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Political economy, demography and development in Australia's Northern Territory

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The Canadian ‘staples thesis’ literature has documented both the risks (in the tradition of Harold Innis) and the opportunities (in the tradition of W. A. Macintosh) inherent in economies that are dependent on the export of minimally processed natural resources. The key risk is that of retarded long-term growth as a result of a lack of diversification and over-dependence on foreign capital and markets. This article argues that the demographic consequences of staples approaches to development also make it difficult to achieve diversification. It profiles Australia's Northern Territory as an example of a mining-dependent (fiscal) economy that demonstrates a particular demographic profile consistent with what might be expected of a resource frontier. The article argues, however, that restrictive demographic characteristics persist (high sex ratios, high population mobility, disadvantaged position of indigenous people and remote dwellers) even though mining has become an insignificant direct employer (less than one percent of the workforce) and the services sector drives the labour market. This persistence can be linked to the Territory and federal government expectations of economic development patterns in the region and the frontier mythology created around the Northern Territory. Addressing the demographic imbalance is a critical step towards realizing ambitions for economic diversification.

Keywords: Northern Territory; Territoire-du-Nord; demographic indicators; diversification économique; economic diversification; indicateurs démographiques; labour economy; mobility; mobilité; staples thesis; théorie des matières premières; économie du travail

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia ( ), Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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