Far removed: an insight into the labour markets of remote communities in central Australia
There are ongoing debates about the livelihoods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living in remote communities, and the role for policy in addressing socio-economic equity and the economic viability of those communities. The characteristics and dynamics of remote labour markets are important parameters in many of these debates. However, remote economic development discourses are often conducted with limited access to empirical evidence of the actual functioning of labour markets in remote communities – evidence that is likely to have important implications for the efficacy of policy alternatives. Unique survey data collected from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in 21 remote communities in central Australia for the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation’s Population Mobility and Labour Markets project are used to examine these labour markets, with a focus on the role of education and training. Examining access to education, employment opportunity and other structural factors, it is clear that the reality of economic engagement in these communities is far removed from the functioning of mainstream labour markets. The assumptions about, or lack of distinction between remote and urban locations, have contributed to misunderstanding of the assets and capabilities remote communities have, and aspire to develop. Evidence from the survey data on a number of fronts is interpreted to suggest policies to promote employment opportunity within communities offer greater potential for improving the livelihoods of remote community residents than policies reliant on the assumption that residents will move elsewhere for work.