What are ABS structures?

ABS structures are those regions which are defined and maintained by the ABS. ABS structures are consistent in population size, have better geographic detail and reflect settlement patterns and socio-economic relationships. They have been designed to remain stable between Censuses and the next update will occur in 2016.

The ABS structures comprise six interrelated hierarchies of regions. They are:
  • Main Structure
  • Indigenous Structure
  • Greater Capital City Statistical Area Structure
  • Significant Urban Area Structure
  • Urban Centres and Localities/Section of State Structure
  • Remoteness Area Structure.

Diagram 1 ASGS ABS structures
Diagram illustrating relationships of geographical units within ABS structures.

Text only version of Australian Statistical Geography Standard: Structure and Summary for Census.

Diagram 1 illustrates how the ABS structures are built directly from Mesh Blocks and Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s). All geographical units within ABS structures are precisely nested within the next region of the hierarchy.

The Main Structure

Australia

For Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) purposes, the ABS uses the definition of geographical Australia as set out in section 2 B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 and as amended by the Territories Law Reform Act, No. 104, 1992.
Geographic Australia since 1993, includes:
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Queensland
  • South Australia
  • Western Australia
  • Tasmania
  • Northern Territory
  • Australian Capital Territory
  • Jervis Bay Territory
  • The external territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

It excludes Norfolk Island and the other Australian external territories of Australian Antarctic Territory, Heard and McDonald Islands, Ashmore and Cartier Islands and Coral Sea Territory.

State/Territory

The State/Territory is the largest spatial unit in the ASGS Main Structure.

There are six states and five territories in the ASGS: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, Jervis Bay Territory and the external territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Jervis Bay Territory, and the territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are grouped as one spatial unit at the State/Territory level in the category of Other Territories.

States/Territories consist of one or more Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4s). In aggregate, they cover Australia without gaps or overlaps.

Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)

Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4s) are designed to reflect one or more whole labour markets for the release of Labour Force Survey data. SA4s are required to have large populations of over 100,000 people in order to enable accurate labour force survey data to be generated on each SA4. For this reason, in rural areas SA4s generally represent aggregations of multiple small labour markets with socio-economic connections or similar industry characteristics. Large regional city labour markets (150,000 people) are generally defined by a single SA4. Within major metropolitan labour markets, SA4s represent sub-labour markets.

SA4s are aggregations of whole Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3) boundaries and fit within whole state and territory boundaries.

Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3)

Statistical Areas Level 3 (SA3s) are built from aggregations of whole Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) to represent regions of between approximately 30,000 people and 130,000 people to cover the whole of Australia. These boundaries reflect a combination of widely recognised informal regions as well as existing administrative regions such as State Government Regions in rural areas and local Government Areas in urban areas. SA3 boundaries fit within whole Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4) boundaries.

Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2)

Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) consist of one or more whole Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s). Wherever possible, SA2s are based on officially gazetted State suburbs and localities. In urban areas, SA2s largely conform to whole suburbs and combinations of whole suburbs, while in rural areas they define functional zones of social and economic links.

SA2s cover, in aggregate, the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1)

Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1) is the second smallest geographic area defined in the ASGS, the smallest being the Mesh Block. The SA1 has been designed for use in the Census of Population and Housing as the smallest unit for the processing and release of Census data. For the 2011 Census, SA1s are the basis of output for most data, the exception being some Place of Work destination zones. For 2011, SA1s also serve as the basic building block in the ASGS and are used for the aggregation of statistics to larger Census geographic areas.

SA1s are designed to remain relatively constant over several Censuses. Future change will largely be dealt with by splitting existing SA1s. For the 2011 Census, there are approximately 54,000 SA1s throughout Australia (this includes the other territories of Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Jervis Bay). SA1s cover the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

Some SA1s will have zero population. Zero population SA1s are defined in areas that are expected to have little or no permanently residing populations, such as National Parks. Any data from these areas are reassigned to a populated alternate SA1.

Special SA1s

Special SA1s allow address data to be coded when there is insufficient information to code to a physical geographic area - for example, where someone is in transit on Census Night or where an incomplete address has been supplied. There are special SA1s for each state and territory. Special SA1s cannot be mapped.

Types of special SA1s:
  • Migratory – Migratory is used to code people who are in transit on long distance trains, buses, aircraft and long haul road transport vehicles on Census Night.
  • Offshore – Offshore is used to code people on oil rigs and drilling platforms etc. It is also used for expeditioners in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
  • Shipping – Shipping is used to code people who are on board vessels in Australian waters, in or between Australian ports on Census Night.
  • No usual address – No usual address is used to code people with no fixed place of abode.

Mesh Block

Mesh Blocks are the smallest geographical area defined by the ABS.

The 2011 ASGS contains approximately 348,000 Mesh Blocks covering the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. Mesh Blocks are the building blocks for all the larger regions of the ASGS.

All other statistical areas, or regions, are built up from, or approximated by, whole Mesh Blocks. Mesh Blocks are so small that they can aggregate reasonably accurately to many different geographical regions and to administrative, management and political boundaries.

Mesh Blocks are not intended as regions for statistical output as their small size creates issues with confidentiality. Total persons and dwelling counts will be the only data items available by Mesh Block from the 2011 Census.

The Mesh Blocks were delimited using a number of criteria. The design reflects a balance between the respective criteria. For further information, see Information Paper: Mesh Blocks, Australia, 2003 (cat. no. 1209.0) and Information Paper: Draft Mesh Blocks, Australia, 2005 (cat. no. 1209.0.55.001).

The Indigenous Structure

Indigenous Region

Indigenous Regions (IREGs) are large geographical units loosely based on the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission boundaries and are created by aggregating one or more Indigenous Areas (IAREs). IREGs do not cross state and territory borders.

IREGs aggregate to the state and territory level and cover the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

A range of statistics about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is available by IREGs, including QuickStats and Community Profiles.

Indigenous Area

Indigenous Areas (IAREs) are medium sized geographical units consisting of one or more Indigenous Locations (ILOCs) and generally have a minimum of 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander usual residents.

IAREs aggregate to Indigenous Regions (IREGs), and cover the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

A range of statistics about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is available by IAREs, including QuickStats and Community Profiles.

Indigenous Location

Indigenous Locations (ILOCs) consist of one or more Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s) and provide spatially detailed statistics on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a minimum population of 90 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander usual residents. At this level it is possible to identify data on particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

ILOCs aggregate to Indigenous Areas (IAREs), and cover the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps.

A range of statistics about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is available by ILOCs, including QuickStats and, where population levels permit, Community Profiles.

Greater Capital City Statistical Area Structure

Greater Capital City Statistical Area

Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSAs) are geographical areas that are designed to represent the functional extent of each of the eight state and territory capital cities. They replace the Australian Standard Geography Classification (ASGC) Capital City Statistical Divisions and provide a stable definition for these cities which will be used for the output of a range of social and economic survey data.

Within each state and territory, the area not defined as being part of the greater capital city is represented by a Rest of State region. There are 16 GCCSA regions covering the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. They are built up from whole Statistical Areas Level 4 (SA4s). There are eight regions representing each of the Australian state and territory capital cities and seven regions covering the rest of each state and territory – this excludes the ACT where there is only one GCCSA region for the entire territory. There is also one for the Other Territories of Jervis Bay, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Additional to these 16 GCCSA regions are 18 non-mappable GCCSA special purpose codes. There is a Migratory—Offshore—Shipping and a No usual address code for each state and territory, including Other Territories.

Significant Urban Area Structure

Significant Urban Area

Significant Urban Areas (SUAs) represent aggregations of whole Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) boundaries and are used to define and contain major urban concentrations of over 10,000 people. They include the urban population and any immediately associated populations. They may incorporate one or more closely associated Urban Centre and/or Locality (UC/L) and the areas between. They are designed to incorporate any likely growth over the next 20 years.

SUAs do not cover the whole of Australia, and may cross state boundaries.

Data on SUAs will be available with the second release of the 2011 Census data.

Urban Centres and Localities /Section of State Structures

Urban Centres and Localities/Section of State

The ASGS 2011 Urban Centres and Localities and Section of State will be broadly comparable to releases under the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), dividing Australia into Urban Centres, Bounded Localities and Rural Balance.

The ASGS 2011 Urban Centres and Localities and Section of State manual, digital boundaries, structure files and maps for the 2011 Urban Centres and Localities and Section of State Structures will be published on the ABS website on 16 October 2012.

The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 4 - Significant Urban Area, Urban Centres and Localities and Section of State (cat. no. 1270.0.55.004), will be the fourth ASGS online publication.

Remoteness Area Structure

Remoteness Area

Remoteness Area (RA) is part of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) ABS Structures. RAs comprise six categories, each of which identifies a non-contiguous region in Australia, being a grouping of Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1s) sharing a particular degree of remoteness. The degrees of remoteness range from 'Major Cities' (highly accessible) to 'Very Remote'.

The degree of remoteness of each SA1 is determined using the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA). SA1s are then grouped into the appropriate category of Remoteness to form non-contiguous areas within each state and territory.

Data on RAs will be available with the third release of the 2011 Census data.

Where can I get the ABS structure boundaries?

ABS structure boundaries are available in MapInfo Interchange and ESRI Shapefile formats and can be downloaded from the ‘ABS Geography Publications’ chapter of the ABS Statistical Geography website: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/1270.0.55.001July%202011?OpenDocument.

Where can I get further information?

Detailed discussions of the ASGS structures, and the criteria used in their design, can be found in the ABS publications listed below.

The ‘Downloads’ tab of each publication contains a manual, files of names and codes, and digital boundary files for those regions.

Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 1 - Main Structure and Greater Capital City Statistical Areas, July 2011 (cat. no. 1270.0.55.001)

Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 2 - Indigenous Structure, July 2011 (cat. no. 1270.0.55.002)

The fourth ASGS publication Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 4 - Significant Urban Area, Urban Centres and Localities and Section of State (cat. no. 1270.0.55.004) is expected to be released on 16 October 2012.

The fifth ASGS publication Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 - Remoteness Structure (cat. no. 1270.0.55.005) is expected to be released on 13 December 2012.

Further information is available in the ‘ASGS Fact Sheets’ and ‘Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS)’ chapters of the ABS Statistical Geography website at http://www.abs.gov.au/geography.

Any statistical geography questions or comments can be emailed to: geography@abs.gov.au.