NACCHO #SOSblakAustralia 6 article UPDATE: Stop the forced closure of Aboriginal Communities

 

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“The Western Australian Government has a long history of neglect of the Homelands, refusing to do their bit for them in terms of social health. They refused again and again to improve, upgrade electricity and power transmissions, to ensure clean water supplies, to ensure repairs and upgrades to water tanks – this has gone on for decades but particularly so in the last decade.

Gerry Georgatos Writing in the Stringer and for NACCHO (Story 1)

The State of Western Australia will not make any funding changes for at least 12 months, and during that time, essential and municipal services in the communities will continue largely “as is”. This process will take time and any changes that ultimately occur will be carefully managed and involve close consultation with local communities and local governments.”

Response from Premier Colin Barnett’s Office Western Australian Government 19 March (Story 2)

Indigenous communities in Western Australia will not be shut down and the WA State Government should tell Aboriginal people that

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (Story 3)

“His (PM Tony Abbotts ) use of words was inaccurate and unfair. Indigenous Australians in remote communities haven’t made a sea change, uprooting from the city and going bush. They’re continuing to live on their own lands, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years

Nyunggai Warren Mundine is chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council  (Story 4)

“IT is unfortunate that the current debate about the closure of remote Aboriginal communities has focused more on the cost of the communities than on their potential. There are some good news stories and there is a risk that, at a time of major administrative re­organisation and policy change, we will lose the good along with the bad.

Fred Chaney is a former Coalition minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Fraser Government (Story 5)

Concerns about health and education should be addressed by funding health and education, not forcing people to relocate. How are health and education outcomes going to be improved by forcing people to move into shanty towns at the edge of larger town centres?”

Ben Wyatt WA Opposition spokesperson Aboriginal Affairs (Story 6 ) WA premier withdraws royalties help for struggling Aboriginal communities

Now we are seeing these poor policies from the past continue in Western Australia today with the closure of regional communities. It’s time to learn from the mistakes of past policies, listen to Aboriginal people and reverse this decision. It seems we are a long way off reconciliation if even our Prime Minister doesn’t know that Aboriginal people living on Country is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ but an integral part of identity and culture.”

Matthew Cooke NACCHO chair see NACCHO Press Release at end of this article

All these quotes below come from a book published by the Baniyala ( Yilpara ) Yolngu people in North East Arnhem Land in 2011.

“People cry when they’ve been away from Homeland living in other communities. They feel something different their heart and soul cries. I feel proud . But I wish Government could understand all this”
Waka Mununggurr Yilpara Homeland

“When white man describes Homeland he’s not sure what it means .its a home not just a land”
Djambawa Marawili Yilpara

“When we are in the homeland, when we see something, we sing about it.we see it and we feel it.
That is very important”
Manman Wirrpanda Dhuruputjpi Homeland

“Homeland is a place. A tribal land. Homeland is very important to us, because it is our land that our ancestors have give to us so we can live”
Waka Mununggurr

“Here it’s clearer to learn to understand the Yolngu way.learning how to paint bark paintings , learning. how to make the sounds of the didgeridoo, sharing the culture, both ngapaki ( white) and Yolngu”
Minima Marawili

“The government comes to talk to us. But we don’t know him and he doesn’t know us. He doesn’t understand. We are all different clans, different leadership ”
Djambawa Marawili.

pic 2

Graphic Above from Sam Cook and the WA team who created the above campaign www.sosblakaustralia.com

VIEW A VIDEO OF ALL THE SUPPORT IMAGES HERE NACCHO FACEBOOK

Story 1 Threatened Homelands – “remote communities”

by Gerry Georgatos

We will be damned by the future if we sit quiet on any dispossession of Homelands – ‘remote communities’ – just as we damn the past for similar brutal dispossessions, for the evil of the Stolen Generations, the Stolen Wages, en masse indenture, apartheid, the lot.

The dispossession of hundreds of Homelands, loosely referred to as remote communities, has been in the mix for a long while. The bent of Governments for assimilation has not died, it is still their way. But assimilation is not their end all; it is a tool, a means to the end. Exploitation is the driver, and assimilation is the servant.

State and Federal Governments have kept to the line that communities will not be closed, that there will be consultations. The State Government is carrying on that all that is happening at this time are that ‘auditors’ are visiting communities to assess their ‘viability.’ Premier Colin Barnett is pleading to the First Peoples of Western Australia, “step in my shoes” while the Federal Government shuffles its cards and finishes up washing its hands of the shemozzle.

But you know I have every reason to disbelieve them. Two years ago I first wrote of the threat of closure to 180 remote communities. I had the inside word of government plans but what I wrote was dismissed as fanciful and conspiratorial. Well, here we are two years later with now up to 250 communities under the threat of closure – 150 thereabouts in Western Australia and 100 thereabouts on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands.

More than two years ago, a Federal Government insider, and then again last year a State Government insider, told me that the Western Australian Government was bent on closing down the majority of Homelands – ‘remote communities’. The agenda for this was not necessarily spruiked by assimilation, though this would be its tool, but by a bent to take possession of the vast interior of Western Australia and its top end for resources extraction, various development, for commercial interests, for ‘food bowl’ and agribusiness economics. They want no hindrance. The near total erosion of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act is a clear indicator of the fact that they want to make it easier for developers, commercial interests and miners. In the last year more than 70 per cent of the State’s sacred and ceremonial sites have been deregistered.

The threat to close down Homeland communities is not about a municipal bill, not about ‘viability’. Once again, what is happening is not about assimilation, it is about exploitation. Assimilation is being used cruelly and evilly used to allow for the plan to exploit the vast interior and the top end.

The shutting down of services in communities is nothing new – in 2013, the Western Australian Education Department closed a school in a community near the Northern Territory border suggesting that there were not enough children to justify a school. But there were, when compared to other schools. They could have replaced the on ground school with a school of the air program, but they did not. That speaks for itself. The Education Department and State Government told the community that they could send their children to the next closest school – 194km afar in Warburton. The majority refused to leave their community. But one family did – journeying thereabouts 2,000 kilometres to Perth – to educate the six children. To their shock they found no available public housing. They had thought they would be able to secure a home in the big city, but little did they know. For six months they lived homeless in bush outskirts off a Perth highway. Each day the grandmother and the father drove their six children to school. Not a single government and non-government agency was able to assist them. In the end myself and my colleague at The Stringer, Jennifer Kaeshagen, found them interim accommodation. In the last seven years the State Government has built only 700 public houses but 48,000 people are on the waiting list. So then, should we believe that all of a sudden they are going to build a couple of thousand houses for those they will evict or starve out of their Homelands?

The Western Australian Government has a long history of neglect of the Homelands, refusing to do their bit for them in terms of social health. They refused again and again to improve, upgrade electricity and power transmissions, to ensure clean water supplies, to ensure repairs and upgrades to water tanks – this has gone on for decades but particularly so in the last decade. Therefore they have allowed for the degradation of water supplies.

Homeland communities which the State Government has racialised and neglected that are under threat include, Burringurrah in the Pilbara, Beagle Bay in the Kimberley, Blackstone in the Goldfields. The Goldfieds’ Warburton will come under a lot of scrutiny. With the Kimberley, where lay the highest concentration of Homeland communities, One Arm Point is under scrutiny, Yakanarra may well be starved of services, Biridu too. Surprisingly, the Pilbara’s Jigalong which fought a long battle for clean water may be hit.

Other Kimberley Homeland communities under threat include Bayulu, Bow River, Dodnun, Galuroo Gorge, Guda Guda, Jarlmadangah, the beautiful Kalumburu, Koorabye, Mindibungu, Mowanjum, Ngurtawarta and Woolah. There are many more. I am surprised by the threat to Jarlmadangah and Kalumuru but this another story.

Other Pilbara Homeland communities facing looming threat include Barrel Well, Cheeditha, Chirrata, Jinparinya, Karalundi, Kikwirrkurra, Parngurr, Pia Wadjari, Punju Njamal, Marta Marta, Mingulathandoo, Wandanooka and Yandeyarra. There are other communities to be targeted too.

Other Goldfields Homeland communities include Jameson, Tjuntjuntjarra, Wannan and Warakurna. Many more communities to be targeted.

If my sources are ‘wrong’, then it is up to the State Government to come out and say so, to put to rest once and for all who is safe and who is not, who is being audited and who is not, to tell it as it is. I was concerned about publishing this story because I do not want to create hysteria, I do not wish to unsettle people, but for goodness sake hysteria has been smacked in by the Western Australian Government, by the Premier, by the Prime Minister.

The Kimberley has the highest concentration of Homeland communities in the nation and was presumed as the region that would be most heavily impacted but at this time it appears urgent for Government to ‘clear’ as much of the Pilbara as possible – the Pilbara is the engine room of the nation’s mining ‘boom’.

The Government keeps on saying it will not push people off their lands but at the same time is sending in ‘auditors’. One minute the Government is saying they are not going to close communities and the next minute they are saying that many of the communities are ‘not viable’. One minute they are saying the auditors will identify what assistance the communities need and the next minute they are saying they cannot provide services to all of them. The Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett fronted the Perth leg of the national rallies on March 19, and galled the 1000 protesters with “step into my shoes” inherently signifying that the ‘audit’ will lead to closures.

There is huge respect in facing the people, and it was the right thing by Premier Barnett to do on March 19, but for him to get it right altogether he needs to just tell it as it is from the Government standpoint. Without the whole of the truth there will be hysteria whereas with the truth, there will be an us verse them campaign and if this is the best democracy can offer well then it should not be denied to the residents of Homeland communities.

STORY 2 Barnett’s office has provided a statement. Source: Croakey

While the Western Australian Government engages with Aboriginal people, there will be no sudden changes and nothing will happen overnight. Western Australia’s Regional Development Minister Redman visited Broome to meet the Alliance of Aboriginal Land Councils earlier this month and there will be further discussions with communities and relevant agencies before changes are made.

The withdrawal of the Australian Government’s funding in this area has heightened the need for the Western Australian Government to review funding and delivery of these services. The reality is that maintaining 274 Western Australian remote communities is not sustainable.

In time, there will be changes to where and how the Western Australian Government invests in regional and remote areas, but no decisions have yet been made.

One part of the investment review process will concern funding for essential and municipal services in remote communities.

The State of Western Australia will not make any funding changes for at least 12 months, and during that time, essential and municipal services in the communities will continue largely “as is”.

This process will take time and any changes that ultimately occur will be carefully managed and involve close consultation with local communities and local governments.

His office provided this list of the 274 permanent remote communities in Western Australia, as tabled last year in Parliament: http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/publications/tabledpapers.nsf/displaypaper/3912310ca46fe4aa73894bf748257d9c000c3c9c/$file/tp-2310.pdf.

Story 3: Scullion denies remote WA communities will be ‘shut down’, says State Government needs to communicate plans

By Nicolas Perpitch

Indigenous communities in Western Australia will not be shut down and the State Government should tell Aboriginal people that, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says.

WA Premier Colin Barnett flagged the possibility up to 150 communities could be closed after the Commonwealth withdraws funding for essential services.

Rallies were held around the country on Thursday to oppose the plan, and several AFL players and actor Hugh Jackman have since joined the movement.

Mr Barnett told protestors at the Perth rally Aboriginal people would not be forced from their traditional lands or communities.

The Premier was loudly booed when he asked protestors to put themselves in his shoes and as he explained it was his responsibility to ensure children were educated and safe. A woman shoved him as he finished his speech.

Mr Scullion met with WA Nationals leader and Lands Minister Terry Redman in Canberra on Wednesday.

He told the ABC today the WA Government should meet with Aboriginal people and let them know communities will not be closed.

“I met with one of the ministers from the West Australian Government yesterday and made it very clear that a sit down with the mob is well overdue,” Mr Scullion said.

“They’re not closing communities. That would be really useful to tell them, that would be a really useful thing to tell them at the moment.

“You can’t have a conversation about someone’s future without them being involved in it.”

“The West Australian Government plans to sit down with every single community and talk about the long-term viability and talk about where they need to make more investments [and] in what communities.

“Now, the message that is out there now is a completely different message.

“There’s a 150 communities who have absolutely no chance of being shut down.

“And yet they’re considering that, they’re worried about that, and I’ve said constantly, you can’t have a conversation about someone’s future without them being involved in it.”

State Government plans not communicated well: Scullion

The Federal Government last year announced it would withdraw funding for WA remote communities from June this year.

It was part of a wider deal with Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania to hand over responsibility for essential services at remote communities to the states.

Nothing in this approach will limit people’s access to country for cultural purposes.

WA Lands Minister Terry Redman

At the time, Mr Scullion described it as a “historic agreement” and said essential and municipal services had always been the responsibility of state and local governments and it should be no different in this case.

However, then-WA housing minister Bill Marmion said it had not been an agreement but an ultimatum given by the Federal Government.

Mr Scullion believed the issue could be resolved but the Barnett Government needed to be clearer.

“They haven’t communicated what they’re going to do particularly well,” he said.

“And my message is: you need to bring that on.

“You need to be talking about that now. You can’t wait until June.

“This is a very serious matter, and it can be resolved.

“The Premier [and] the West Australian Government need to sit down with the people and tell them exactly what’s going on.

“They’ve told me what’s going on, but I’m not one of the recipients of services in Western Australia.”

Mr Redman said he recently told Indigenous groups in Broome the State Government would not be successful without the strong support of Aboriginal leaders.

“I agree with Mr Scullion’s sentiment, that consultation with communities is the key and the State Government is committed to that path,” he said.

Mr Redman said there would be no sudden changes.

“Nothing in this approach will limit people’s access to country for cultural purposes,” he said.

“In time, there will be changes to where and how the State Government invests in regional and remote areas, but no decisions have yet been made.”

STORY 4 Tony Abbott’s emotive words stop discussion with Aboriginal communities by: Nyunggai Warren Mundine

Australia is one of the largest and remotest countries on earth. So it never ceases to surprise me how difficult it is to have a sensible national conversation on remote indigenous communities.

Last week Tony Abbott expressed support for Western Australia’s proposal to “close” about 150 remote Aboriginal communities. The Prime Minister raised several legitimate issues. He also suggested indigenous Australians in remote communities had made a “lifestyle choice”.

His use of words was inaccurate and unfair. Indigenous Australians in remote communities haven’t made a sea change, uprooting from the city and going bush. They’re continuing to live on their own lands, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years.

That’s not the only language problem. Talk of closing communities terrifies indigenous people living on country, invoking past instances where people were removed forcibly or driven off their land. It sends a shiver down my spine, even though I know it is not what’s happening.

Governments can’t close communities. They can withdraw services — but can’t tell people where to live.

It’s incorrect and alarmist to say communities will be closed.

There’s a legitimate debate about service allocation in remote Australia. It requires informed discussion. So let’s start with some home truths.

First, native title laws require claimants to establish a continuous connection to the land. Moving off traditional lands may mean forfeiting a native title claim. If leaving your home meant losing title to it you’d stay too. I’ve proposed governments fast-track native title claim settlements and dispense with the continuous connection condition. Then indigenous people truly would be free to choose where they live.

Second, indigenous lands are the only parts of Australia where private home ownership isn’t legally allowed. People live in community housing (funded by government) or build on communal land without security of title.

Indigenous people in remote areas will be less reliant on government if they have the autonomy of home ownership. Yet initiatives to enable private home ownership are bogged down in bur­eaucratic politics and process.

Third, the West Australian proposal is a fight between the federal and state governments over who funds services to Aboriginal communities. Western Australia has plenty of remote non-indigenous communities as well as farming families living hours away from the nearest town. But I’m not aware of the state withdrawing services from its tiny wheatbelt communities, for ­example.

The Guardian Australia published a report on three small communities in WA’s Kimberley region — Jarlmadangah, Looma and Camballin — that are about 100km from Derby. Only the two Aboriginal communities, Jarlmadangah and Looma, are at risk of service withdrawal.

State and territory governments should service all communities consistently. That’s their responsibility.

I don’t believe governments have to provide a full suite of ser­vices to every remote settlement, no matter how small. They aren’t doing that presently. What they should do is focus on service delivery to the region in which communities are located, recognising that distance travel is an accepted part of life in remote areas.

For example, I’ve proposed a remote education model where one district primary school ser­vices all communities within, say, an hour’s drive and one regional secondary school with weekly boarding facilities services all communities within, say, a two to three-hour drive.

Indigenous people leaving their lands isn’t some magical solution to closing the gap. We’ve seen what happens when indigenous people leave their lands to live in bigger population centres. Look at the town camps around Alice Springs, for example, or the “expat” Torres Strait Islander settlements in Cairns. There are ample government services in those areas but still chronic welfare dependence and low school attendance. Yet on a recent visit to the Torres Strait I saw blossoming enterprise and schools with 85 per cent school attendance.

Remote living doesn’t abrogate your responsibility to support yourself and get your kids edu­cated. My family came from a remote NSW community 100km from the nearest large town. Some, like my father, moved into town. Some didn’t. But they all worked and all sent all their kids to school, some travelling two hours a day to and from high school.

Governments can’t shirk their responsibilities. Neither can individuals. Everyone has a responsibility to work and send their children to school, wherever they live. When you live in a remote community you have to accept some extra effort and inconvenience comes with that. That’s the substance of what the PM was saying. But indigenous people won’t hear that message if his language terrifies and insults them.

Language is important. Look how carefully politicians choose their words when discussing matters concerning Indonesia, for example. Careful language doesn’t prevent discussion of these matters, raising difficult subjects or even delivering strong messages. Actually, it facilitates communication. That same approach would have come in handy when the PM spoke last week.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine is chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and managing director of NyunggaBlack

 

Story 5 Positives in the remote desert

IT is unfortunate that the current debate about the closure of remote Aboriginal communities has focused more on the cost of the communities than on their potential. There are some good news stories and there is a risk that, at a time of major administrative re­organisation and policy change, we will lose the good along with the bad.

Take the Martu communities of the east Pilbara. Like all remote communities, they face challenges: the threat of closure of many communities, the desire of the commonwealth to reduce expenditure and the sense of confusion and chaos that currently dominates indigenous policy.

But they are building a distinctively Martu future, fashioned by their culture and aspirations, while simultaneously engaging with the modern economy.

One recent study highlighted how a clear strategy to align Aboriginal interests with those of the mainstream can succeed. Social Ventures Australia investigated the impact of five years of programs in remote Western Desert communities.

It found that, for an investment of $18 million over five years, the programs delivered $55m of social value, a 3-1 return on investment.

Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa works in the desert communities of Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji. Known among local Martu as KJ, it runs a suite of cultural, educational and environmental programs in these communities.

It has achieved substantial success in engaging Martu in employment and cultural activities, reducing incarcera­tion rates and destruct­ive behaviour and laying a platform for economic viability in the communities.

Martu people have only been in contact with Western society relatively recently. The older people living in the desert communities walked in from the desert in the 1960s. They retain strong language, law and culture and an intense knowledge of their country. They returned to the desert in the homelands movement of the early 80s, less than a generation after leaving a fully traditional life.

KJ’s activities with Martu are built on the commonwealth’s ranger program, under which it employs 35 permanent staff and another 200 casually each year. The ranger program has been successful throughout much of remote Australia, engaging communities in activities that deliver environmental value to the Australian population, while allowing Aboriginal people to fulfil cultural obligations and teach their young about their country.

By looking after a large, fragile landscape of high ecological value, Martu are working for the mainstream Australian popula­tion. The study accurately identifies this as a key to KJ’s success: Martu are doing what they value, while the mainstream values it enough to pay.

Importantly, broader social programs have been built on the back of the ranger work. The leadership program teaches 30 young Martu adults corporations law, native title, governance and fin­ance.

They visit corporations and not-for-profit organisations, learning and becoming confident and comfortable with mainstream people and concepts. They combine this Western learning with cultural advancement. These young people are keen to learn, where that will empower them to help their communities.

By demonstrating the effectiveness of its approach, KJ has grown to the point where non-government sources now provide half of its funding.

The study shows how intract­able and often too-visible social problems have been effectively addressed: high levels of drinking, crime and incarceration.

The researchers concluded that, over five years, the West Australian government had been saved $3.7m through a reduction in incarceration of 41 person years and a further $4.2m in costs of alcoho­l-related crime.

A sense of pride, confidence and purpose has been instilled in young Martu, addressing a deficit that cripples many remote communities. Government should foster this progress, not put it at risk by careless decisions.

Fred Chaney is a former Coalition minister for Aboriginal affairs.

STORY 6 WA premier withdraws royalties help for struggling Aboriginal communities

  Writing in the Guardian

Colin Barnett says state mining royalties will not be used to support ‘unviable’ remote communities hit by federal funding cuts

Mining royalties will not be used to keep open “unviable” remote Aboriginal communities, the Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, has said. The move scuttles a lifeline thrown by WA National party leader and regional development minister, Terry Redman, in December.

Redman said in December the $1bn “Royalties for Regions” fund, which is drawn from 25% of the forecast mining royalties paid to the state, could be used to support 274 remote communities threatened with closure after the federal government withdrew funding for essential services in November.

But Barnett said on Monday that Redman had been “misunderstood” and that the royalties cash would instead be used for things like required investment in power generation or water supply systems to those communities, which was an “appropriate and proper” use of the fund.

“But we are not, and I stress, we are not simply going to replace the amount of money withdrawn by the commonwealth,” he said.

Asked whether the money would be used to keep the communities open, he indicated it might, “in some, where there’s a case for reinvesting”. In other communities, he said, “that’s not viable”.

That is a stricter reading of the use of royalties than the state’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Peter Collier, gave Guardian Australia on Monday.

Collier reiterated that royalties would not fill the gap left by federal money, but said Redman’s offer of using the development fund was a “positive commitment” that could be used to support those communities determined to be “sustainable”.

“There’s not going to be a blunt line in the sand … It will not be a ruthless financial decision,” he said.

Collier said there would be changes to the number and structure of communities, in consultation with the Aboriginal community – but admitted that substantive consultation had not, as yet, taken place.

Collier said the cabinet sub-committee on Aboriginal affairs, which he chairs, would “obviously” be liaising with Aboriginal groups but would not hold meetings in the communities slated for closure.

“To actually go out and go to all the communities is just nonsensical,” he said. “Consultation in a generic sense will continue.”

Barnett and Redman are also on the subcommittee. The latter told the West Australian in December that he would put a Royalties for Regions funding model for remote communities before cabinet for approval in the May budget.

About 80 of the 150 communities Barnett suggested in October might close are in the Kimberley.

The Kimberley Land Council, which heard about the funding cut through the media, is still waiting to see the government’s criteria for a “viable community”.

Anthony Watson, a Nyikina Mangala man and chairman of the land council, said remote communities wanted to work with the government to develop a viable long-term solution. He said so far consultation had been “not good”.

“They call it consultation but it’s never been a situation when we actually sit down and resolve these issues,” Watson said. “We really would like a genuine discussion. We’re saying to the premier: come and sit with us.”

Watson said they wanted to be told which communities the government considered “unviable” so they could help those communities improve, and said they wanted to see a housing package accompany any community closures.

“We have got a lot of homeless people in Broome that are not being cared for. So if you do close these communities down you need to put the services in place to support the people that come,” he said.

Watson said many groups in the Kimberley were still reeling from being moved off country in the 1950s and 1960. “To go back to square one is just bringing nightmares to a lot of families to relive,” he said.

The Kimberley Land Council is organising a meeting with WA’s other major land councils, to be held in Broome in March, in order to talk to the government. Both Collier and Barnett will be invited.

The opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman, Ben Wyatt, said it was unacceptable that organising a meeting was left up to Aboriginal groups.

“The arrogant contempt that both Mr Barnett and Mr Collier have for the Aboriginal community, where they refuse to even visit remote communities but are content to sit in Perth and decide if they are ‘viable’, is breathtaking,” Wyatt said.

“It shows total contempt for the impact of government decisions in times gone by. Some of these remote communities are located where they are for very specific reasons.”

Wyatt accused Barnett of showing “faux concern” by mentioning education and health outcomes.

Barnett said on Monday that some communities were “not viable” because of education, work, and health outcomes, as well as drug and alcohol problems.

Wyatt said concerns about health and education should be addressed by funding health and education, not forcing people to relocate.

“How are health and education outcomes going to be improved by forcing people to move into shanty towns at the edge of larger town centres?” he said.

MAT and Sandy

NACCHO Position statement on closure of remote communities

Now we are seeing these poor policies from the past continue in Western Australia today with the closure of regional communities. It’s time to learn from the mistakes of past policies, listen to Aboriginal people and reverse this decision. It seems we are a long way off reconciliation if even our Prime Minister doesn’t know that Aboriginal people living on Country is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ but an integral part of identity and culture.”

Matthew Cooke NACCHO chair pictured above with NACCHO Deputy chair Sandy Davies (from WA)

The peak Aboriginal health organisation today joined the chorus of concern about the closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and subsequent comments made by the Prime Minister in relation to ‘lifestyle choices’.

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke said the physical, emotional and spiritual health of Aboriginal people is tied to their connection to Country. Dispossession is one of the key reasons we have for the existing health gap between Aboriginal and other Australians.

“Time and again we see evidence showing that when you remove Aboriginal people from their land, they lose their sense of identity which has profound impacts on their health and wellbeing.

“Aboriginal people are suiciding at alarming rates, almost a third of Australia’s jail population is Aboriginal and as a People we can expect to die 10-17 years younger than other Australians.

“This is primarily due to the historic dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, generations of racism and entrenched poverty and disadvantage.

“Now we are seeing these poor policies from the past continue in Western Australia today with the closure of regional communities.

“It’s time to learn from the mistakes of past policies, listen to Aboriginal people and reverse this decision.”

Mr Cooke said he was astonished that the Federal government could talk about reconciliation and promote constitutional recognition for Aboriginal people whilst closing remote communities.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister has displayed so little understanding about Aboriginal culture and the importance of connection to Country today.

“It seems we are a long way off reconciliation if even our Prime Minister doesn’t know that Aboriginal people living on Country is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ but an integral part of identity and culture.”