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Projections of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population


Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is growing rapidly and experiencing considerable ageing. Using an innovative projection model, projections of the Indigenous population by Greater Capital City Statistical Area (GCCSA) were produced to assess the likely future size, age structure, and geographical distribution.

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Journal Articles

Temple J, Wilson T, Taylor A, Kelaher M, and Eades S (2020): Ageing of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population: Numerical, Structural, Timing and Spatial Aspects. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health 44(4): 271-278. 

Objectives: To assess levels of numerical, structural, timing and spatial aspects of ageing of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Methods: Population projections for 15 Australian regions were created by a multi‐state cohort‐component model.

Results: The older (45‐plus) population grew from 29,815 in 1986 to 167,259 in 2016. In the subsequent 30 years, we project growth to 448,785 people. Growth rates of the older population vary: from 200% in the 60–64‐year‐old group to 800% growth in the 85‐plus age group by mid‐century. This strong numerical ageing is reflected in a shift in structural ageing by about six percentage points. Selected areas outside of capital cities are structurally older than many cities. Numerical ageing is strongest in capital cities and New South Wales. Cohort flow is the primary driver of ageing.

Conclusions: Numerical and structural ageing is projected to increase significantly to mid‐century with important spatial variations. Population ageing is largely irreversible.

Implications for public health: High numerical growth in the older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population poses implications for increased demand for a range of health and care services. Variations in spatial and timing aspects of ageing indicate demand will peak earlier in some geographical locations relative to others.


Taylor A, Wilson T, Temple J, Kelaher M, and Eades S (2020): The Future Growth and Spatial Shift of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population, 2016–2051. Population, Place and Space.

Abstract: The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population more than doubled in size between 1996 and 2016. Growth was highest in urban areas and lower in rural and remote areas. An important contributor to growth was identification change, whereby individuals report their Aboriginal status differently over time. Official population projections in Australia currently do not incorporate this phenomenon, leading to underestimation of future populations which affects policies, targets and planning for demand‐based services. We outline a new projection model to improve subnational estimates of future regional population growth by endogenizing identification change and Aboriginal/non‐Aboriginal childbearing. Results suggest that growth will be higher than currently projected, especially in urban‐dominated regions in New South Wales and Queensland where identification change is projected to account for more than 50% of growth. There will also be considerable population ageing, which has implications for services and policies relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Associate Professor Jeromey Temple, The University of Melbourne

Dr Tom Wilson, The University of Melbourne