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Statistical equality and cultural difference in Indigenous wellbeing frameworks: A new expression of an enduring debate

  • Year: 2010
  • Author: Jordan, Kirrily; Bulloch, Hannah; Buchanan, Geoff
  • Journal Name: Australian Journal of Social Issues
  • Journal Number: Vol.45, No.3
  • Published Location: Sydney, NSW
  • Country: Australia

Recent years have seen a burgeoning interest in developing indicator frameworks for 'Indigenous wellbeing'. Implicit in each of the frameworks are particular conceptions of what constitutes the 'good life' for Indigenous peoples and what 'Indigenous development' should entail. In developing these frameworks, then, certain judgements must be made about whether statistical equality should be prioritised as a 'development' goal. This issue has generated long-standing debate and in this context must be broached anew. In this paper we briefly examine the growing interest in Indigenous wellbeing and outline three prominent indicator frameworks: the Productivity Commission's indicators for 'Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage'; the 'capability indicators' developed by the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership; and the indicators of wellbeing developed by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The first prioritises statistical equality between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians; the second adds a concern with 'capabilities'; and the last emphasises the importance of distinct cultural preferences. We offer an assessment of these approaches, drawing in part on Amartya Sen's work. We argue that in seeking to improve the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians, policy-makers should not only make their own normative assumptions clear, but also be aware of the implications of their decisions for constituents with different worldviews.

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