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Social Indicators for Aboriginal Governance

Social Indicators for Aboriginal Governance: Insights from the Thamarrurr Region, Northern Territory

J. Taylor
Volume: CAEPR Monograph No. 24
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Social Indicators for Aboriginal Governance
    Book Description:

    John Taylor is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, The Australian National University, Canberra. The Council of Australian Governments is trialing Indigenous Community Coordination Pilot schemes around the country aimed at fostering whole-of-government approaches to service delivery and development. A notable example is in the Thamarrurr region of the Northern Territory focused on the Aboriginal town of Wadeye and its hinterland. Under new governance arrangements the Thamarrurr Regional Council has identified a need to profile existing social and economic conditions as a basis for its current planning and future evaluation. This study provides an innovative template for such profiling. With substantial input from local people it uncovers a region of high population growth with major challenges in areas of employment, income, education and training, housing and infrastructure, health status and criminal justice. It yields a baseline of available data to assist discussions of regional needs, aspirations and development capacities. By using population projections, it shifts government and community thinking away from reactive responses to historic need, to a more pro-active future-oriented approach to development. The Thamarrurr people view this document as an important planning tool for their people. Their aim is to have the same access to services and opportunities as other Australians. “Give every kid a chance” is their catch cry. This study lays out what is required from governments and the community to achieve that vision.  

    eISBN: 978-1-920942-12-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. v-vi)

    Thamarrurr is the cornerstone of our society. It is our way of working together, cooperating with each other, and it is also the basis of our governance system.

    In the early days we looked after our families, our clans and our people through Thamarrurr. We arranged ceremonies, marriages, sorted out tribal disputes and many other things. We were people living as a nation. People living our own life.

    Suddenly, in the 1930s, white people, traders, prospectors and others came on to people’s country. We started to fight back because they were coming on to our land. The government said that...

  4. List of figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. List of tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  8. 1. Background and conceptual issues
    (pp. 1-16)

    Writing in 1971 on the cusp of change from the assimilationist years of welfare administration to the era of Indigenous self-management, Charles Rowley (1971a: 362–4) described the myriad mission and government settlements across remote Australia as instrumental in frustrating urbanisation. In his view, these settlements functioned as ‘holding institutions’ serving to prevent the inevitable migration of Aboriginal people to towns and cities (Rowley 1971b: 84). With the benefit of more than 30 years hindsight, during which time Indigenous people have been free from the institutional and legislative shackles that governed their place of residence, Rowley’s proposition is only partially...

  9. 2. Demography of the Thamarrurr region
    (pp. 17-38)

    The coastal lowlands to the south-west of Darwin facing the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf are rich in biodiversity based on a range of plant and animal ecosystems which include eroded plateaus, open woodlands, black soil plains, creeks, rivers, flood plains, fringing monsoon forests, coastal mangroves, beaches, and seas. The fact that these lands have high carrying capacity for subsistence living is demonstrated by the existence of six Indigenous languages from three language groups (Walsh 1990) and 20 clan estates within the relatively small area of the Thamarrurr region (approximately 105 km long by 75 km wide). Socially and economically, the area...

  10. 3. The regional labour market
    (pp. 39-54)

    As with most Aboriginal settlements in north Australia, Port Keats (now Wadeye), was not established with an economic base, nor has it subsequently acquired one, at least not in a manner that is currently sustainable beyond the provisions of the welfare state and associated social services. While the regional labour market has grown in both size and complexity in recent decades as the mission influence has receded and government and market forces have encroached it can be argued that Aboriginal labour force participation has declined. In effect, the past 30 years in this region have witnessed a shift in Aboriginal...

  11. 4. Income from employment and welfare
    (pp. 55-58)

    Residents of the Thamarrurr region have a number of potential sources of cash income. These range from wage labour in CDEP or in other more mainstream forms of work, unemployment benefit and other benefit payments from Centrelink, agreed payments to traditional land owners, and private income from the sale of art and craft works. Set against these, of course, are routine deductions from income, such as those for house rent and power charges, much of which is now debited at source via Bpay.

    Accurate data on income levels, and employment and non-employment sources of income, are notoriously difficult to obtain...

  12. 5. Education and training
    (pp. 59-68)

    There are two broad perspectives against which the purpose and performance of education in the region may be assessed. The first is culturally grounded and considers what Aboriginal people want from education. According to one analyst, with reference to Arnhem Land communities, many Aboriginal people selectively procure aspects of Western education and ignore others that do not suit their needs or aspirations (Schwab 1998). Consequently, what is desired from education in general, and from schools in particular, can be very different to what these western institutions expect. These desires have been conceptualised in terms of the acquisition of core competencies...

  13. 6. Housing and infrastructure
    (pp. 69-76)

    One of the priority issues identified by the people of Thamarrurr under the regional ICCP agreement is housing and construction. Under the agreement, the goal of raising housing standards in the region to acceptable levels is vested in the housing and construction working group which has a firm basis for its activities in the form of the Thamarrurr Region Business Plan for Community Housing 2002–2006 (TRBP). As a long term operational plan, this has as its goal the achievement of average occupancy rates of seven persons per dwelling, although in the context of environmental health standards and the need...

  14. 7. Health status
    (pp. 77-92)

    Information on the health status of Aboriginal people is gathered as a matter of course in the day-to-day operation of the health care system in the Northern Territory. Information at the regional level, as in the case of Thamarrurr, is not routinely available in the public domain. Consequently, data on the current health status of the Thamarrurr population was compiled, summarised, and made available by the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services (NTDHCS) in their role as a partner to the ICCP trial, and in response to a special request on behalf of the Thamarrurr Council.

    As is...

  15. 8. Regional involvement in the criminal justice system
    (pp. 93-96)

    According to the 1994 NATSIS, an estimated 19 per cent of Aboriginal people aged 13 years and over in the Jabiru ATSIC Region had been arrested by police in the previous five years (ABS 1996a: 56). This was very close to the average of 20 per cent reported for the Northern Territory as a whole. At the same time, according to the Wadeye Community Youth Support Management Group, Wadeye has the highest per capita juvenile offending rate in the Northern Territory with young people from Wadeye constituting a significant proportion of all those in detention. Clearly, interaction with the police,...

  16. 9. Implications for regional planning
    (pp. 97-106)

    The purpose of this analysis has been to portray the social and economic status of the population resident within the Thamarrurr Regional Council area at the commencement of initiatives resulting from new arrangements for regional governance. The value of such a profile is twofold. First, it assists in providing a quantum to discussions of need, aspirations, and regional development capacities. Second, it creates a benchmark against which the impact of any developmental decisions and future actions associated with them may be measured. Thus, the content of this report provides the basis for a dialogue in regional planning, as well as...

  17. References
    (pp. 107-114)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 115-116)