Staggering Indigenous unemployment rates: ‘We’re still fringe dwellers economically’

David Dixon hopes his research will lead to a discussion on the rate of Indigenous unemployment he says sits at ten times the Bega Valley rate. Picture: Angela Wylie
David Dixon hopes his research will lead to a discussion on the rate of Indigenous unemployment he says sits at ten times the Bega Valley rate. Picture: Angela Wylie

The rate of Indigenous Australian unemployment in the Bega Valley is as staggeringly high as 70 per cent, claims one local researcher.

Wolumla’s David Dixon has collected data from traditional owners and non-traditional owners living in Tathra, Bega and Merimbula, with confronting results.

After surveying members of the communities, Mr Dixon found the unemployment rate sitting at well over 70 per cent for residents of working age.

“We came from being fringe dwellers in 1967, but we’re still fringe dwellers economically,” Mr Dixon, a Djiringanj and Ngarigo man said of the survey’s findings.

Mr Dixon presented his survey during a recent visit to Canberra for the launch of a short film he co-produced for the ABC’s Right Wrongs project marking 50 years since the 1967 referendum, attended by Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion.

“What I found was the detachment of the Australian government from the reality of what’s going on for our people today,” he said.

The survey collected data from the community’s own personal experiences.

“We don’t know the income or the status of their jobs, but we know who has and hasn’t got one,” Mr Dixon said.

“The ABS [Australian Bureau of Statistics] just don’t have the statistics we need.”

While the ABS released data recently showing the unemployment rate for the Bega Valley’s general population rose from 5.4 per cent in December last year, to 6.1 per cent in March, Mr Dixon’s research shows Indigenous figures sit at more than 10 times that number.

“The majority of the unemployed are female,” he said.

“Our people are clearly not part of the community regarding jobs and economic inclusion, which is vital to a decrease in addiction and positive social outcomes.”

Mr Dixon said economic exclusion plays a large role in social dysfunction, addiction, depression and suicide in communities.

Recent data released by the ABS showed the location of jobs, change in the labour market and discrimination from employers play a role in the chances of Indigenous Australians finding work.

Titled the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, its results show the unemployment rate for young Indigenous Australians aged 15 to 24-years-old sits at 31.8 per cent, compared to 16.7 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.

Statewide, the results showed 51 per cent of Indigenous people remain unemployed, with only 60 per cent of those with work employed full-time.

Almost 20 years since the Howard government’s Indigenous Employment Policy was unveiled, Mr Dixon said the embarrassing level of Indigenous unemployment fails to make mainstream media headlines.

“I find it a disgrace that the community is unaware of the ongoing chronic unemployment rates, and the governments failing social programs,” he said. 

“It's time that this was looked into and discussion was promoted.”