Australian society and indigenous disadvantage

Population and language

Population

It is estimated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 2.5% of the Australian resident population.

In 2011, there were 548,370 people identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin and counted in the Census.

  • 90% identified as Aboriginal peoples
  • 6% identified as Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • 4% identified as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Torres Strait Islanders accounted for 6.4% of the Indigenous population and 0.1% of the total Australian population.

ABS 2011 Census

Language

Prior to the colonisation of Australia, it is estimated there were 250 distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s languages (incorporating 600 dialects). According to the National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005, most of the original languages are no longer spoken. Today only 18 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are spoken by all generations of people within a given language group, and even these languages are endangered.15 In 2008, nationally, 11% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language as their main language at home. In remote areas this figure rose to 42%.16

 

 

Household composition

In the 2011 Census, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were more likely than other households to be family households (81% compared with 71%) and less likely to be lone person households (14% compared with 25%). Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households, 6% were multiple family households, compared with 2% of other households.

HOUSEHOLD COMPOSITION(a)(b)

Graph shows majority of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other households were one family households (75% and 70% respectively).


One family households

Of all one family households, more than one-third (35%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were couples with dependent children, similar to the proportion of other households (37%). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander one family households were more than three times as likely as other one family households to be one-parent families with dependent children (29% compared with 9%) and were less likely to be families without dependent children (36% compared with 54%).

ONE FAMILY HOUSEHOLDS(a)(b)


Graph shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander one family households were more likely than other one family households to have dependent children and less likely to have no dependent children.

Family violence

It can be difficult to estimate the incidence of violence against women in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities due to under-reporting. However the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009 report indicated:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were 35 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised due to family-violence related assaults84
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experienced family violence at a rate of 45 per 1000 population, compared to 3.3 per 1000 population for non-Indigenous women.85

In 2009–10, 70.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care were placed according to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, which has been endorsed in legislation or policy in all Australian states and territories.

The Principle states that it is preferable for a child to be placed with:

  • their extended family
  • the child’s Indigenous community
  • other Indigenous people.88

A shortage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers means that states and territories often fail to place
children in accordance with the Principle. Research indicates that the recruitment of appropriate Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander carers is restricted by the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children compared to adults; and the reluctance of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
to be associated with the ‘welfare’ system.89

 

Education overview

In the 2011 Census:

  • 56% of 3 to 5 year old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attended pre-school or primary school, up from 53% in the 2006 Census
  • 61% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 17 years were attending secondary school, up from 53% in 2006
  • more than one in three (37%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over had attained Year 12 or equivalent and/or Certificate II or higher qualification, up from 30% in 2006.


Education attendance

In the 2011 Census, 56% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 3 to 5 years attended pre-school or primary school compared with 63% of non-Indigenous children of the same age. Of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 6 to 14 years, 85% attended primary or secondary school compared with 93% of non-Indigenous children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 17 years were also less likely to be attending secondary school than non-Indigenous people (61% compared with 81%).

ATTENDANCE AT PRE-SCHOOL, PRIMARY OR SECONDARY SCHOOL(a)(b)

Graph shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 3 to 5 years, 6 to 14 years and 15 to 17 years are less likely to be enrolled in pre-school, primary or secondary school than non-Indigenous people.



Highest year of school compelted


In the 2011 Census, one-quarter (25%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported Year 12 or equivalent as the highest year of school completed, compared with about half (52%) of non-Indigenous people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over who were not attending secondary school were more likely than non-Indigenous people to report Year 10 or equivalent as the highest year of school completed (29% compared with 22%). One-quarter (25%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported their highest year of school completed as Year 9 or equivalent or below, almost double the proportion of non-Indigenous people (13%).

HIGHEST YEAR OF SCHOOL COMPLETED(a)(b)
Graph shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to report Year 10 or below as the highest year of school completed than non-Indigenous people and less likely to report Year 12.

 

 

 

Health

(a) Life expectancy

In 2005–2007, the average life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was approximately 10–11 years less than for non-Indigenous Australians.21 For men, life expectancy is estimated to be 67.2
years (compared to 78.7 for non-Indigenous men) and for women 72.9 years (compared to 82.6 for non-
Indigenous women).22

Mortality rates

Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, between 1997–99 and 2007–09:

  • the mortality rate for infants (less than 1 year old) improved but continues to be 1.6 to 3 times the
    rate for non-Indigenous infants
  • mortality rates for children aged 1–4 years remained constant but also continue to be 1.8 to
    3.8 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.25

Long term health conditions and disability

Overall, half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged over 15 have a disability or long term
health condition.31

In comparison to non-Indigenous Australians Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults continue to experience:

  • ten times the rate of kidney disease32
  • three times the rate of diabetes, asthma and heart
    disease33
  • 1.6 times the rate of circulatory problems34
  • twice the rates of profound or severe core activity
    restrictions.35

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in nonremote areas are also 50% more likely to have a physical
disability, and three times as likely to have an intellectual disability, than non-Indigenous Australians.36

(f) Mental health

In 2008, approximately one third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reported experiencing high or
very high levels of psychological distress. People with a disability or long-term health condition, victims of
violence and those who experienced discrimination were more likely to suffer from psychological distress.37
Recent studies show that despite having poor quality of life indicators, 72% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander peoples aged 15 years and over-reported being a happy person all or most of the time.38 Those in remote areas reported greater levels of happiness (78%) than people in more urbanised areas (71%).39

(g) Children

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (0–4 years old) are hospitalised for respiratory diseases at almost
twice the rate of non-Indigenous children.40 In 2008, an estimated 7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander children (0–14 years) experienced eye or sight problems and 9% had ear or hearing problems.41

Employment

In the 2011 Census, about two in five (42%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed (employment to population ratio), compared with about three in five non-Indigenous people (61%). A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (45%) were employed than females (39%).

Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were employed:

  • 92% were employees, 6% worked in their own business and 1% were contributing family workers
  • 75% were employed in the private sector and 23% worked in the public sector
  • 59% worked full-time hours and 32% worked part-time hours
  • 19% reported their highest level of education was Year 10 or equivalent and a further 17% had completed Year 12 or equivalent
  • 38% had a non-school qualification
  • 18% were employed as labourers and 17% as community and personal service workers, while professionals, clerical and administrative workers and technicians and trade workers each accounted for 13% of employees.

There were 4,800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over identified as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) participants in the 2011 Census. Two-thirds (66%) of CDEP participants reported working part-time hours, compared with one-third (32%) of all employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Almost one-quarter (24%) of CDEP participants had a non-school qualification.

Unemployment

The unemployment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over in the 2011 Census was 17%. The unemployment rate for males (18%) was higher than for females (16%). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were about three times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be unemployed (17% compared with 5%).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 19 years recorded the highest unemployment rate (31%). A similar pattern was observed for the non-Indigenous population, where those aged 15 to 19 years also had the highest unemployment rate (16%). The unemployment rate for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people was progressively lower in the older age groups, dropping to 8% and 4% respectively for people aged 55 to 64 years.

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE(a)

Graph shows unemployment rates for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people are highest for persons aged 15 to 19 years and decline progressively for older age groups.



Voluntary work

In the 2011 Census, 13% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported that they had done voluntary work for an organisation or group in the previous 12 months, compared with 19% of non-Indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females were more likely than males to have volunteered (14% compared with 12%).

Housing tenure

In the 2011 Census, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were more likely to rent their home (59%) than own their home with a mortgage (25%) or own their home outright (11%). In comparison, other households were more likely to own their home (68%) than rent (29%). The median monthly housing loan repayment was $1,647 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households that owned their home with a mortgage, compared with $1,800 for non-Indigenous households.

HOUSING TENURE(a)

Graph shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were more likely than other households to rent than own a home.


About twice as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households rented their homes as other households (59% compared with 29%). Of those households that rented, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were less likely than other households to rent from a real estate agent (35% compared with 55%) and three times more likely to rent from state or territory housing authorities (36% compared with 12%). The median weekly rent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households was $195, while the median weekly rent for non-Indigenous households was $290.

RENTERS(a)(b)

Graph shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were less likely than other households to rent from a real estate agent and three times more likely to rent from state or territory housing authorities.

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Adult imprisonment

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples comprised 26% of the full time adult prison population in Australia
in 2010.65 The national imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults is 14 times higher than
for non-Indigenous adults.66

Western Australia has the highest number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in prison per capita, at
3328.7 per 100 000 in 2009.67

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately represented at the less serious end of
the scale in convicted offences. In 2010:

  • the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were imprisoned for ‘acts intended to cause injury’ (32.9%). Comparatively, 15% of non-Indigenous prisoners were incarcerated for this type of offence.68
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners also had higher proportions of unlawful entry offences (14.8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, compared to 10.2% of non-
    Indigenous prisoners).69

By comparison, non-Indigenous prisoners were more likely to be convicted of:

  • homicide (10.7% of non-Indigenous prisoner offences, compared to 6.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners)
  • sexual assault (13.2% of non-Indigenous prisoner offences, compared to 10.4% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners)
  • illicit drug offences (13.1% of non-Indigenous prisoner offences, compared to 1.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners).70

Incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

In 2009, 8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners were women. Although there are fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in custody than men, they are the fastest growing prison population
and are severely over-represented.71

While incarceration rates for women generally have increased more rapidly than men over the past decade,
the increase in imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women has been much greater over
the period compared to the increase in rates of non- Indigenous female prisoners.72 The imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women increased by 34% between 2002 and 2006, while the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men increased by 22%.73

Juvenile detention

In 2008, an estimated 54% of young people in juvenile detention were from an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait
Islander background.74 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are 23 times more likely to end
up in juvenile detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts.75 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles (aged
between 10 and 17 years) and young adults (aged between 18 and 24 years) are more likely to be incarcerated today than at any other time since the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody final report (RCIADIC) in 1991.76

The final report of the Royal Commission identified poor relations with police, alcohol and substance abuse, deficient education, unemployment, inadequate housing and entrenched poverty, as factors contributing to the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in detention.

Twenty years later, these same factors have been identified as leading to the continued (and increased)
over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice
system.77

Deaths in custody

Of the 86 people who died in custody in 2008 (54 in prison and 32 in police custody), 13 were Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples (15%).78 The Australian Institute of Criminology prepares these
figures using the definition in the text box opposite – derived from the recommendations of RCIADIC – to determine whether a case can be deemed a death in custody.79

Although the Australian Institute of Criminology has found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
are no more likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous people,80 their over-representation in the criminal justice
system has led to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples making up a significant number of deaths in
custody.