The high levels of employment growth currently being experienced in the Northern Territory cannot be sustained in the long-term without major changes to the Territory’s population, a leading population expert has warned.
Professor Tony Barnes, researcher with Charles Darwin University and NT Treasury, said that while migration had underpinned much employment growth, a much greater proportion of Territorians of all ages and both sexes were in the workforce now than ever before.
“There is a darkening cloud for the Territory workforce – we are rapidly getting older, in some ways faster than the rest of Australia,” Professor Barnes warned.
“Ageing diminishes the number of people available to work, and the Territory could be hit harder than elsewhere in Australia in coming years.
“In the past decade we have been losing workers to retirement at a rapidly increasing rate as more of us baby boomers hang up our boots. Despite this, enough of us have continued to work for an extra few more years producing the current record high levels of employment. But it is unlikely this trend can continue and our workforce will inevitably feel increasing strain,” he said.
If not for a very rapid increase in the number of women of all ages working, and older men continuing to work during the decade to 2006, the Territory’s economy and the quality of services would already be in a dire situation, Professor Barnes explained.
“Employment levels are now so high amongst non-Indigenous Territorians it is doubtful they can increase further. A key long term economic objective for the Territory must be to increase employment levels among our Indigenous population,” he said.
International comparisons show that the Territory has a higher proportion of its non-Indigenous population employed than almost any member country of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, concern about employment levels among Indigenous Territorians is starkly illustrated by their position at the bottom end of the OECD employment scale.
“The Northern Territory Government is taking these issues very seriously. The best thing the Government can do is to continue to aggressively support policies that will improve employment prospects for Indigenous Territorians and to attract migrants by making the Territory the preferred place to work,” he said.
Professor Barnes will present his research at the Australian Population Association Conference in Alice Springs at the end of the month.
The conference will include other Territory-relevant research, such as why older Territorians stay or leave, trends in urban drift, Indigenous mortality and fertility, and the demographic trends of our northern neighbours.
For media details about the conference, please contact
P: 08 8946 6153
M: 0413 937 727
P: 08 8946 6940
Visit the conference website at www.nt.gov.au/ntt/apa2008/ to download the program