By ROLF GERRITSEN
I am urging all whitefella Territorians to enter themselves in the census as Indigenous. Why? Because this identity question inadvertently disadvantages Aboriginal Territorians. I will explain.
Between the 1981 and 2011 censuses the Indigenous population of Australia grew by 185 per cent.
Some of this growth was natural population increase but the majority of it was people changing their identity to Indigenous on the census.
In Australia’s capital cities almost all (ca 90%) Indigenous-identifiers are married to non-Indigenous persons. Their children will presumably be Indigenous.
So the proportion of Indigenous persons living in the capital cities will increase relative to the number of Indigenous persons in the Northern Territory, especially in Sydney and Brisbane and their environs. This census will accelerate that trend.
Population growth and settlement redistribution of this order challenges the construct of ‘Indigenous disadvantage’ as it is embedded in GST general purpose grants to States and Territories (and applied in similarly deterministic ways to most Indigenous-specific policy and programs).
For the Northern Territory, and to some extent Western Australia and Queensland, where the absolute population living in very remote communities with poor socio-economic conditions is growing but whose share of the national Indigenous population is rapidly diminishing, the downstream effects are large and increasing.
As a direct result, around $110m (in 2014 figures) has been lost annually from the GST-derived grants to the Northern Territory.
The Territory’s ability to address issues of Indigenous wellbeing is diminishing with every percentage point shift for the Indigenous-identifying population residing in urban Australia. (I don’t want to get into a debate about what the NT does with its general purpose grant; I initiated that in 2006 and it has been actively prosecuted by Barry Hansen ever since. And Territory governments of both persuasions have much to be ashamed about in this regard).
So that is why I am urging this action – effectively civil disobedience because you are not allowed to knowingly fill in the census form incorrectly.
My life partner’s family is from Tasmania. She is one-thirty-second part Indigenous. Hitherto she has not identified as Indigenous. In Tasmania at the last census 20,000 people identified as Indigenous. But the Tasmanian Aboriginal organisations only recognise about 4,000 persons as Indigenous.
I am not arguing against being proud of your Indigenous ancestry, nor against people identifying as Indigenous. But these newly-identifying people are unlikely to be as disadvantaged as the Aboriginal people of the NT.
In fact this urban identification is mainly responsible for the improvements in the federal government’s “Closing the Gap” targets, which then takes pressure off that government to actually engage cooperatively rather than coercively with Aboriginal Territorians in helping them solve their problems.
So at this census my partner and our children will register as Indigenous. I will as well, even if I have no claim to that status (I am just a naturalised immigrant wog, born of Dutch parent in Indonesia, so not native to anywhere).
Hopefully if enough Territory whitefellas change their identification on the census form it will eventually force the Commonwealth to provide funding based on socio-economic disadvantage and not on identity.
Rolf Gerritsen PhD (ANU) is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Northern Institute.