ABS celebrates 40 years since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people included in population estimates

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May 25, 2007
ABS celebrates 40 years since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people included in population estimates

This Sunday (27 May) marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum at which more than 90% of Australians voted to give the Commonwealth Government the power to legislate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to include all Indigenous Australians in official estimates of the Australian population.

Through removing these Constitutional barriers, the Referendum had the effect of clarifying the citizenship status of Indigenous people. By being counted in estimates of the population all Indigenous people were included in determining proportional representation of the people of each state in the House of Representatives. From that time, all Indigenous people were also accounted for in the distribution of Commonwealth funds to state and territory governments, funding which is used for the provision of a wide range of services.

Since 1971, estimates of the Indigenous population have risen from about 120,000, or 1% of the Australian population, to a current projected level of around 500,000 people, or 2.4% of the total population. This growth reflects natural population increase (the excess of births over deaths) and other factors, including improvements in data collection methods and people newly identifying their Indigenous origin in the Census.

The Australian Statistician, Mr Brian Pink, recognised the 40th anniversary as a significant milestone.

"In the 1971 Census, for the first time, information was collected on a national scale so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could be included in official population estimates," Mr Pink said. "Government agencies use this information to make statistically informed policy decisions for Indigenous people.

"Since 1971 the ABS has expanded its program of statistical work in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Now we collect a wide range of information on topics ranging from culture and language, to education, employment, housing, income, and law and justice issues.

"In collaboration with Indigenous people, government and researchers, the ABS is leading statistical work to provide the best information to inform decision-making.

"In particular, the ABS acknowledges that the success of our Indigenous surveys and other statistical activities is dependent on the very high level of cooperation we receive from Indigenous Australians and their communities. We thank the Indigenous community for that assistance."

Recently, the ABS has introduced a vigorous Indigenous community engagement strategy. Seven Indigenous engagement managers located across Australia foster communication between ABS and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations. An important role of the engagement managers is to return information to Indigenous communities in a relevant and culturally appropriate way.

First results for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the 2006 Census will be released on 27 June 2007 on the ABS website, with more detailed tables to follow in early July and August.

Additional reference material includes: Occasional Paper: Population Issues, Indigenous Australians, 1996 (cat. no. 4708.0), Experimental Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 1991 to 2009 (cat. no. 3238.0 ) and Australian Historical Population Statistics (cat. no. 3105.0.65.001).