Australian Aboriginal Communities Are Still Threatened With Closure

Written by Sarah George, Home is Heritage Campaign Manager

In late 2014, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett made the shocking announcement that 150 remote Aboriginal communities would soon be closed by the Government. Considering Australia’s history of Indigenous human rights abuses, it was not surprising that this announcement angered many, and tens of thousands of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people rallied all over Australia and major cities around the world for an entire year.

Fast forward to mid-2016. Just when many people thought the threat of Aboriginal community closures was behind us, Mr. Barnett has stated that he would like to see fewer of these communities. Alarmingly, the Government has also confirmed that closures are still not out of the question.

This comes as a surprise to many people, who thought the Government had changed its mind on closures – but not to those who have been here before, and suspected that more bad news was to follow.

“I hope over time we do get a lesser number of communities, and larger ones,” the Premier indicated in May. “Maybe that’s going to mean some intervention and that will be unpopular, people will say ‘well I don’t support that.’”

Mr. Barnett is correct, people will not support it – and for good reason. Aboriginal Australians are part of the oldest living culture in the world, and not only are homelands an irreplaceable part of that culture, but studies show that people experience better health outcomes while living there. This makes it outrageous that the Government continues to threaten their existence.

And right now the Government’s latest approach, the Regional Services Reform, is identifying higher performing communities for funding – which will potentially leave the most vulnerable communities underfunded or closed altogether.

“We’re a cultural type of people and we need this land to live and survive. It’s the place we call home,” emphasised Martu leader Milton Chapman. “Taking people into town will cause problems and we don’t want to see our kids growing up doing things that are happening in there.”

Worryingly, Mr. Chapman may witness that very situation if the Reform has its way with the most vulnerable communities. According to the Reform’s website, these residents may have to relocate temporarily to access health services, education, and employment – or worse, relocate permanently should their communities be closed altogether.

It is hard to imagine the closure of a metropolitan suburb due to socio-economic difficulties, yet remote communities are constantly at risk despite their unique importance to the families who live in them.

It is in times like these that we need to remind our Government where the true responsibility lies: It is never the responsibility of residents to prove their deservedness or to relocate to access services – it is the responsibility of the Government to provide services to all Australians.

Australia has endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that people have the right to belong to their own communities and to be supported to do so. So instead of bargaining to have their basic needs met, residents of remote communities actually have the right to Government cooperation and funding.

Thankfully, not all politicians share Mr. Barnett’s views. Some understand the real life benefits of remote communities as well as the responsibility to support them. For example, Greens MP Robin Chapple has introduced the Prevention of Forced Closures of Remote Aboriginal Communities Draft Bill 2016 as part of his Home is Heritage campaign which aims to prevent forced community closures and enable residents to contest closures which take place without their permission.

So not only is it time for people to rally in Australia and all over the world again, but it is also time for people to support politicians who defend human rights in Parliament. When these voices are heard at every level, Indigenous people all over the world will start to receive the respect and support they should have had from the beginning.

Photo: SOS Blak Australia rally protesting Aboriginal community closures in Perth in 2015. Credit: Tim Oliver

51 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Repeat of USA and Native Americans...

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Marija Mohoric
Marija Mabout a year ago

Genocides all around...

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Micky B.
Micky Babout a year ago

Very reminiscent of the land grabs by the apartheid government here in South Africa where native Cape Townians were removed from their ancestral District 6 and moved to "coloured only areas" like Mitchell's Plain, which are till this day, the slums of Cape Town. These communities are plagued by illiteracy, violence, abuse, crime and poverty just so rich Europeans could build their homes with seaviews. Their are countless examples of colonists committing other similar atrocities, displacing native groups to get their hands one their property and whatever other benefits come with it. The world should not allow this to happen again and the Australian government should be lambasted for their continual abuse of the rights of the real owners of the continent - the Aborigines.

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Will Rogers
Will Rogersabout a year ago

Australia owes those people rent and back taxes. They should never work again! The amount of minerals taken out of their land, the billions, no trillions! Stolen by their white masters who still insist on giving them a hard time. Look I've not got anything against Australians, they are warm generous people - it's just a shame that there's only 400,000 of them left and they all live in poverty on reservations.
Why is it that when whites forcefully colonise a country, that they are the ones called after the country while the indigenous are just referred to as Natives or aborigines?

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Holly Potthoff
Holly Potthoffabout a year ago

It is probably no accident that Sundance Channel is running an intriguing series about a race of people very much like the aborigines who are fighting for their very existence against the white culture. Titled Cleverman, It's a parallel universe, but the implications are crystal clear. The aborigines shouldn't have to fight for a place to live, any more than Native Americans in the US should. It is horrendous and cruel that these indigenous people are being treated so badly!

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Will Rogers
Will Rogersabout a year ago

Europeans in Australia owe the Australians rent and taxes. The so called 'aboriginals' should never work again. The amount of coal and other minerals taken from their lands, the money that they are owed is stupendous!

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Tammy D.
Tammy Dabout a year ago

Or Australians could just give back the whole damn island to the Aboriginal people...
Sorry, but these closures are completely unacceptable. Not surprising coming from a government that tried to 'breed the black' out of a people, but disappointing nonetheless.

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Claire Jordan
Claire Jordanabout a year ago

I can see that remote areas in Australia create a major logistical problem, but then you need an intensive campaign to train remote Aboriginal communities to provide their *own* services - training up a lot of local paramedics, for example. And we've just seen a solar-powered plane fly around the world, so I'm sure a sunny and technologically advanced country like Australia could come up with solar-powered delivery drones which could be used to take medicines and even emergency food supplies to remote areas, and perhaps even pick up small items the locals may want to sell - opals and craft works and so on. If they can provide services to remote farmsteads then they can to remote Aboriginal villages, it just needs a bit of ingenuity.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohnabout a year ago

OMG !

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