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2. About the agency

The ABS is Australia's official national statistical agency. It provides statistics on a wide range of economic, social, population and environmental matters for government, business and the community.

The ABS was established as the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics following enactment of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. It became the ABS in 1975 with the passing of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975.

The Act establishes the agency as an independent statutory authority under the Australian Statistician. It also defines the agency's functions, which are to:

  1. constitute the central statistical authority for the Australian Government and, by arrangements with the Governments of the States, provide statistical services for those Governments
  2. collect, compile, analyse and disseminate statistics and related information
  3. ensure co­ordination of the operations of official bodies in the collection, compilation and dissemination of statistics and related information, with particular regard to:
    1. the avoidance of duplication in the collection by official bodies of information for statistical purposes
    2. the attainment of compatibility between, and the integration of, statistics compiled by official bodies
    3. the maximum possible utilisation, for statistical purposes, of information, and means of collection of information, available to official bodies
  4. formulate, and ensure compliance with, standards for the carrying out by official bodies of operations for statistical purposes
  5. provide advice and assistance to official bodies in relation to statistics
  6. provide liaison between Australia, on the one hand, and other countries and international organisations, on the other hand, in relation to statistical matters.

The agency's mission is to:

… assist and encourage informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community, by leading a high quality, objective and responsive national statistical service.

The ABS set of values—complementary to and congruent with the Australian Public Service (APS) Values—underpin its work on delivering its mission as Australia's national statistical agency. These values are drawn from the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and are
consistent with the values of many national statistical agencies around the world. The ABS values are: integrity, trust of providers, relevance, professionalism, access for all, and service.

The ABS has agreed on a set of goals, strategies and outcomes to target its current efforts and future investment, and to ensure it delivers on its mission and realises its vision—a trusted and progressive world-class statistical leader. Its goals describe what it aims to achieve as an agency,
while its strategies summarise how the goals will be achieved. They underpin the ABS Forward Work Program and its annual priority-setting process and are set out in this table.

Informed and better use of Australia's statistical assets
Continued trust and support of providers
Long-term organisational sustainability
Respected leader in the national and international statistical communities
  • Deliver high quality, objective and flexible official statistical  solutions.
  • Improve accessibility, timeliness and relevance of Australia's statistical information.
  • Improve the management and informed use of official statistical information.
  • Effective engagement with providers.
  • Develop solutions that maintain confidentiality but unlock the value of information.
  • Better prepare our people for the future.
  • Transform our business systems and processes.
  • Foster our ability to innovate.
  • Enhance the coordination of, and investment in, the National Statistical Service.
  • Build strong statistical capacity and capability domestically and within the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Shape and influence national and international discussions regarding statistical frameworks and policies.

Timely high quality statistical information that is readily accessible.
OutcomeEngaged, responsive and supportive providers who trust the ABS. OutcomeA capable and productive organisation. OutcomeThe ABS is influential and sought after for independent information, advice and expertise.

The Australian Statistician is responsible for determining a work program to meet the wide needs of government and the broader community. The ABS determines future priorities by consulting and planning with users of statistics. These consultations are a key input to decisions made on the scope, content
and frequency of official statistics. Consultation takes place through ABS organised statistics user groups; direct discussion with Australian, state, territory and local government agencies, academics, industry bodies, non-government and community organisations, social media bodies; and those invited
to comment on the release of information or discussion papers.

In balancing the ABS program of collection and other activities, the Australian Statistician seeks to ensure that ABS resources are used to the maximum benefit of governments and the broader community. In assessing this, the ABS takes account of the value of the information being sought, the extent
to which undertaking the activity is consistent with its legislated mandate and community expectations, and the costs the activity would impose upon the ABS, providers, and the broader community.

One important aspect of the ABS work program is the agency's participation in, and leadership of, activities associated with the National Statistical Service (NSS). The NSS is the community of government agencies involved in the production, use and custodianship of official statistics. This work relates
to the coordination role set out for the ABS in its legislated functions. Much of it focuses on unlocking the statistical potential of administrative datasets to improve the richness of information available to policy and decision makers, and reducing duplication and fragmentation of information collected
across the system.

The overall shape of the proposed work program and estimates of resources required to deliver it are considered by the Australian Statistics Advisory Council (ASAC). The ASAC is a body defined in the ABS Act to provide advice on statistical priorities to the Australian Statistician and the responsible
Minister (usually a parliamentary secretary within the Treasury portfolio).

The ABS has a legislated role to liaise on statistical issues and is an active contributor in the international statistical community and in the development of international frameworks and standards. It plays an active role in statistical capability development, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region
(generally funded through Australia's overseas aid program), and is collaborating with peers in meeting the challenges for official statistics globally.

The ABS central office is in Canberra and the agency has offices in all state and territory capitals. Regional offices are responsible for the delivery of statistical services to their state or territory. All regional offices, apart from the ACT office, also have responsibilities for national operations
for particular statistical activities. The ABS has approximately 2,800 staff. Around half of these are located in the Canberra central office.

The annual ABS budget for its core ongoing operations is around $300 million. Around $22 million of this is capital, however, its total appropriation fluctuates each year because of the Census cycle. This major project (a legislative requirement) costs approximately $450 million which is distributed
over a seven-year cycle, with much higher expenses being incurred in the Census and preceding years.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018