In 2009, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to include an Urban and Regional Strategy as part of the Indigenous Reform Agreement aimed at coordinating the delivery of services to Indigenous Australians. The main purpose of this strategy was to ensure that government agencies and community groups form partnerships to develop implementation plans for coordinated actions in relation to the headline indicators of the COAG Closing the Gap targets.
Of particular interest were the dynamics operating within regional areas, given that these account for around 50 per cent of the national Indigenous population.
These are significant service centres located geographically between metropolitan areas and remote Australia. They have extensive catchment areas from which they are drawing in Indigenous people as migrants as part of a step-wise movement of population out of remote locations. Combined with higher natural population increase, this stands in contrast to non-Indigenous out-migration and population ageing. From an Indigenous policy perspective, and in terms of the COAG Urban and Regional Strategy, they register as demographic ‘hotspots’ in the sense that demographic processes are generating specific outcomes that require place-based policy responses.
In order to understand these processes more fully and their particular implications for policy, this paper focuses on one such location (Port Augusta) as a case study of the changes that are underway in demographic composition more widely, and of the issues that are increasingly faced by all levels of government and local Indigenous organisations in dealing with them. The aim is to drill down into the population dynamics of Port Augusta and into the community responses to demographic change as a way of deriving general lessons for community governance and service delivery that are likely to be faced in similar situations by those seeking to implement the Urban and Regional strategy.
The paper is presented in two separate but linked components. First of all, recent population trends in Port Augusta are established pointing out the very different trajectories for the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, and leading to a set of estimates of current Indigenous social and economic outcomes. The second part outlines government and community responses to these trends and outcomes: it highlights lessons learnt from Port Augusta itself and from other attempts around the country that have sought to establish appropriate governance arrangements for local community planning.
Keywords: Indigenous demography, population dynamics, service delivery, Port Augusta, COAG, Closing the Gap.