Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy estimates have been produced by the ABS for 20 years, since 2009 using a direct estimation method. The method has been subject to a range of criticisms but the ABS is limited by the quality of Indigenous identification in death registrations and the population census, as well as the destruction of identified census records within 2 years of the census. State estimates have less reliability than national estimates, with death registration identification varying substantially.
Self-determination is the right of an individual to have control of their own lives; and in the case of self-identifying, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be able to do so in their own right. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people self-determination was delivered in policy form from the 1970’s through to the 1990’s and discredited by the then Howard government. In 2007, the United Nations produced the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Australia ratified in 2009. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have endured inequitable policies since colonisation that have historically resulted in under identification in administrative data sets. Statistically, the Indigenous population has been growing rapidly, faster than can be explained by births and deaths and after allowing for high rates of Indigenous/non-Indigenous couples. The rise in the Indigenous population, coincidently or not, seems to have occurred in conjunction with the ratification of the Declaration. Identification is growing overall, and some people who have identified in one census do not identify in the next and vice versa. The population is expanding, what is clear is the lack of transparency and the inability to track the progress of the original population especially if the new identifiers have different characteristics to them. This creates a new set of questions that need to be answered, such as what is driving the decision to identify and does the identification question need to change. This paper seeks to address these questions.