Indigenous socio-economic indicators

11 February 2008

John Gardiner-Garden
Social Policy Section


This Background Note offers a brief guide to statistical descriptions of Indigenous Australians socioeconomic situation. It looks first at the context of inputs and outcomes, then at works that offer overviews or summaries of Indigenous socioeconomic indicators, then at sources for most of the data that is used.


In recent years the Commonwealth Government has been committing more resources than ever before to the improvement of Indigenous circumstances (see John Gardiner-Garden, Commonwealth Indigenous-specific expenditure 1968 2006, Background Note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 8 August 2007), and has been attempting to reform mechanisms for social development and facilitate greater social inclusion. Nevertheless, the socioeconomic circumstance of many Indigenous Australians has remained dire. The estimated shortfall in the area of Indigenous housing has been estimated as $3.5 billion (extrapolating from an earlier ATSIC figure) and in health has been estimated by Oxfam Australia in Close the Gap: Solutions to the Indigenous Health Crisis facing Australia as between $350 to $500m per annum. It is also still the case that Indigenous Australians, by nearly any socioeconomic statistical measure, are worse off than non-Indigenous Australians.


The most comprehensive and recent overviews of available Indigenous socioeconomic indicators are:

Population figures
Indigenous households and families
Language and culture
Housing and homelessness
Indigenous peoples and criminal justice systems
Child protection

        Productivity Commission, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007 including the following:

This publication also has an overview.

Preliminaries and Introductory Chapters
Emergency Management
Community Services
Statistical Appendix

The data in this Indigenous Compendium are drawn from the Productivity Commission s annual Report on Government Services Provision. The 2008 Indigenous Compendium is currently being compiled and is due for publication in May 2008. Until the 2008 Compendium is published, the latest Indigenous information can be found within the larger 2008 Report on Government Services Provision interspersed between broader community data.

The data found in the above mentioned overviews is often not as current or comprehensive as the overviews titles might suggest, as the sources they are drawing upon (described below) all have limitations in this respect.

Source data

Some of the most recent, relevant and widely used sources of Indigenous socioeconomic data are produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS):

  • The ABS s five-yearly Census of Population and Housing offers the most comprehensive survey of the Indigenous population. Indigenous Profiles are now available for a wide range of geographic areas by going to the ABS site 2006 Census then click on Community Profile then either select tab State&City or type specific location then choose Indigenous Profile . These profiles cover key census characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons, families and dwellings and include comparisons with non-Indigenous people. Population-related Indigenous data from the 2006 Census has also been published in Population Distribution - Indigenous Australians, 2006 (ABS Cat. no. 4705.0).

The ABS also conducts, on a non-regular basis, three other surveys of relevance which have given rise to recent publications.

  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2002 (ABS Cat. no. 4714.0), is designed to enable analysis of the interrelationship of social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple disadvantage, that may be experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Unlike the census, however, it has not been repeated since 2002 and only surveys a relatively small number of Indigenous people.
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2004-5 (ABS Cat. no. 4715.0), is the largest health survey of Indigenous Australians conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). It was conducted in remote and non-remote areas throughout Australia and was designed to collect a range of information from Indigenous Australians about health related issues, including health status, risk factors and actions, and socioeconomic circumstances. Although considerably larger than the supplementary Indigenous samples taken in the 1995 and 2001 National Health Surveys, it is still a survey of only about one in 45 of the total Indigenous population.
  • The Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (CHINS) enumerated from March to June, 2006, collected information on the status of housing, infrastructure, education, health and other services available in discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia, as well as selected information on Indigenous organisations that provide rental housing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Information from this survey was summarised in Housing and Infrastructure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, Australia, 2006 (ABS Cat. no. 4710.0).

The ABS also periodically attempts to draw Indigenous-related information from its monthly Labour Force Survey:

The ABS has also worked in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to produce a series of publications which combine information from surveys such as those mentioned above with data from a wide range of administrative sources:

  • The Health and Welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2005 (ABS Cat. no. 4704.0) provides a comprehensive statistical overview, largely at the national level, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and welfare. In addition to a wide range of administrative data sources, the report uses results from the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. Among the topics included are: maternal and child health; risk factors; ill health; disability and ageing; mortality; and access to, and use of, services.

A final source of data is administrative data from the state education, housing and health systems. For example, the annual National Report to Parliament on Indigenous Education and Training is the main source of indicators for outcomes in all sectors of Indigenous education and training. Such administrative data can, however, be a couple of years behind public release date. For example, the latest of the above mentioned National Indigenous Education reports, recently released, offers 2005 data and the latest of these reports available on line is the one released in 2006 and offers 2004 data. Even when the data is not dated it can be regionally or thematically patchy. This same observation was made in Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007: Overview, a report that uses state and territory administrative data:

This Report contains further improvements in its scope and content. Nevertheless, and despite COAG s endorsement of the indicator framework, data in some critical areas remain poor. For example, we still do not have meaningful comparative data on school attendance, or on learning outcomes for Indigenous children according to the degree of regional remoteness. Hospitalisation data for Indigenous people in NSW and Victoria, the two largest states, are considered to be of insufficient quality to be published.

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