Every year at about this time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes the Labour Force Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians for the previous calendar year. And while the Australian public is relatively unconcerned about the outcomes, there would be a cluster of Canberra bureaucrats in lead federal indigenous affairs agencies who would be hoping that the statistics move in the right direction, showing a drop in Aboriginal unemployment and more importantly a closing of the employment/working-age population gap between indigenous and other Australians.

The statistics released on July 26 this year are a mixed bag . One key indicator, the unemployment rate dropped from 18.1% in 2010 to 16.3% in 2011. This is welcome news except that the fall is not statistically significant, an important proviso given that this is an estimate based on a sample survey. Last year the indigenous unemployment rate was 3.6 times the non-indigenous rate, this year it is down to 3.3 times, surely good news?