Australia is the largest landmass in Oceania. This place was once home to 750,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who made up more than 500 indigenous groups. Today, Australia’s total population is just over 25 million. But, only approximately 3 percent of the population consists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Overall, Australia’s indigenous population faces widespread disparity in comparison to its non-indigenous counterpart. Below are ten facts about disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous population.
- Socioeconomic disadvantages – Socioeconomic disadvantages contribute to developmental vulnerability among indigenous children. In 2015, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that 42 percent of Indigenous children in their first year of full-time schooling was considered developmentally vulnerable in one or more of the five key areas of early childhood development. These key areas are physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge. In comparison, 21 percent of non-indigenous children were considered developmentally vulnerable.
- Poor test performance – Indigenous students have lower literacy and numeracy scores than their counterparts. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieve lower test scores throughout primary and secondary schooling on the National Assessment Program than their non-Indigenous peers. This certainly highlights educational disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous population. The farther away indigenous children live from cities and regional areas, the lower the test scores.
- Negative over-representation –There is over-representation of the indigenous population in the child-protection and justice systems. Indigenous children between the ages of 10 and 17 make up less than 6 percent of the population within that age range. However, 48 percent of those under youth justice supervision and 59 percent of those in youth detention centers are indigenous youths. Indicators of prior familial involvement with the criminal justice system, such as unemployment, can increase the chances of an indigenous child going into one of these two systems.
- Indigenous adults in the justice system – The adult justice system over-represents Indigenous individuals. For instance, 27 percent of the prison population in Australia consists of indigenous peoples, but only contribute to 3 percent of Australia’s total population. Socioeconomic factors and institutional discrimination are key factors that contribute to more 25 percent in the adult justice system being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent.
- High unemployment and low wages – Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait populations face higher rates of unemployment and lower wages. In fact, just under 50 percent of Australia’s indigenous population is employed. However, over 70 percent of the non-indigenous population is employed. Lower income is associated with poor health, crime and violence, poor education and substance abuse. Consequently, these associations reflect a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities.
- Increased risk of poor health – Indigenous populations are more likely to have poor health than their non-indigenous counterpart. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are approximately two times more likely to have a high risk of complications such as long-term hearing problems, passing away before the age of 50, being born underweight, experiencing high levels of psychological distress or having a disability or long-term health condition.
- Poor living conditions – There are regional disparities affecting Australia’s indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands who live in remote areas are more likely to live in overcrowded communities or having substandard living accommodations. This is compared to those who live in major cities or regional areas.
- Beneficial cultural impacts – Although there are detrimental factors with living removed from cities and regional areas, indigenous communities living remotely experience beneficial cultural and communal impacts. They are more likely to speak an indigenous language, identify with a specific clan or tribe, be involved with cultural events and ceremonies. In addition, they are less likely to abuse substances (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and less likely to experience homelessness.
- Closing the education gap – There has actually been an improvement in recent years to close the gap in education. For example, indigenous individuals between the ages of 20 and 24 with a 12-year education (or equivalent) increased from 45 percent to 62 percent between the years of 2008 and 2015. Although the statistics for the non-indigenous population is higher at 86%, this is a great start at tackling educational disparity affecting Australia’s Indigenous population.
- NACCHO – The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization (NACCHO) is dedicated to representing Australia’s Indigenous population in regard to their needs and interests. The NACCHO’s main goals are to alleviate poverty, advance spirituality, provide constructive educational programs and deliver holistic and culturally appropriate health services to Aboriginal populations.
Though unfortunate, the history of Australia’s indigenous population includes foreign disease, massacres and violation of rights to their land. The present situation of educational, income and other types of disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous communities stems from the complex colonial history of the continent. Despite centuries of inequity, the Council of Australian Governments and other organizations have committed themselves to raise this marginalized group and decreasing disparity affecting Australia’s Indigenous population.
– Keeley Griego