4179.3 - National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Torres Strait Islanders, Queensland, 1994  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/05/1997  Ceased
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National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Torres Strait Islanders, Queensland, is one of a series of statistical publications, which present results from the first nationwide survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people conducted in 1994. The purpose of these publications is to provide detailed information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They provide a range of information to assist governments and non-government agencies to plan programs and services to meet the needs of Indigenous people.

The survey was conducted as a part of the Government's response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It was the paucity of statistical information about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population which led to recommendation 49 of the Royal Commission:

That proposals for a special national survey covering a range of social, demographic, health and economic characteristics of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population with full Aboriginal participation at all levels be supported.

In response to this recommendation, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from April to July 1994. A range of results from this survey were published beginning with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Detailed Findings (4190.0). Other publications from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey include seven State publications National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (4190.1–7), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: ATSIC Regional Statistics (4196.00.001–036), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Australia's Indigenous Youth (4197.0), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Employment Outcomes for Indigenous Australians (4199.0), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Health of Indigenous Australians (4395.0), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey: Housing Characteristics and Conditions (4187.0).

This publication contains a range of statistics on family and culture; health; education and training; employment and income; and law and justice, as they relate to persons of Torres Strait Islander origin in Queensland.

      Brian Doyle
      Australian Bureau of Statistics
        Professor Jon Altman
        Regional Director
        Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR)
        The Australian National University


For a variety of social and economic reasons, since the Second World War, Torres Strait Islanders (Islanders) have moved from the Torres Strait (Strait) to the Australian mainland where it is believed that the majority of them now live. Although at one level all Islanders are part of a single cultural grouping, in many respects socially, politically and economically they can be said to form two separate populations, one in the Strait and the other on the mainland. This has been recognised to a degree by the formation of different bodies to be responsible for their policies, namely the Torres Strait Regional Authority (responsible for the Strait), and the Office of Torres Strait Islander Affairs within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in Canberra, (responsible for the mainland).

The following chapters describe and analyse the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS) data for these two Islander populations, discussing their differences and similarities. For reasons outlined in the Technical Note, the statistics and discussion in this publication are restricted to Islanders living in Queensland. Those persons referred to as living in the Strait are within the Torres Strait Regional Authority's area (TSRA). The other group, referred to as mainlanders, are within the seven ATSIC regions on the mainland of Queensland (chapter 2).

Generally, Islanders have a strong sense of culture and identity (chapter 3). They state that they identify with clans or language groups, recognise a homeland, and attend cultural activities more than the national Indigenous average. As we would expect, these cultural markers are present in the Strait but they are also present on the mainland and tend to confirm other sources which stress that Islanders on the mainland retain a strong sense of culture and identity (Beckett 1987). This point is reinforced by the high proportion of mainlanders who still view the Strait as their homeland and who feel they can live there if they wish.

On the other hand, at a social and economic level, it is possible to see some differences between the two populations which reflect their different social and economic environments.

Islanders on the mainland tend to be more highly educated than those in the Strait, have a higher command of English, are more interested in doing further study and experience fewer difficulties engaging in further study (chapters 3 and 5). Also, mainlanders are more likely to be in full-time employment and to be unemployed for shorter periods than those in the Strait (chapter 6). These results appear to reflect the different circumstances in the Strait and on the mainland. First, there are relatively more educational facilities on the mainland, but also the labour market there will demand greater levels of education and qualifications. The Strait's labour market is heavily influenced by the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, which appears to be less discriminating regarding educational requirements, whereas the labour market on the mainland is mainstream and this seems more selective of skills in English (chapter 6). Islander women seem to perform better in the education system than men. For instance, women are more likely to stay at school longer and to have a post-school qualification than Islander men, particularly on the mainland. On the other hand, as within the national Indigenous population, Islander males perform better in the labour force than Islander females. It is worth noting that one of the difficulties experienced by mainlanders looking for work is access to child-care services, and this may influence the labour force status of Islander women.

Despite the generally higher level of education and post-school qualifications found on the mainland, Islanders in the Strait are more involved in school decision-making, no doubt reflecting the more community-oriented schooling there (chapter 5).

Other socioeconomic differences are also reflected in the NATSIS results. Earlier research has pointed out that job opportunities are limited in the Strait (Arthur 1994) and this is borne out by the survey data which show that a higher proportion of unemployed Islanders feel that there are simply no jobs available for them there (chapter 6). On the other hand, the results also show that Islanders in the Strait do more fishing and gardening than do those on the mainland; a direct indicator of the greater access to natural resources there than on the mainland (Arthur & Taylor 1994). However, despite some of these differences, personal median incomes in the Strait are very similar to those on the mainland, and these in turn are of the same magnitude as those of the national Indigenous average.

Generally, the data suggest that Islanders, particularly those in the Strait are highly aware of health issues. Although a high percentage of Islanders in the Strait consider themselves to be in good health, the majority are either overweight or obese (chapter 4). Several health concerns were perceived as being problematic. In the Strait, diabetes was the most common of these, whereas on the mainland it was alcohol. In all cases, alcohol emerges as the most commonly reported perceived substance problem, marijuana being the second most commonly reported. It is notable that Islanders' perception of glue and petrol sniffing as a problem, is similar to the national average for Indigenous people.

Generally, Islanders have less contact with the police and the legal system than the national Indigenous average. However, mainlanders are more likely to have some contact than are those in the Strait (chapter 7). Mainlanders also have a more negative perception of the police than Islanders in the Strait. These findings may be associated with mainlanders living in urban and so possibly more stressful situations than people in the Strait. Furthermore, mainlanders' perceptions of the police may be affected by their more limited access to Indigenous police services.