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Data issues for regional planning in Aboriginal communities




Taylor, John

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Canberra, ACT : Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), The Australian National University


The Northern Territory government’s recent release of a ‘Stronger Regions Policy’ (Northern Territory Government 2003) raises major questions of public policy and social scientific interest. At the heart of this policy is the gradual establishment of regional governance structures, broader in conception than the current 65 Northern Territory local government councils, both spatially and functionally. As an exercise in restructuring, the key feature is a series of partnership agreements negotiated between the Territory government and these new regional representative bodies. Currently, one such body exists, a number are close to formation, and supposedly they will ultimately extend across the Territory. The agreements associated with them will serve to identify mutually determined social, economic, and service delivery outcomes together with the means to achieve them. Significantly, in the context of the present paper, these will be codified in a series of negotiated regional development plans, and they will be subject to a regular process of evaluation and monitoring against measurable outcomes. This initiative is significant. It represents a shift towards regional planning, as opposed to sectoral planning, as the functional basis of Northern Territory government administrative processes. Viewed historically, it signals a conscious effort to move away from a silo model of planning and development focused on specific sectors such as Asian trade, growth of the Darwin urban area, pastoral management, the mining sector, and the separate servicing of Aboriginal communities, towards an approach which views Territory development as an integrated whole with the development strengths and weaknesses of one region impacting on all others. It is also an equity and efficiency-based model, with needs assessment, equalisation of resource allocation, and measured outcomes as the key drivers. For reasons of spatial distribution and historical exclusion, the implications of this strategy are potentially greatest for the estimated 72% of Aboriginal residents of the Northern Territory who have residential ties to Aboriginal lands (Taylor 2003). It is they who now occupy most of the land area outside of the urban areas, and it is they who to date have been largely kept outside of formal Territory planning processes. The task that the Territory government has set itself falls within the disciplinary parameters of regional planning. As an area of public policy and academic endeavour, this is a multi-faceted activity and significantly has its roots as a form of applied economics in the UK of the 1930s where preferential taxation rates and subsidy packages were made available for industries willing to establish themselves in newly proclaimed Special Areas in the more depressed areas of the north and west (McCrone 1969: 93-105). Subsequent regional planning has acquired a firm theoretical basis and assumed far more complex and integrated tasks, being a common tool of government policy (Balchin, Sykora and Bull 1999; Glasson 1983; Gore 1984; Stilwell 1992; Stohr and Fraser Taylor 1981). Its content ranges across the breadth of government functions including the management of environmental, social and economic development, to the point, in some cases, of full regional devolution. The essential point is that regional planning has a long history and has acquired, over the years, a defined literature outlining a set of conceptual frameworks and analytical techniques that are worth touching on briefly before proceeding to the main business of reviewing data issues associated with the new regional planning policy in the Northern Territory.



Regional planning, Aboriginal communities, Regional governance, Regional development plans, Regional development, Social indicator issues, Population projection




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Open Access

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