A socio-economic overview of the coastal communities adjacent the North-west Marine Region
J Clifton, M Tonts and B Boruff, University of Western Australia
Prepared for Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, June 2007
This report presents an overview of recent demographic and socio-economic trends in the coastal communities adjacent to the North-west Marine Region, which stretches from Kalbarri in Western Australia to the Northern Territory / Western Australia State border.
The population of these communities has grown rapidly over the past 40 years, largely as a result of increasing activity in the minerals, petroleum, tourism and agriculture sectors. However, the rates of growth, and the drivers of change, vary considerably across the Region. In recent years, the most rapid rate of population growth has occurred in the Kimberley dominate in terms of population growth, reflecting expansion of the tourism industry and dynamic growth in indigenous communities. The report shows that up until the more recent Census (2001), the Pilbara and Gascoyne were characterised by more modest growth in line with or below the State average.
The importance of minerals, petroleum, tourism and agriculture as drivers of the economy were reflected in the analysis of employment trends. These sectors were the major contributors to employment, although again the Region did demonstrate considerable geographical variation according to the local resource base. Employment rates and incomes within the Region are above the State average. However, this obscures significant sub-regional differences, however, with competition for skilled occupations in the minerals sector driving wage levels higher in the Pilbara, whilst towns with a greater reliance on the service sector and higher indigenous populations are characterised by lower wages, lower educational performance levels and a higher dependency on welfare and benefits.
The Report also provides a separate analysis of indigenous communities within the Region. Whilst this population is minor in terms of overall numbers, the concentration in a small number of settlements gives rise to distinct demographic and socio-economic characteristics. These include a young, rapidly increasing population with a high dependence on the labouring sector for employment, although this is evident to a lesser degree in the urban centres of the Region. Employment levels are high, but fluctuate, reflecting the presence of government-sponsored employment programmes as much as census accuracy. Educational performance within the indigenous community as a whole remains markedly below the Regional average.
Forecasting future patterns of population growth and economic development is necessarily a problematic task with considerable degrees of uncertainty. The scenarios painted in this in this Report reflect this, yet indicate a diverging future for the sub-regions of the North-west Marine Region. Assuming continued stability of markets and the geopolitical situation, the mineral resources of the Pilbara should continue to attract private sector investment and attendant economic benefits. However, the extent of associated population growth is likely to be limited by the nature of employment within this sector. The Kimberley, with its broader economic base and established urban centres, is expected to undergo more rapid population growth and potential expansion into the minerals sector. By contrast, the Gascoyne is predicted to become progressively dependent upon tourism and will be characterised by an increasingly elderly population profile.