North Australian Political Economy

This project followed from the initial work carried out by the Outback Livelihoods project in the Tropical Savannas CRC during 2006–07 (see Outback Livelihoods).

It also built upon research published out of Charles Darwin University (Luckert et al 2007), which pointed to a wide range of options for Aboriginal employment in natural resource management, as well as other work indicating divergent (and not all pleasant) scenarios for northern development (Garnett et al 2008).

In the latter instance, it is clear that the economic choices made in northern Australia in the near future (the few years after 2009) will have direct implications for the development trajectory our region takes over the next few decades.

In early 2006, Professor Rolf Gerritsen outlined a theory of a multiplex economy for northern Australia (Gerritsen forthcoming).

His argument was that only this form of economy would bring equitable, efficient and sustainable economic and social development to northern Australia.

The model is consistent with quadruple bottom line (economic, social, environmental and cultural) notions of development now conventional in development studies.

It recognizes that current prescriptions for Aboriginal development are unlikely to reverse their communities’ current disadvantage.

This multiplex economy comprises three sectors. However, unlike in the orthodox models of the northern economy, there is an implicit assumption that the three sectors not only could but should overlap and interact if the inequity and inefficient economic and social development characteristic of the current situation is to be redressed. The project essentially attempts to develop the parameters that are required for overlap that to be realized.

The three sectors are:

  • The private sector. This sector operates in the conventional micro-economic paradigm. In northern Australia it is dominated by the export competitive sub-sector, mining, oil and gas, cattle and (to a degree tourism). It has a secondary, demand dependent, services sector, which provides the point of economic intersection with the other sectors of the economy.
  • The public sector. This sector provides both regulatory and fiscal incentives for particular behaviours. It also supplies a significant proportion of the income that enters Aboriginal communities (through transfers and program grants). Public employees dominate the market for consumer goods in many places in Northern Australia.
  • The Indigenous sector. This sector is currently mostly dependent upon transfers from the Federal government. The work here will build upon Altman’s hybrid economy model.

Project Objectives

To produce a set of policy prescriptions that would address inefficiencies in the operation of the Northern Australian economy.

To produce/publish material that will contribute to Northern Australian development debates.


Dr David Garnett
Tropical Savannas CRC
Tel: 08 8946 7101

Fax: 08 8946 7107

Charles Darwin University