Indigenous population to grow by a third by 2026, ABS projects

Australia's indigenous population is set to increase by a third to top 900,000 by 2026, according to new projections from the Bureau of Statistics.

Based on recent trends in fertility, mortality and internal migration, the bureau projects the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will grow by an average of 2.2 per cent a year.

From the 2011 census figure of almost 670,000, the indigenous population will rise to more than 945,000 by 2026 under the bureau's highest growth scenario. 

Over the same period, the bureau projects the general population to grow by about 1.6 per cent a year.

"Faster growth in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is the result of assumed higher than average levels of fertility and improvements in life expectancy," the bureau's director of demography Denise Carlton said.

The projections of more rapid growth in the indigenous population are partly attributable to the large numbers of indigenous people moving into peak child-bearing age between now and 2026.

Like the broader population, the indigenous population is ageing. The share of indigenous people aged 14 years or younger, currently about 40 per cent, is projected to decline to one-third over the next 12 years.

As a share of the indigenous population, people aged 75 and older are projected to double, from 1 to 2 per cent.

Similarly, the proportion aged between 65 and 74 is projected to rise from 2.3 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

The median age for indigenous people, currently 22, is projected to reach 25 by 2026. But this remains much younger than the median age in the general population, which is currently 37 and is expected to rise above 40 by 2026.

While indigenous life expectancy has improved slightly in recent years, indigenous men and women can expect to live about a decade less than their non-indigenous counterparts.

Life expectancy for indigenous men is 69 years, compared with almost 80 for non-indigenous men. Indigenous women can expect to live almost 74 years, while their non-indigenous peers can expect to live to 83.

Indigenous numbers are expected to expand more rapidly in urban areas (2.6 per cent a year) than in remote areas (1 per cent a year).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations are projected to grow at varying rates in all states and territories.

The relatively small indigenous populations of the ACT and Victoria are projected to grow the fastest.

Victoria's indigenous population, currently estimated at about 47,000, is projected to grow by an average of 2.8 per cent a year to top 71,000 by 2026. In the ACT, an annual growth rate of 3.1 per cent is projected to take the territory's indigenous population to almost 10,000 by 2026. 

Slower growth is projected in NSW, partly due to the assumption that 500 indigenous people will leave the state each year. But on current trends it will remain home to more indigenous people than any other state or territory, with almost 290,000 indigenous residents by 2026, or more than 30 per cent of the national indigenous population.

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