I am making this very brief reference post to this blog rather than the New England, Australia blog because it deals with Australia wide issues.
One of the things that interested me in looking at our indigenous people from a New England perspective was what I perceived to be a significant increase in the Aboriginal proportion of the population in certain areas. I now know that this perception was correct.
Since I wrote my first notes in this area I have found a very good article by J Taylor - Population and Diversity: Policy Implications of Emerging Indigenous Demographic Trends, Discussion Paper 283/2006, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.
I do not have the time to analyse this properly at present, but a few quick heads up points.
In 2001, the indigenous population reached 485,000. This figure will obviously be higher now, but I have yet to check the latest figures.
Of this total, 138,494 (1.1 per cent of the total population) lived in major cities, 92,988 (2.3 per cent of the population) in inner regional areas, 105,875 (5.3 per cent of the population) in outer regional areas, 40,161 (12.4 per cent of the population) in remote areas, 81,002 (45.4 per cent of the population) in very remote areas.
Part of the significant growth in indigenous numbers in recent years has come from those with part indigenous ancestry reclassifying themselves as indigenous, but indigenous birth rates have been far higher than the Australian average. This leads to faster indigenous growth rates than the national average and a very different demographic pyramid with much higher concentrations in younger age groups in the indigenous pyramid.
This has several implications. Among other things, it means that the indigenous proportion of the total population will continue to grow. It also means that the focus and needs of the indigenous population are different, more focus on jobs now, less on aging issues.
The indigenous population appears more mobile than the general population, although migration patterns are complex. For example, growth in indigenous populations in metro areas comes largely from in-migration of the young, partially offest by out-migration of married couples with children.
Within these complex migration patterns, there are a two features worthy of immediate note:
- The first is the growth of reasonably significant size aboriginal towns, urban communities with populations measured in the thousands.
- The second is the pattern of heavy migration from more remote areas into regional centres such as Dubbo, Broken Hill, Armidale or Tamworth. Because non-indigenous population growth in those centers has been lower, in some cases negative, the indigenous proportion of the population is well above the national average and climbing.
Those who read my blogs will know that I try to come at things from a different perspective. They will also know that I write from a country or regional, rather than metro, perspective. Both influence my approach on public policy issues.
My core complaint against current policy and rhetoric in regard to Australia's indigenous people is that it confuses an indentifying label - indigenous, aboriginal - with the real issues. Let me try to explain.
I first read about Port Keats (Wadeye) ten years ago. I was astonished. Here was a substantial town totally off the radar that seemed to lack every facility taken for granted in every Australian community. The fact that it had an overwhelmingly aboriginal population was beside the point.
Put this in another way. If there was a country town of the same size in NSW or Victoria with the same facilities it would be a major issue. Somehow, the fact that Wadeye was aboriginal was confusing the issue.
A second example.
The New England town of Kempsey has, I think, an aboriginal proportion of the population now over 14 per cent. That proportion of the population faces major problems in regard to unemployment and the social problems that come from deprivation.
Is this an aboriginal problem?
In one sense it is. Certainly if I were an aboriginal parent living in Kempsey I might be worried about my own kids. As any parent I would be worried, for example, about the impact on local schools. As a visitor to South West Rocks, I was certainly personally concerned that our car was stolen by a couple of aboriginal kids from nearby Macksville who used it to go on a mini crime spree.
But if we stand back, the public policy problem is not in fact anything to do with aboriginality as such, everything to do with economic and social problems especially among the young. And it is just not aboriginal young people who experience this. The public policy response needs to focus on this broader question.