John Taylor is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, The Australian National University, Canberra.
The Northern East Kimberley region of Western Australia is poised at a development crossroads with decisions pending on the extension or closure of Argyle Diamond Mine, and the ever-present prospect of agricultural expansion based on Ord Stage II. This region also has a major economic development problem—half of its adult population (almost all Aboriginal) is highly dependent on welfare, mostly outside the mainstream labour market, and ill-equipped to engage it.
Aboriginal people are major stakeholders in the region as its customary owners and most permanent residents. Whatever decisions are made about future development, it is essential that they bring about improvements in Aboriginal participation, not least because of the high opportunity cost to Aboriginal people and to government of failing to do so.
This study profiles social and economic conditions in the region, focusing on the Aboriginal population. It examines demography, the labour market, income, education and training, housing and infrastructure, health status, and regional involvement in the criminal justice system. It provides a quantum to discussions of need, aspirations and regional development capacities, as well as a benchmark against which the impact of developmental actions may be assessed.