In comparing national data and measurable indicators in ranking which state and territory jurisdictions are overall ‘harshest’ on the poorest we find ironically that the nation’s two wealthiest jurisdictions, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which enjoy among the world’s highest median incomes, are the nation’s harshest on the poorest, with the highest rates of arrest, jailing, homelessness and suicide and the lowest life expectancy medians. Their Aboriginal populations “bear the brunt”.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national incarceration rate rests at 191 Australian adults per 100,000 adults. However Western Australia’s incarceration rate of Aboriginal adult males is 3,686 per 100,000, the world’s 2nd highest behind, and constantly competing with, the Black American adult jailing rate.
Western Australia’s juvenile detention rate is the highest in the nation and in fact in the world. Australia has the world’s highest juvenile detention rate, with the United States ranking 2nd. Three quarters of Western Australia’s juvenile detention population is comprised of Aboriginal youth.
The Northern Territory has the world’s second highest juvenile detention rate, behind only Western Australia. 94 per cent of the Territory juvenile detention population is comprised of Aboriginal youth. 28 per cent of the Territory’s juvenile detention population are aged less than 15 years.
Western Australia and the Northern Territory have the nation’s highest homelessness rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. More than one in four of the nation’s homeless are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.
More than seven per cent of the Northern Territory population is in some form of homelessness however disaggregated to its Aboriginal population, twelve per cent of the Territory’s Aboriginal population is in some form of homelessness – around one in eight Aboriginal persons.
Outside natural disasters and civil strife this is one of the world’s worst, highest homelessness rates.
Western Australia’s Kimberley also has a disturbing homeless rate of more than 6 per cent of the region’s population. When disaggregated to its Aboriginal population nearly one in ten are in some form of homelessness.
Western Australia and the Northern Territory have the nation’s highest suicide rates and Aboriginal suicide rates for Western Australia and the Northern Territory are among the highest in the world. One in four of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides occur in Western Australia.
Nationally, officially one in 19 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths are accounted as a suicide – in other words, more than 5 per cent of deaths are a suicide.
The Australian suicide rate is 12 per 100,000 population however the Kimberley’s Aboriginal suicide rate is nearly 80 per 100,000 Aboriginal population, and when compared to comparative long-term global data is the 2nd highest in the world behind Greenland’s Inuit peoples whose tragic suicide rate is 92 per 100,000.
The highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living below the Henderson Poverty Line are found once again in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, with nearly half the Aboriginal population of Western Australia and the Northern Territory living below the poverty line despite both jurisdictions home to the world’s highest median wages.
The Aboriginal populations of Western Australia and the Northern Territory live less than anywhere else in the nation. The median age at death in 2014 according to the ABS for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males was highest in NSW, 57.7 years. That is more than 20 years less than NSW’s non-Aboriginal males. It was worst, lowest in Western Australia, where the median age of life was 49.9 years for Aboriginal males and 60 years for females; respectively 28 years and 24.5 years less than the non-Indigenous male and female residents.
The more west and then the more north we journey across the Australian nation the worse the hits on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the poorest, and you are damned if you’re both.
If you are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander living in Western Australia or the Northern Territory, you have a one in six chance of being jailed, have a one in two chance of living less than 50 years of age and are also within the nation’s highest risk groups to inescapable absolute poverty, homelessness and to suicide.
This damning narrative of overall comparators is an indictment of the Western Australian and Northern Territory governments that they are failing to respond to the indisputable compelling data and evidence. Governments and their policy makers forever claim that they respond to evidence, that they drive policy through data but they do not – if only. They need to be called out in order to galvanise urgent reforms and the implementation of authentic ways forward. The data demonstrates the unmet need and the lack of affirmative actions and of the obvious ways forward. Western Australia and the Northern Territory must urgently revisit their tough on crime, mandatory sentencing laws and their culture of punishment.
– Gerry Georgatos is a researcher with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights and a relentless journeyer to the nation’s poorest regions and communities.