Closures questioned as cuts lead to relocation
The West Australian Government has unveiled plans to close more than 100 remote (primarily Indigenous) communities and move the residents to better-serviced areas.
The plan has been called the “biggest threat to our people since the shocking events of the 1960s” by traditional owners and native title holders of the Fitzroy Valley region.
WA premier Colin Barnett has announced that between 100 and 150 of the state’s 274 remote communities face closure, affecting more than 1,300 Aboriginal people who live in 174 of the smallest communities, according to figures from the ABC.
Mr Barnett says there is no other option but to close dozens of communities which have deep personal, historic and spiritual links for many who live there.
He said WA was left no choice, after the Federal Government stopped supplying its two-thirds of the funding for the towns.
He described the remote towns as “unviable”, citing “high rates of suicide, poor education, poor health [and] no jobs” for residents.
“[The smaller remote communities] are not viable and the social outcomes, the abuse and neglect of young children, is a disgrace to this state ... This is the biggest social issue this state faces,” he said.
A statement released by groups representing people in Fitzroy Crossing and 35 surrounding communities said it was the “biggest threat to our people since the shocking events of the nineteen-sixties”, referring to devastating social impacts of moving Aboriginal people moved off stations and into townships in that period.
“We acknowledge that there are serious social and health issues in our communities. But we also assert on the basis of evidence and our direct knowledge that, on balance, the people in the smaller bush communities are healthier and happier,” the statement said.
“We assert the right of people to live in and on their traditional country, for which they have ancient and deep responsibilities. To be talking of relocating people off their traditional country does indeed take us back 50 years in a very ugly way.”
Mr Barnett acknowledged in parliament last week that the closures will cause “great distress” to Aboriginal people, and re-locate many problems in the towns they move to.
The Premier said WA could not foot the bill after the federal government announced it was ending its obligations to provide two-thirds of the funding of power, water and other services to the communities.
Control of the communities will be handed over to the WA Government from July next year.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion denies any link between the Federal decision and WA’s latest move, saying the state was talking about the closures “well before” the transfer of responsibilities was announced.
“People being removed, pushed off, forced off the land and pushed into small communities is a recipe for social challenges on every level. Not to mention the cultural lore challenges that creates for our communities,” said David Cole, chairman of Darwin-based youth suicide prevention program, the Balunu Foundation.
“It’s genocide, it’s land dispossession,” Mr Cole told news outlet Guardian Australia.