The Economic Status of Indigenous Australians

The Economic Status of Indigenous Australians Report

CAEPR Discussion Paper

  • Author(s): Altman, J.
  • Published: 2000
  • Publisher: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences, Australian National University

Abstract: This paper examines the economic status of Indigenous Australians as a self-identifying group. It is an early version of an entry to the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of the Australian People, to be published in 2001. Indigenous Australians today face a diversity of economic circumstances. At one end of a spectrum are those residing in urban settings and engaging with the market economy, with varying degrees of success, like other Australians. At the other end are those who reside in remote parts of Australia and maintain important aspects of the Indigenous economy. Despite this heterogeneity, the vast majority of Indigenous people (73 per cent) reside either in towns or in cities, with the remaining 27 per cent residing in small Indigenous towns (so defined because the majority of the population is Indigenous), on pastoral stations or at outstations. It can be argued that nowhere are the differences between Indigenous institutions and those of the colonisers of Australia more marked than in the economic system. Measures of economic status are primarily statistical and based on the social indicator approach. The social indicators utilised in this paper provide data that differentiates Indigenous from non-Indigenous Australians in relation to employment, income, housing, education and health status. These measures of wellbeing show that, as a group, Indigenous people have the lowest economic status of all Australians, without any qualification. A broadly related set of factors can explain Indigenous economic marginality: historical exclusion from the mainstream provisions of the Australian welfare state and associated legacies; structural factors such as population structure and location of residence; cultural factors such as differing priorities and absence of labour migration; and demand side issues such as discrimination. The variable interplay of all these factors explains in large part the diversity of circumstances of Indigenous Australians today.

Notes: ISSN: 1036 1774 ISBN: 07315 2628 7

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Suggested Citation
Altman, J., 2000, The Economic Status of Indigenous Australians, Report, viewed 10 August 2022,

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