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R&D Now

Associate Professor Mike Dockery’s research is challenging the belief that high levels of mobility among Aboriginal people in remote Australia reduce their educational, employment and housing opportunities.

A map of WA with a set of keys resting on it

A labour-market economist at Curtin Business School, Dockery believes that mobility is important for the self-identity and wellbeing that is fundamental to socioeconomic participation.

“For generations, governments have dispensed remote-area policies from Canberra through conventional models of service delivery that don’t accommodate population mobility,” he explains.

“But, in empirical terms, not enough has been known about temporary mobility, and policies are under-informed and perhaps in some cases even misdirected.”

As part of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Remote Economic Participation, Dockery is managing a ‘mobility survey’ of more than 500 people from 20 remote Aboriginal communities based around the Alice Springs Region of the Northern Territory.

The project was established under the CRC, which is overseen by the organisation Ninti One, with Dockery subsequently appointed as Principal Research Leader.

Quarterly surveys commenced in mid-2014, in collaboration with local Aboriginal community researchers, and will continue until the end of 2016 when the final data analysis will commence. However, Dockery believes the project’s evidence to-date can now prompt an appraisal of policies that impact mobility.

“If we accept that, overall, policy objectives are to optimise capacity, empowerment and wellbeing, mobility must be legitimised and accommodated,” he says.

“Periodic travel isn’t ‘idle wandering’; it is connected with visiting homelands – which are well-defined geographic areas, visiting family and friends, attending cultural events, and hunting or collecting bush tucker.

“Kinship, culture and country remain central to mobility, and legitimising mobility will enable improved planning and decision-making by communities, service providers and employers.”

He emphasises the need for policies that foster employment opportunities in local industries that can accommodate mobility, such as art and tourism, and those that strengthen locally staffed services.

One policy area relates to the difficulty in acquiring and retaining a driver’s licence, which bears strongly on job prospects.

“Remote-area services is another area for attention,” Dockery says.

“Changes to health services are having a major impact because fewer local Aboriginal staff are employed in health facilities, and people refrain from seeking treatment from unfamiliar, high-rotation staff flown in and out from distant towns.”

Titled, ‘Population Mobility and Labour Markets’, the project is supported by the Tangentyere Council, Central Land Council, Northern Territory Government, Charles Darwin University, University of South Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

To find out more about this research, please visit the CRC for Remote Economic Participation website.


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