Assessing the Evidence on Indigenous Socioeconomic Outcomes

Assessing the Evidence on Indigenous Socioeconomic Outcomes: A focus on the 2002 NATSISS

B. H. Hunter (Editor)
Volume: CAEPR Monograph No. 26
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: ANU Press
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    Assessing the Evidence on Indigenous Socioeconomic Outcomes
    Book Description:

    This monograph presents the peer-reviewed proceedings of the CAEPR conference on Indigenous Socioeconomic Outcomes: Assessing Recent Evidence, held at The Australian National University in August 2005. It presents the latest evidence on Indigenous economic and social status, and family and community life, and discusses its implications for government policy. The main focus of this volume is on analysing the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) outputs and issues about how to interpret the data. It also offers some assessment of changes in Indigenous social conditions over time and examines how Indigenous people fared vis-à-vis other Australians in other statistical collections. The discussion of the broad Indigenous policy context by three prominent Indigenous Australians—Larissa Berhendt, Tom Calma, and Geoff Scott—explores different perspectives.

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-64-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Jon Altman

    This monograph presents the refereed, and peer-reviewed, edited proceedings of the conference on Indigenous Socioeconomic Outcomes: Assessing Recent Evidence. The conference was organised by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research and held at the Shine Dome, the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra on 11 and 12 August 2005. The conference aimed to present the latest evidence on Indigenous economic and social status, and family and community life, and discuss its implications for government policy. The recently released 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) provided a valuable new source of data on these issues. The...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Boyd Hunter
  7. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xx)
  8. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  9. 1. Towards a history of Indigenous statistics in Australia
    (pp. 1-10)
    Tim Rowse

    In 2003, the Productivity Commission report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2003 demonstrated that Australia now has an extensive (though not time-deep) statistical archive through which we can compare Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The report points to twelve ‘headline indicators’, and seven ‘strategic areas for action’, and it operationalises the ‘strategic areas for action’ in terms of thirty variables on which Indigenous and non-Indigenous can be compared.¹

    It has not always been possible to make such a wide battery of Indigenous/non-Indigenous comparisons (nor Indigenous/Australia comparisons). In this paper I will trace the steps that Australian governments have taken to recognise...

  10. 2. Statistical needs in Indigenous affairs: the role of the 2002 NATSISS
    (pp. 11-22)
    Jon Altman and John Taylor

    Over the last two years, Indigenous affairs policy at the national level has shifted direction dramatically: the central tenets of policy have shifted from terms such as self-determination, self-management and national Indigenous representation and advocacy to mainstreaming, mutual obligation, shared responsibility and a whole-of-government approach.

    This broad change in direction has been predicated in large measure on a widespread perception that the socioeconomic situation of Indigenous people in Australia has, at worst, been a failure over the past 30 years or, at best, has not improved fast enough.

    The new approach has been based on a growing emphasis on what...

  11. 3. The 2002 NATSISS—the ABS survey methodology and concepts
    (pp. 23-30)
    Andrew Webster, Alistair Rogers and Dan Black

    In 2002, the ABS conducted the second national social survey of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, the NATSISS. The first national survey was conducted by the ABS in 1994 as part of the Australian Government’s response to the 1987–1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission had brought to light the urgent need for more and better data about the social circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and had recommended a special national survey to cover a range of social, demographic, health and economic topics (recommendation 49).

    The 2002 NATSISS was conducted...

  12. 4. Selected methodological issues for analysis of the 2002 NATSISS
    (pp. 31-56)
    Nicholas Biddle and Boyd Hunter

    The most commonly used data for information on Indigenous Australians is the Census of Population and Housing. The five-yearly census allows us to generate reasonably reliable social statistics about Indigenous people as a by-product of the introduction, in 1971, of a question which asked whether people identify as Indigenous. However, the census is a blunt instrument that is designed primarily to count the national population rather than to measure and track changes in complex socioeconomic conditions of population sub-groups. Furthermore, census questions are limited in their number and scope by the exigencies and costs involved in collecting information from the...

  13. 5. Differentials and determinants of Indigenous population mobility
    (pp. 57-68)
    John Taylor and Yohannes Kinfu

    Of the three components of demographic change, geographic mobility is the most nebulous and difficult to measure, and yet it is the one with potentially the greatest impact on population distribution and composition. Difficulties of measurement arise because a variety of definitions of population movement can be construed, all of which constitute arbitrary functions of the distance and length of time involved in relocating from one place to another. Impacts on distribution arise because migrant numbers in and out of a given place could exceed births and deaths, especially in small geographic areas and at higher stages of demographic transition,...

  14. 6. Aboriginal child mortality in Australia: Recent levels and covariates
    (pp. 69-78)
    Yohannes Kinfu

    The subject of infant and child survival continues to be of great interest to policy makers, health planners, social and bio-medical researchers as well as communities and interest groups around the world. Overall, Australia is one of the healthiest and safest countries for young children to live with an infant mortality rate of less than six per thousand live births and an under-five mortality rate of some seven per thousand children (ABS 2004b). However, the same cannot be said with confidence for Australia’s Indigenous population, where morbidity and mortality among young children remain excessive. Available evidence suggests that, at current...

  15. 7. Understanding housing outcomes for Indigenous Australians: what can the 2002 NATSISS add?
    (pp. 79-90)
    Will Sanders

    Almost a decade ago, when looking at the 1994 NATSIS, I was able to be very complimentary about what that survey could add to our understanding of housing outcomes for Indigenous Australians. That was largely because, in the housing area, the 1994 NATSIS had improved on previous census collections in two important ways: it had developed a better tenure breakdown, distinguishing between community and private rental dwellings, and it had developed an accessible and useful geographic breakdown into capital cities, other urban, and rural or remote areas. Using the 1994 NATSIS, I was able to show just how different the...

  16. 8. Revisiting the poverty war: income status and financial stress among Indigenous Australians
    (pp. 91-102)
    Boyd Hunter

    Australia is at war! First there were the history wars, as Henry Reynolds, Keith Windshuttle and others fought over the technical detail and interpretation of Australia’s colonial history. Then came the war on terror, which followed the events of 11 September 2001. One of the latest ‘wars’ is the poverty war. Note that this is not the ‘war on poverty’ that LBJ talked about in the 1960s, but rather a battle for the hearts and minds of the Australian public (and media). Professor Peter Saunders has documented the Poverty wars that started with a coordinated series of skirmishes by the...

  17. 9. Family and community life
    (pp. 103-114)
    Ruth Weston and Matthew Gray

    Well functioning families are vital to the wellbeing of individuals, their immediate communities, and broader societal groups. The ability of families to function well depends not only on their individual members, but also their physical and social contexts, including communities and wider organisations.

    The 2002 NATSISS survey provides information on family and community life for the Indigenous population. It is one of the few nationally representative surveys of the Indigenous population that provides this kind of information and thus makes an important contribution to our understanding of these important aspects of the life of Indigenous Australians.

    Collecting information in surveys...

  18. 10. Labour market issues
    (pp. 115-126)
    Matthew Gray and Bruce Chapman

    The continuing low employment rates and general labour market disadvantage of Indigenous Australians have been well documented (Altman & Nieuwenhuysen 1979; Daly 1995; Hunter 2004a). However, our understanding of the reasons for this labour market disadvantage is constrained by the limited data available for the Indigenous population. This lack of understanding hampers the development of labour market and related policies to improve labour market outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

    Before the collection of the 2002 NATSISS, the main source of data on Indigenous labour force status—and the only sources of data that could be used to reliably measure change—have...

  19. 11. Asking the right questions?
    (pp. 127-138)
    Bob Gregory

    I am very pleased to be here today. I have been so impressed over the last decade or so by the progress made in collecting and analysing Indigenous economic and labour market data that I wanted to come and say how much the situation has improved and how important CAEPR and its Director, Professor Altman, and the ABS, have been in pushing hard to improve the empirical foundations upon which sound policy can be built.

    I, too, have made some small contribution to this development. Dr Boyd Hunter and Dr Anne Daly were my students and they have played a...

  20. 12. The real ‘real’ economy in remote Australia
    (pp. 139-152)
    Jon Altman, Geoff Buchanan and Nicholas Biddle

    The Productivity Commission’s recent report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, notes that the vision behind the report is that Indigenous people will one day enjoy the same overall standard of living as other Australians (SCRGSP 2005: 1.2). This admirable goal is a reflection of the Howard Government’s commitment to practical reconciliation; that is, to equality in health, housing, employment and education outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The futuristic reference to ‘one day’ suggests that the goal may indeed be more visionary than policy realistic.

    Such a commitment by government is not new and was first articulated by the Aboriginal Employment Development...

  21. 13. Panel Discussion: Diverse perspectives on the evidence
    (pp. 153-170)
    Larissa Behrendt, Tom Calma and Geoff Scott

    The aim of this panel discussion is to get some diverse perspectives on the evidence. To do that we have arranged a panel of three people who will evaluate the evidence on socioeconomic outcomes for Indigenous Australians as articulated in the first day of this conference and then look at those with respect to their diverse professional and academic experiences. We thought it would be very useful at the end of Day 1 of this conference to have some discussions that would tease out how and, indeed, if statistical collections can add substantially to the debate on Indigenous policy. We...

  22. 14. Education and training: the 2002 NATSISS
    (pp. 171-182)
    R.G. (Jerry) Schwab

    The impetus for the first national survey of the Indigenous population, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (1994), was the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This Royal Commission highlighted the lack of a reliable statistical baseline from which to assess the experience of Indigenous Australians (Commonwealth of Australia 1991). The survey followed on the heels of two major policy documents, the Commonwealth Government’s Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP) and the Aboriginal Education Policy (AEP), both of which called for coordinated baseline data and improved education and training outcomes. The results of the 1994 NATSIS were...

  23. 15. Indigenous Australians and transport—what can the NATSISS tell us?
    (pp. 183-196)
    Sarah Holcombe

    The 2002 NATSISS is the first national survey of Indigenous Australia that includes a transport module and, as such, provides a unique opportunity to examine Indigenous transport needs. The analysis of the transport data in this chapter is approached from an anthropological perspective, comparing this survey data with the ethnographic record. In doing so, I focus primarily on the findings of the remote area NATSISS but I also (as relevant) highlight comparative findings using the data from the non-remote NATSISS and the GSS. My focus reflects the concentration of ethnographic research in remote areas. It also reflects the fact that...

  24. 16. Information and Communication Technology
    (pp. 197-212)
    Peter Radoll

    This chapter presents data from the 2002 NATSISS as it relates to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use, namely computers and the internet. While a number of determinants of ICT use have been well established, like education and income, there are other factors that have a similar impact on ICT use in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Presented here for the first time, these factors include health status, the impact of being on the CDEP scheme, the impact of the justice system, access to online services, and the overall digital divide between remote and non-remote Indigenous communities.


  25. 17. Health
    (pp. 213-230)
    Russell Ross

    The beginning point of this analysis is the established fact that Indigenous health outcomes are recognised to be very poor both relative to those for the non-Indigenous population and in absolute terms—see, for example, Gray, Hunter & Taylor (2004) and Booth & Carroll (2005).

    Life expectancies for Indigenous Australians are some 20 years lower¹ than for non-Indigenous Australians, an unacceptable statistic. Equally unacceptable is the fact that this life expectancy appears not to have risen in recent times. Of particular interest is to ascertain whether there have been significant improvements in Indigenous health outcomes; not only in an absolute...

  26. 18. Substance use in the 2002 NATSISS
    (pp. 231-248)
    Tanya Chikritzhs and Maggie Brady

    It is important at the outset to acknowledge with candour that questioning Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people about their use of alcohol and other drugs is always fraught with difficulty, whatever the circumstance. As Anderson and Sibthorpe (1996: 118–134) observed of the 1994 NATSIS, one wonders about the subjective meanings that might be attached to such questions, what are the perceptions of personal risk that might be attached to such questions, and what interviewees understand to be the purpose of such information. Questions of this sort can meet with resistance, underestimation and ‘fudging’ even if asked privately by...

  27. 19. Crime and justice issues
    (pp. 249-268)
    Mick Dodson and Boyd Hunter

    The over-representation of Indigenous Australians in prison continues to be a serious problem, more than a decade after the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCADC) were handed down (Baker 2001; Williams 2001).¹ For example, Baker (2001) finds that the over-representation stems initially from the higher rate of appearance at court by Indigenous Australians, but is amplified at the point of sentencing, with Indigenous offenders sentenced to imprisonment at almost twice the rate of non-Indigenous people. The violent nature of the offences for which Indigenous people are convicted and the greater likelihood of Indigenous people having...

  28. 20. Culture
    (pp. 269-278)
    Nicolas Peterson

    It was unclear in the original 1994 NATSIS survey what the purpose and significance of the ‘Culture’ questions were: in some respects this still remains true for the 2002 survey. A number of possible reasons for collecting cultural data were canvassed in the assessment of the previous survey. These included the need to recognise regional cultural variation, to help in designing culturally appropriate policies, to assist in formulating policies on cultural maintenance, and to help in identifying cultural issues or practices that may stand in the way of the achievement of policy goals.

    Some insight into the thinking relating to...

  29. 21. Language
    (pp. 279-290)
    Inge Kral and Frances Morphy

    It is well understood that Australia’s Indigenous languages are endangered, with even the strongest languages having only some few thousand speakers (McConvell & Thieberger 2003; Schmidt 1990). The NATSISS can provide a process whereby data on language use and rates of language loss are gathered as evidence for the implementation and support of language maintenance programs. In this paper, we discuss the application of NATSISS as such an instrument.

    This paper is divided into three main sections. In the first section, the questions on language that were asked in the 2002 NATSISS are discussed. Then the 2002 NATSISS evidence on...

  30. 22. Torres Strait Islanders and the national survey model
    (pp. 291-298)
    Bill Arthur and John Hughes

    This is the fourth event related to the NATSISS-type surveys that I have participated in. The three others have been a pre-NATSIS workshop in 1992 (Arthur 1992), a post-NATSIS workshop in 1996 (Arthur 1996) and a publication prepared by me and published jointly by the ABS in 1997 (ABS/CAEPR 1997).¹ That previous work followed my principal brief at the CAEPR which was to increase the commitment to provide policy-relevant data and information on Torres Strait Islanders (Islanders). In this role, much of what I said in the former work noted first that Islanders were not generally given much priority in...

  31. 23. Social justice and human rights: using Indigenous socioeconomic data in policy development
    (pp. 299-310)
    Tom Calma

    The perspective that I intend to bring to this discussion is a human rights one. I want to reflect on the importance and utility of Indigenous socioeconomic data in contributing to improved enjoyment of human rights by Indigenous peoples in Australia.

    Generally speaking, in Australia we have not converted our international human rights obligations into domestic law and practice very well. This is particularly the case in relation to economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to health, housing, education and so forth. As a result, human rights standards do not enjoy prominence as a tool in planning...

  32. 24. Influencing Indigenous policy making with statistics
    (pp. 311-320)
    Jon Altman and Boyd Hunter

    Providing a brief concluding chapter to a very comprehensive and data-rich volume is a challenging task. This also proved to be the case in making some concluding comments to the conference on which this volume is based. In this final chapter, we seek to combine comments made in summing up the conference with some broad-brush attempts to encapsulate key issues that have been raised, both by conference delegates and by readers when this volume was peer reviewed.

    Tim Rowse raises the role of theory in scholarly analysis in his opening chapter. Without a clear theoretical framework or disciplinary perspective it...

  33. References
    (pp. 321-340)
  34. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 341-350)
  35. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-352)