Establishing trends in ATSIC regional council populations using census data: a cautionary note

Author/editor: Altman, JC, Gaminiratne, K
Year published: 1992
Issue no.: 20


Section 94(1) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 1989 requires regional councils to 'formulate and revise from time to time a regional plan for improving the economic, social and cultural status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents of the region'. Guidelines for the preparation of such regional plans require that councils compile a data base on the demographic composition of their council area and to consider how various social indicators may differ in the future, say in the next five years. While not explicitly stated, the guidelines thus require that some form of demographic trend analysis be undertaken for council areas so that meaningful projections of the population to be serviced may be calculated.

This paper seeks to point out that limitations in official census data for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders draw into question the validity of trend analysis based on time series data for regional council areas. Accordingly, the meaningful application of projection techniques to estimate future population profiles using existing census data is severely restricted. Among the difficulties encountered in reconstructing council area populations are, census boundary changes over time, changes in enumeration techniques and coverage, the problems posed by self-identification and associated population growth, and, in some cases, the difficulty of matching ATSIC regional council boundaries with census geography.

Following discussion of these problems, detailed figures showing changes in the size of the Aboriginal and Islander populations and labour force in each council area are presented using 1976 as the base year. As expected, geographic patterns of population and labour force change are difficult to discern and exact reasons for comparative growth or decline are impossible to determine. The paper concludes that reverse projections for regional council areas using 1991 Census data would provide a more reliable basis for establishing demographic trends.

Although not entirely adequate, these reconstructions for ATSIC regional councils are the only estimates of these populations that have been undertaken to date.

ISBN: 0 7315 1366 5

ISSN:1036 1774

Updated:  2 June 2009/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications