1367.5 - Western Australian Statistical Indicators, Sep 2009  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/10/2009   
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Spotlight on the Pilbara released in September 2009, is the first in a series of community indicator frameworks being developed in partnership between the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the nine Western Australian Regional Development Commissions, and the Western Australian Department of Regional Development Lands. Released as a web based facility http://www.regionalspotlights.com.au, the Spotlight Project brings together a wealth of statistical information from a wide variety of sources across three broad themes: social, economic and environment. Information is presented at a range of geographical levels, from Development Commission region to Local Government Area (LGA). The statistical information provides a practical framework for use in regional strategic management and policy development.

This article presents a selection of data available in Spotlight on the Pilbara. It covers a variety of information across a diverse range of topics, highlighting points of interest.

The Pilbara region is situated in the North West of Western Australia and covers a total area of 507,896 square kilometres extending from the Indian Ocean to the Northern Territory border. The region comprises four local government authorities - the Shires of Ashburton, East Pilbara, Roebourne and the Town of Port Hedland.

Social indicators

Social indicators cover a wide range of topics under the general themes of community, education and training, health, and law and order. Community indicators include demographic characteristics such as population size and change, personal income and community participation.


In 2008 the Estimated Resident Population (ERP) of the Pilbara was 45,983. This comprised 18,407 people in Roebourne (S), 13,375 in Port Hedland (T), 7,597 in East Pilbara (S) and 6,604 in Ashburton (S).

The ERP of the Pilbara has steadily increased over time, from a low of 39,461 in 2001 to 45,983 in 2008. This increase is largely attributed to the increasing resource sector developments in the Pilbara. A comparison of the population of each LGA within the Pilbara shows that a large proportion of the region's growth has been in Roebourne (S), where the population has increased by 33.1% since 1996.  

Graph: Pilbara Population by Local Government Area

Data from the Census of Population and Housing shows that the sex ratio for the Pilbara was 145 males per 100 females in 2006, increasing from 128 males per 100 females in 1996. Across the Pilbara, the proportion of males between the ages of 20 and 59 was much higher than the state proportion (65.0% compared with 56.1% of males). This is largely due to the resources activity in the region attracting a larger proportion of working age persons, many of whom are employed in the male-dominated mining and construction industries. In 2006, 44.2% of employed people were working in the mining or construction industries, up from 35.5% in 1996. Of those employed in these industries in the Pilbara in 2006, 85.7% were male.

The proportion of 15–19 year olds in the Pilbara is lower than the State proportion, and largely reflects the number of students leaving the region for educational opportunities.

Graph: Proportion of Population by Age Group, August 2006

Between 1996 and 2006, the number of families in the Pilbara decreased by 4.1%. In this period, all of the LGAs in the Pilbara, apart from Roebourne (S), had a decrease. Along with strong population growth, Roebourne (S) has had a steady increase in the number of family households since 1996. Roebourne (S) and Ashburton (S) also have the highest proportions of families with dependent children in Western Australia.

Graph: Number of Family Households, Pilbara

Personal income

While the income levels vary across the Pilbara working population, gross individual incomes grew markedly from 2001 to 2006. In this period, the proportion of the workforce earning over $1,000 per week increased from 27.5% to 36.2%. Of all regions in Western Australia, the Pilbara had the highest percentage of households with a gross weekly income over $2,500. This is partially due to the high median income in Ashburton (S), at $2,142 per week in 2006. Note that totals used in calculations of proportions include people who did not state their income.

Education and training

Education and training help people to develop knowledge and skills that may be used to enhance their own living standards and those of the broader community. Having a skilled workforce is vital to supporting ongoing economic development and improvements in living conditions.

Attendance at school is fundamental to a person's education. From 2003 and 2008, primary school attendance rates in the Pilbara remained between 85% to 88% across the year levels. In comparison, secondary school attendance rates generally declined in this period. Attendance rates for Years 11 and 12 fell to 71.7% and 75.6% respectively in 2008. Note that small numbers of students, particularly in Years 11 and 12 mean that percentages are volatile, and may explain the large increase in Year 12 attendance rates in 2007.

Graph: Year 11 and Year 12 School Attendance Rates, Pulbic Schools, Pilbara

From 1996 to 2006, Census data shows that the number of people holding tertiary qualifications in the Pilbara has risen considerably. Roebourne (S) and East Pilbara (S) have accounted for a large proportion of this increase. The biggest increase was in certificate qualifications. This trend may reflect the growing demand for skilled labour in the Pilbara.

Graph: Non-School Qualifications, Pilbara


Good health brings social and economic benefits to individuals, their families and the wider community. An indicator of health is the number and reasons for hospitalisation. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of hospital separations has increased by 23.5% (up by 2,909), almost double the increase in the population (up by 12.0%) in this period.

Between 2003 and 2008, the largest increase in number of hospital separations in the Pilbara has been for the category supplementary classifications, where the vast majority are cases of renal dialysis. In this period there were increases for most categories.

.Graph: Selected Reasons for Hospitalisation, Pilbara

Alcohol consumption is the second largest cause of drug-related deaths and hospitalisations in Australia (after tobacco).1 Alcohol consumption in the Pilbara has generally increased, from 17 litres per person over 15 years of age in 2000–01 to 21.6 litres per person in 2004–05. 

Graph: Per Capita Alcohol Consumption, Pilbara, Litres per person over 15 years

Access to health services is important for regional communities. From 1996 to 2008, the number of mental health services available to the Pilbara community increased, with additional staff joining the service over time. The number of mental health staff days worked per month increased from 135.6 in 1996 to 370.1 in 2008.

Graph: Mental Health Staff, Total Days Worked Per Month, Pilbara

Between 2002–03 and 2007–08, the number of dental staff (full-time equivalent) per 1,000 people increased for East Pilbara (S) and Roebourne (S) but declined for Port Hedland (T) and Ashburton (S).

Graph: Number of Dental Staff (Full-time Equivalent) Per 1,000 People, Public dental health service, Pilbara

Law and order

Crime can impact on the well-being of individuals and the wider community and it can also be costly in economic terms. From 2001–02 to 2007–08 the number of reported crimes in the Pilbara increased by 12.6%. Theft and property damage accounted for the largest numbers of reported crimes in this period. 

From 2001–02 to 2007–08 property damage had the largest increase of all reported crimes (up by 464). In contrast, the number of reported thefts decreased by 141. Of all reported crimes, non-dwelling burglary recorded the largest decrease (-151).

Of reported crimes against the person, domestic non-aggravated assault had the largest increase in numbers in the same period (up by 137).

Graph: Selected Crimes, Pilbara

Economic indicators

The state of the economy is particularly important for the sustainability of regional areas. Similarly to social indicators, economic indicators also cover a wide range of topics. Broad topics that are covered in the Spotlight include business, infrastructure, housing, tourism and transport.


From 1996 to 2006, labour force participation rates, for all people aged 15 years and over, decreased from 68.6% to 62.5%. In this period, the unemployment rate also decreased from 5.4% to 3.0%.

More than two thirds (68.1%) of all employed people in the Pilbara worked 40 or more hours per week in 2006. Of all employed people, 42.7% worked 49 or more hours per week. These figures are indicative of the high number of mining and construction workers in the region and the regular 10 plus hours worked each day. Note that this is a proportion of the total, including those who did not state their hours worked. The actual proportion who worked 40 or more hours per week is therefore likely to be higher than this.

Graph: Hours Worked, Employed Persons, Pilbara

Small business

In 2007, almost one quarter (24.9%) of small business in the Pilbara was in the construction industry. A further 17.8% was in the property and business services industry and 12.3% in the retail trade industry.

Graph: Proportion of Small Business by Industry, Pilbara - 2007

International trade

With the Port Hedland Port Authority and the Dampier Port Authority processing in excess of 220 million tonnage of cargo each year, they represent two of the largest non-metropolitan ports in Australia. Port Hedland is already one of the world's largest ports in tonnage terms, with over 100 million tonnes of product worth more than $3 billion shipped each year.

Iron ore was consistently the largest export for the six year period to 2007–08 from both the Port Hedland and Dampier ports. In 2006–07, there were 126.1 million tonnes of freight that went through the Dampier port.  Of this, 103.9 million tonnes or 82.7% were iron ore exports.


The Internet has become an important communication tool as well as providing access to a range of information and services. As a result, having Internet access has benefits for those who either live or work in rural or remote areas. In 2006, the Pilbara had a higher proportion of dwellings connected to the Internet than the state as a whole (70.7% compared with 63.2%). This was also the case in the use of a broadband connection (75.9% compared with 64.0%).


Road closures impact on the accessibility of many areas. The majority of road closures in the Pilbara occur during the wet months, January through to May each year when cyclones and heavy rain are likely to cause flash flooding and damage. Surprisingly, 2005 and 2008 were exceedingly dry years, with only 18 and 46 days (respectively) where roads across the Pilbara were closed. In 2008, all except one road closure were recorded in East Pilbara (S).

Graph: Road Closures, Pilbara, Total days closed by year, all closure types


The Pilbara, and in particular Roebourne (S), has shown continued growth in the number of registered boats between 1991 and 2008, indicative of the lifestyle benefits of the coastal regions. The number of registered boats has increased from 1,362 in 1990 to 3,920 in 2008. The increase may be attributed to the higher disposable income in the region. Although the population has increased in the same period, the number of boats per capita has also increased significantly with an average of 30 boats in 1991 increasing to 85 boats per 1,000 people in 2008. Recreational boat ownership is very popular in Port Hedland (T) due to the excellent fishing and conducive climate, with 78 boats per 1,000 people.


Housing demand is largely influenced by the state of the economy, population size and population growth. Additionally, people working in a region on a fly-in-fly-out basis require accommodation and will therefore impact on housing demand.

In 2006, 49.5% of dwellings in the Pilbara were rented and 30.9% were occupied by the owner (including dwellings fully owned and being purchased). Note that a further 1.0% were classified as having another tenure type and 18.6% did not state their tenure type.

In 2006 the largest providers of rental accommodation fell into the 'other landlord' category (53.1% of all rentals). This comprises employers (government and non-government) and residential parks (caravan parks and marinas). Other large providers of rental accommodation were the State housing authority and real estate agents (17.8% and 16.3% of all rentals respectively). State housing authority accommodation was mostly found in the larger population centres of Port Hedland (T) and Roebourne (S).

Rental Properties by Landlord Type, Pilbara - 2006

Building approvals

There were a total of 2,059 new residential building approvals between 2000–01 and 2007–08 in the Pilbara. Of all new residential approvals in the Pilbara, 85.3% were for new houses. Roebourne (S) accounted for more than half of all new residential building approvals across the Pilbara during this period.

The total value of all residential building approvals between 2000–01 and 2007–08 across the Pilbara increased significantly, especially in the two years to 2007–08. Roebourne (S) consistently had the highest dollar value for new houses since 2000–01. East Pilbara (S) showed a decrease in 2007–08, reflecting the fall in the number of approvals.
The average cost of new residential building approvals in the Pilbara region increased significantly from $134,929 in 2000–01 to $415,549 in 2006–07. The average cost increased for all LGAs in the region, with Port Hedland (T) having the largest increase (up by $324,413 or 296.8%).

Graph: Percentage Costs of New Residential Building Approvals, Pilbara

Environmental indicators

Environmental indicators include environmental impacts such as waste management and energy use.

In 2006 over 31,000 tonnes of waste was collected in the Pilbara. Port Hedland (T) contributed 42.0% of this, while in comparison East Pilbara (S) contributed 10.2%. East Pilbara (S) was the only Shire in the Pilbara to recycle waste, with 332 tonnes recycled in 2006. This was 10.5% of their total waste, but only 1.1% of the Pilbara's total waste.

From 2003 to 2008, average electricity use of total residential users in the Pilbara decreased from 17,929.3 to 13,818.0 kilowatt hours, with decreases in Roebourne (S) and Port Hedland (T). In comparison, electricity consumption in East Pilbara (S) and Ashburton (S) was relatively consistent throughout the period.

Graph: Average Electricity Use of Total Residential Users, Pilbara

East Pilbara is home to Marble Bar, 200 kilometres South-East of Port Hedland, reputed to be the hottest town in the world. It once recorded over 160 consecutive days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius).

For further information

Spotlight on the Pilbara brings together a wealth of information about the Pilbara region. The full range of information can be accessed through the Spotlight on the Pilbara website http://www.regionalspotlights.com.au. The release of these community indicators in a web-based format allows for their ongoing update and modification over time, as issues evolve and change in the regions.

This pilot project is regarded as a critical first step in creating a community indicator framework for the entire state. All Spotlights will contain a core suite of shared indicators, together with region-specific indicators added to reflect the critical issues identified for each region. Work on the core suite of shared indicators and on Spotlights for the Peel and Mid West regions is underway and should be completed in 6 months time, after which additional Spotlights will be developed progressively.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2005, 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed findings, AIHW Cat. No PHE 66, AIHW, Canberra