Indigenous fertility in the Northern Territory 


Substantial undercounting of the Northern Territory Indigenous population in the five yearly Census may have led to inaccurate information pointing to a decline in Indigenous fertility.

Australian National University researcher Kim Johnstone has linked up with Charles Darwin University’s population researchers to investigate this possible inaccuracy and its effect on Indigenous birth rates.

Ms Johnstone said she believed fertility may have been relatively stable since 1993, contrary to the decline published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

“The ABS estimates that the NT Indigenous population was undercounted by about 19 per cent, or some 10,000 to 15,000 people in the 2006 Census. If this undercount has been going on since the early 1990s as we suspect, then it may have led to inflated rates of fertility,” she said.

The reason for the inflated figure is because by comparison, the ABS data for births are extremely accurate.

When mothers give birth in Territory hospitals and health centres, systems are in place to record their Indigenous status. Also, pregnant women from remote areas are required to travel to a public health centre at 36 weeks of pregnancy to await the birth. This means very few babies slip through the system.

“One of the first things we need to do is recalculate the Indigenous population for the past decade and more. Using correct 2006 population figures as a starting point, we can count back through the years by subtracting births and adding deaths,” she said.

“If the Indigenous population was significantly higher than past Census counts show, the number of births per 1000 people published by the ABS would have been higher than they really were.”

Ms Johnstone said it was important to know fertility rates because they gave important insight into the future growth, size and composition of the Territory’s Indigenous population.

She will present her preliminary research at a public seminar at Charles Darwin University on Friday 8 August. Details are available at