The comparative economic status of Torres Strait Islanders in Torres Strait and mainland Australia

Author/editor: Arthur, W, Taylor, J
Year published: 1994
Issue no.: 72


A large proportion of Torres Strait Islanders live on the Australian mainland, away from Torres Strait. This has created two different social and economic environments for the population. In the Strait and on the tip of Cape York, Islanders live mainly in small communities, have limited job opportunities and depend largely on employment creation schemes. By comparison, Islanders on the mainland are dispersed throughout the general population in urban centres and have access to a range of employment and other opportunities. This paper compares the economic status of Islanders in these two settings with that of all Australians.

Employment and unemployment statistics indicate that the labour force status of Islanders in the Strait is superior to that of Islanders on the mainland. However, it is known that this is largely due to the employment effects of the CDEP scheme. If CDEP scheme participants in the Strait are discounted from census employment statistics then it can be concluded that Islanders on the mainland have a higher economic status than those living in the Strait. Islanders in the Strait also have small average incomes and low educational status compared with Islanders living elsewhere. Overall, Islanders on the mainland occupy a position of intermediate economic status between their counterparts in the Strait and that of Australians in general. This ranking of economic status implies that the degree of effort made to enhance the economic position of Torres Strait Islanders generally must be doubled for those residing in the Torres Strait Regional Authority area.

This paper considers the determinants of employment income for Indigenous Australians compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Ordinary Least Square (OLS) regression techniques are applied to 1991 Census data to consider the question: does the lower income of these Indigenous people reflect differences in their factor endowments (like education) rewarded in the labour market, or are they rewarded differently for the same set of endowments than are non-Indigenous Australians. The results show that the main source of lower incomes for Indigenous Australians was their smaller endowment of human capital characteristics. The paper concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of these results.

ISBN: 0731517466

ISSN:1036 1774

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