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Jigalong

December 9th, 2005

Last weekend, I went to a seminar organised by the Ngiya National Institute of Indigenous Law, Policy and Practice to discuss various issues relating to economic policy affecting indigenous communities. In doing some background research, one point (familiar to those who’ve followed the debate closely, but not to most others) cam through very clearly, particularly in this paper by John Taylor and Owen Stanley

Contrary to claims that the problems of indigenous communities have had buckets of money thrown at them with nothing to show for it, expenditure on services for indigenous communities is typically less (or no more than) what would be spent on comparable non-indigenous communities. In discussion over dinner, the case of Jigalong in WA was mentioned. This community has been trying for some time to set itself up a town council so that it can get funding comparable to nearby, mainly white, communities, notably Mt Newman. Today’s Oz has a prominent report on this.

A nice feature of the weekend was that quite a few participants turned out to be readers of this blog. Since my site counter broke a few months ago, I have no idea how many readers there are at present, but these days I seem to meet them wherever I go.

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  1. December 9th, 2005 at 18:55 | #1


    Contrary to claims that the problems of indigenous communities have had buckets of money thrown at them with nothing to show for it, expenditure on services for indigenous communities is typically less (or no more than) what would be spent on comparable non-indigenous communities.

    I wonder if the measure of state assistance to Aboriginals is calcualted on a per tempo basis and nets out tax constributions from benefit receipts. Aboriginals sure lose out on social security pensions, on account of their relatively low life expectancy.

    Having spent a bit of time in an Aboriginal settlement I can attest to the fact that these places are woefully under-resourced in public utilities, community services and the barest minimum of human comfort. Whether the appropriate answer to this is to turn each of them into a mini-Sweden or to push for regional consolidation is a question that Aboriginal’s have yet to make up their minds on.

    Still, the problems of remote Aboriginal communities are a minor part of the whole Aboriginal story. Bob Birrell and John Hurst explain:


    To think of them as the group most separate from the rest of Australian society is misleading. When we speak of Aborigines we think of people living in degraded circumstances in country towns or in the outback. Only a small minority live in rural or remote areas.

    Most live in urban settings. Nearly one-third of the Australian residents who self-identified as Aboriginal and/or as Torres Strait Islander persons in the 2001 census live in the capital cities. Their presence in the cities is well enough known, though not well enough remembered.

    One thing for sure is that funding for Aboriginal services should not be channelled through unaccountable, bureaucracies. The policy of self-determination championed by Nugget Coombs, patron saint of the Wets, was a disastrous one which has mainly served to enrich ambitious city-based part-Aboriginals at the expense the more laid back bush-based full-Aboriginals. Fortunately the newer generation of Aboriginal leaders are turning away from this.

    It would be an interesting find out exactly how federal and state funds are distributed throughout the Australian community, by stratification of class, race, gender and age. Perhaps Pr Q can tell us who are the winners and losers in the struggle to push ones snout into the public trough.

    The closest I thing to a proper study of this I have seen comes from NATSEM’s The Lifetime Distributional Impact of Government Health Outlays:


    While there have been many studies of the annual redistributional impact of government health outlays, there do not appear to have been any lifetime studies in Australia.

    This study uses a dynamic cohort microsimulation model to examine the redistributive impact of government health outlays over the lifetime. The methodology varies from that commonly used in cross-sectional studies by making the estimated value of hospital and medical services used dependent on gross family income, as well as age and gender.

    The results suggest that government health outlays lead to redistribution over the entire lifetime from the affluent to the poorer, from those who have relatively short lives to those who have longer lives, from those without children to those with larger families, and from men to women.

    It looks like the prime-timed, wealthier, childless, white male is the sucker who picks up the government tab every time. Sigh.

  2. December 11th, 2005 at 13:17 | #2

    It is quite remarkable that people regard outback communties as unsustainable and expensive. In terms of the per capita population they are dirt cheap – that’s why they’re so poor.
    Many of these communities understand that the most economically tradeable item they have is their art, and they produce this with remarkable skill, use of resources and endeavour. I’d commend to your attention the winner of this years NT Art prize, the Toyota constructed from spinifex by Katujuta women.
    Quite a few years ago, the artists in these communties tackled the problems of fashion, flooding the market etc. The diversity, quality and sustainability of traditional art is there for all to see.
    The governnment has hindered rather than helped this economic development by refusing to acknowledge traditional ownership and law with respect to Intellectual Property Rights.
    Anybody who cares to travel on the rangelands of Central Australia will be struck by the ecological devastation of the large Pastoral concerns. From a traditional point of view, the unfenced desert is a more economically desirable place to live.

  3. morganzola
    December 11th, 2005 at 21:06 | #3

    Good to see a couple of the old JCU crew cited by PrQ. Of course, there’s no place for someone like JT at JCU any more, and it’s a credit to Owen that he’s been able to hang in…

    Hi John (and John & Owen).

  4. Louis Hissink
    December 14th, 2005 at 22:41 | #4

    I recall 1979 when my field team had to help Bell Freight get the weekly freight into Jigalong as a result of rain.

    John Readhead was the manager then, and showed me the 1.5 Million dollars spent of Commonwealth funds at Jigalong.

    My cynicism with Aboriginal affairs started at that time.

  5. Ian Gould
    December 15th, 2005 at 08:20 | #5

    “It is quite remarkable that people regard outback communties as unsustainable and expensive.”

    It’s also remarkable that people keep making comments like “well, why do they live there?” when for many of the resdients of the communties the only alternatives they’d have direct experience of is the camps found in towns like Alice Sprigs.

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