government Finance Statistics reporting (GAAP/GFS) reporting. A new harmonised accounting standard, AAS1049 Financial Reporting of General Government Sectors by Governments, was issued in September 2006. The development of a harmonised standard for whole of government financial reporting is nearing completion.

There will be no major changes to the ABS’ GFS program as a result of the implementation of the new standards. The ABS will continue to publish independent GFS statistics. However, as GFS concepts are being increasingly embedded into public sector accounting standards as a result of harmonisation, there will be a greater onus on the ABS to ensure the wider dissemination and understanding of GFS concepts.


The ABS has been monitoring the implementation and impact of the Australian equivalents to the International Financial Reporting Standards (AIFRS) on reported data, since 2005. AIFRS affected the ability of many businesses to report data in a manner consistent with statistical concepts. Processes were put in place to monitor and manage these impacts, including changes to survey forms. Despite these processes, it was not possible to fully quantify the impacts on economic statistics of AIFRS due to the difficulties in separating AIFRS impacts from other real world events (such as revaluations).

Many of the AIFRS impacts have been excluded from National Accounts publications. However, industry publications, which publish on an accounting basis, may have seen some additional variation in published estimates. A broad statement warning users of potentially increased volatility of estimates due to AIFRS has been included in affected publications.


In September 2006 the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations 2005 (cat. no. 1220.0) was released, and was used in the coding of occupations in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. More information about ANZSCO is available in the special article in Chapter 8.

The ABS represented Australia on the Technical Expert Group for updating the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). The ABS provided input to these meetings through detailed comments and suggestions on the issues raised in the discussion papers. The ABS also coordinated Australian responses to the ISCO questionnaires, in conjunction with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.


In 2006–07 a number of projects updating existing standards or releasing new standards were completed in time for use in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. In response to the increasing demand for data on disability issues, the ABS has developed standards for the following two variables:

    • Severity of disability, and
    • Core activity need for assistance.
Severity of disability includes the ABS’ standard set of questions used in household surveys to establish the number of people with a disability and, the severity of that disability.

Core activity need for assistance identifies the number of people with a disability requiring assistance with core activities (core activities are defined as mobility, self care and communication). A question on core activity need for assistance was included in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.

In the 2006 Census of Population and Housing additional questions were asked about three new issues: disability assistance, unpaid work and volunteer activities. These questions were included after feedback and discussions following the 2001 Census of Population and Housing, and will provide extensive information about the need for support and carers across Australia.

Mesh blocks

Mesh blocks are geographical units that are much smaller than collection districts, and are currently the smallest ABS spatial unit. Australia will be divided into approximately 300 000 mesh blocks, compared to 39 000 collection districts.

A revised set of draft boundaries for mesh blocks, incorporating stakeholder feedback, was used for the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. Once the results have been analysed during 2006–07, a final set of mesh block boundaries are expected to be released towards the end of 2007, or early 2008.

The advantage of mesh blocks is they can be used to approximate any medium or large-sized geographical region. Therefore data collected on this basis can be accurately recast between geographical regions. Currently, a wide range of geographic units are in use throughout Australia. Many of these units have been developed independently, and data cannot be readily compared. Mesh blocks will result in more accurate geographical statistical comparisons, which should ultimately lead to improved government policy formulation and service delivery.
The ABS intends that mesh blocks will become the building block for all statistical, and many political and administrative regions in Australia.

Mesh blocks are geographical units that are much smaller than collection districts, and are currently the smallest ABS spatial unit
Mesh blocks are geographical units that are much smaller than collection districts, and are currently the smallest ABS spatial unit

The ABS has developed the web service, AddressCoder@ABS, to assign a statistical local area, collection district and mesh block code to addresses. Since the second half of 2006, this service has been available to external users who register with the National Data Network.

Although they are primarily a building block for larger geographical units, basic demographic data from the 2006 Census will be available for mesh blocks. This, and any other data releases at the mesh block level, will be limited to ensure confidentiality is protected.


Since 1984, the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), which is updated annually, has provided a basis for collecting, disseminating and analysing statistics that have a spatial component. It is used throughout the ABS and is widely accepted in the statistical community. During 2006–07, Statistical Geography Volume 1, 2006, Australian Standard Geographical Classification (cat. no. 1216.0) was released, as well as several related publications including digital boundaries and the National Localities Index (cat. no. 1252.0.55.001).


Mesh blocks challenge many of the assumptions behind the current ASGC. As mesh blocks cannot be easily integrated with the ASGC, the ABS has commenced a review of the ASGC, with the aim of creating a new statistical geography classification that is more useful for the presentation and analysis of spatial statistics.

The review will be undertaken in several phases. The first phase will be to develop a new conceptual and structural basis for the classification, which is expected to be completed by late 2007. This will be followed by a reconsideration of the current definitions of urban and rural, and remoteness, in 2008. The review must be completed, and its results implemented, in time for the 2011 Census. The current ASGC will be published until 2010.


Metadata is information used to find data, to assist a user to understand that data (ie definitions and descriptions), or to guide a user in the appropriate use of that data (quality). Currently, much of the metadata for ABS collections is stored in local facilities (ie associated with the collection), and is sometimes difficult to reuse between processes, or as a corporate resource across collections. In recent years, the ABS has developed an end-to-end (E2E) Metadata Management Strategy to establish a metadata environment that:

    • supports ABS statistical business objectives
    • enables better dissemination outcomes
    • is efficient, effective and user-friendly
    • promotes accountability over the life-cycle of metadata, and
    • provides a metadata resource as an information system in its own right.
This strategy will have considerable benefits for users of ABS statistics, making it easier for them to find, understand and use ABS statistics effectively. It will also align the ABS metadata environment with the associated international standards for metadata, such as the standard for data element definitions (ISO/IEC-11179).

The ABS has made good progress implementing the E2E Metadata Management Strategy. In 2006–07 the Economic Standards area completed registration of definitional metadata for a number of collections in preparation for migration to the Input Data Warehouse (IDW). The IDW is a managed unit record data store that aims to service collection activities (including editing), analysis, research and management needs between initial data capture until movement of data to the managed output data store. The Integrated System for Household Surveys project team also completed the design of the Questionnaire Development Tool, which will interface to the ABS Corporate Metadata Repository for creating and reusing data element definitions, and this tool is now being built.

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