The Economics of Indigenous Deprivation and Proposals for Reform

The Economics of Indigenous Deprivation and Proposals for Reform Report

Issue Analysis

  • Author(s): Helen Hughes
  • Published: 2005
  • Publisher: The Centre for Independent Studies

Abstract: For remote Indigenous communities to have productive employment opportunities with mainstream earnings, decent health outcomes, decent housing, and the same security and standards of living that other Australians enjoy, it is essential reform the separatist policies that have resulted in Indigenous deprivation and also provide better education. The 450,000 Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who make up Australia’s Indigenous population fall into two roughly equally sized groups: those in remote communities, fringe settlements and capital-city ghettos, and those integrated into the mainstream economy in capital cities and towns in regional Australia. As a result of separatist policies, those in the first group have been denied the economic opportunities of other Australians so that they are almost entirely dependent on welfare. In the midst of Australia’s plenty, their living standards – nutrition, housing, health, education and personal safety – are as deprived as those of some of the most disadvantaged people in the Third World. Indigenous Australians integrated into the mainstream economy, in contrast, have prospered, like other Australians, with the sustained growth of the last 30 years. Deprivation in remote communities, fringe settlements and ghettos does not result from a lack of federal, state and territory expenditures, but from the socialist remote communities’ experiment that has been central to Australian separatist policies for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders for 30 years. The uneconomic remote homelands movement and the absence of private property rights under native title legislation are at the core of deprivation. In addition, separate education, separate public housing, separate healthcare, separate governance and separate law have deprived Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of employment and decent incomes, making them welfare dependent and destroying their families and their communities. Substance abuse and violence, particularly against women and children, inevitably followed. Small elites have been able to appropriate the bulk of royalties and other rents accruing to land, and, together with non-Indigenous administrators and service providers, absorb a high proportion of the taxpayer transfers to Indigenous communities. Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are beginning to demand education, productive employment opportunities with mainstream earnings, decent health, decent housing and the same security that other Australians enjoy. Media exposures are awakening non-Indigenous public concern and reaching the world, to Australia’s shame. Reform of the key separatist policies – land legislation, education, housing, healthcare, governance and law – by Federal, State and Territory Governments is at last on the agenda. Private property rights in land are being discussed in the context of multiple land uses. Tracts of land could become national parks, standard long-term leases could facilitate commercial development, 99-year tradable leases in settlement areas could facilitate housing and there could also be provision for freehold land. A head-start programme for pre-schoolers has to be followed by independent ‘charter’ primary schools that teach a rigorous curriculum to enable children to move on to integrated secondary schools and thus to post-secondary and tertiary education. The urgent need for private housing is recognised. The case for one law for all has been made. A radical improvement of health services is being discussed. The mainstreaming of Indigenous governance is at last on the agenda. All these reforms are necessary to reduce welfare dependence. Uneconomic communities cannot simply be abolished or moved. This would not only cause great hardship, but merely shift Indigenous problems to fringe settlements and ghettos. If remote community dwellers are to be able to opt for a decent life, in addition to policy reform, very considerable investment will have to be made community by community in transitions that will deliver real education, good health services and private housing so that employment can replace welfare. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders will then be able to make the employment and lifestyle choices that are every Australian’s right. Only then can the future shape of remote communities emerge. The Commonwealth Government has embarked on transition measures, but present federal, state and territory agendas still largely consist of a torrent of words. A start has not been made on reforming the separatist polices that have created dysfunctional families and communities. Federal, state and territory public servants have not grasped the essentials of the reforms necessary. Fortunately service and other private sector organisations are beginning to engage in overcoming communitarian policies so that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders can get jobs, become self-employed, start their own businesses, save and invest, become home owners, access the health system with their Medicare cards in their hands like other Australians, and see their children lead productive and rewarding lives.

Notes: ISSN: 1440 6306

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Suggested Citation
Helen Hughes, 2005, The Economics of Indigenous Deprivation and Proposals for Reform, Report, viewed 05 December 2023,

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