Over the past decade, Australian Governments have promoted business activity by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through facilitating links with the private sector, providing financial assistance (e.g. low cost loans), fostering skills development and offering mentoring opportunities(footnote 1) . Business activity, along with other employment strategies, are seen as ways of improving self-sufficiency and reducing reliance on government welfare.
Self-employment has been identified as one of the few available indicators of Indigenous business activity. Being self-employed can provide substantial economic benefit and autonomy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Economic benefits have additional flow-on effects such as a greater sense of wellbeing and community cohesion(footnote 2) . However, there are barriers that limit the number of Indigenous people who become self-employed. These include a relative lack of education and training in general (and specifically in business management), as well as limited access to finance, and racial and gender discrimination(footnote 3) . Nevertheless, 6,600 Indigenous people were counted as being self-employed in the 2006 Census of Population and Housing.
In this article, self-employed people are defined as those who own an unincorporated or incorporated business. These businesses may or may not employ staff. Employees are people who are employed, but do not own a business.
Information from the 2006 Census of Population and Housing is used in this snapshot. In the Census, employed people are classified as self-employed, as employees or as contributing family workers, on the basis of their main job.
The characteristics of self-employed Indigenous people aged 15-64 years presented in this article include industry type, occupation, income and education level. Where relevant, the circumstances of self-employed Indigenous people have been compared with those for Indigenous employees, and with non-Indigenous self-employed people.
In the 2006 Census, 121,500 Indigenous people aged 15-64 years (45%) indicated they were employed and 119,600 of them reported their employment type. Of the latter, 6,600 were self-employed, a further 112,000 were employees (including 14,000 people who identified they were participants in the Community Development Employment Projects program) and 1,000 were contributing family workers. The self-employment rate among Indigenous people aged 15-64 years was 6%; around one-third the self-employment rate for non-Indigenous people in this age range (16%).
In this article, the term 'self-employment rate' refers to the number of self-employed people as a proportion of all employed people.
1 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009, http://www.deewr.gov.au/Indigenous/Employment/Pages/default.aspx <back
2 Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2007, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007, Productivity Commission, Canberra. <back
3 Biddle, N, Taylor, J and Yap, M 2008, Indigenous Participation in Regional Labour Markets, 2001-06, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Discussion Paper No 288, Canberra. <back