The Barnett government has unveiled a radical overhaul of services and spending in the state’s 274 remote communities, declaring the $4.9 billion rolled out each year on indigenous programs in Western Australia was like a “noodle nation” of duplication and waste that was delivering poor results.
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.”
Quote and picture above from Sandy Davies NACCHO Deputy chair More Remote Communities like Yulga Jinna in Yamatji Country WA 60/70 People, small school, Children Happy. These Communities built in special places. Family Happy on Traditional Land
The remote communities plan, inspired by the way Hope Vale in Queensland’s Cape York was run, will take power from bureaucrats and install advisory councils of Aboriginal leaders.
Premier Colin Barnett confirmed he believed the process of reform would result in a significant number of community closures in coming years, though he did not repeat the estimate of between 100 and 150 that he volunteered in statements last November. Those comments triggered angst and protests across Australia and as far away as London,Berlin and New York.
“You can find images of Aboriginal communities and say ‘that is third world, that is poverty’ and the images do reflect that,” Mr Barnett said yesterday.
“But it’s not through poverty or a lack of income.”
He said his government would not simply say what was “easy or nice”.
“We are going to confront the issues. We will do it in as sensitive a way as we can, respecting Aboriginal people and their cultures and their families but the time for turning a blind eye to this is gone,” Mr Barnett said.
He said the reform process was an opportunity to achieve genuine change.
“And yes, at the end of the process I expect there will be significantly less Aboriginal communities operating,” he said. “But I expect also opportunities for Aboriginal people and particularly children will be greatly enhanced.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier said that, under the plan, the government would assess the employment, education, child protection and healthcare options available to Aborigines in remote areas to find ways to ensure those services were provided in the most efficient and effective way. “This is a long-term plan that will be put in place in close consultation with Aboriginal communities and local governments,” Mr Collier said. “That consultation process starts within weeks. There are about 12,000 Aboriginal people currently living in 274 communities in Western Australia, some with only one house and one family in them. That is simply not sustainable.”
Reform will be led by the state’s Child Protection Minister Helen Morton, who will oversee human services in the communities, and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman, who will oversee remote infrastructure and development. Both are members of Mr Collier’s subcommittee on Aboriginal affairs, which has been working on the plan for two years.
Yesterday they the federal government’s decision to hand responsibility for infrastructure, municipal and essential services in remote communities to the states had brought the issue to a head, but that the reforms had been coming anyway.
Yesterday the Barnett government revealed it was prepared to spend more than it currently did on some Aboriginal communities, partly through the multi-billion-dollar Royalties for Regions program that quarantines mining royalties for rural projects.
The government will soon call for nominations from Aboriginal leaders to join Regional Strategic Advisory Councils for the Kimberley and Pilbara, which will act as a liaison between government agencies and local communities.
The guiding criteria is to ensure all children go to school, that communities are safe places for children and that communities offer purposeful occupation. It is also meant to cut down on duplication, waste and what Mr Barnett yesterday described as “a confusion of services”.
Mr Barnett pointed to the example of Roebourne in the Pilbara where 206 services were delivered to 1400 people at a cost of more than $58 million a year. “(There is) lots of goodwill, lots of good intentions but very poor results,” he said. “Imagine the situation for an Aboriginal family (in Roebourne), it must be almost every day that someone is knocking on their door saying ‘we are here to help you’. That is inefficient, ineffective use of public money and totally confusing for the families in those communities.”
Mr Redman said the changes could bring transformational change to remote communities within a generation. He said he had been inspired by reforms on Cape York and visited Hopevale last weekend where he saw children whose education was not limited by their remote location.
He said the Hope Vale example, in which Aboriginal residents become commissioners who make rulings and important decisions about their community, had helped him also to see that there would be resistance from some.
“There’s a lot of organisations that provide service support for these communities that will have a vested interest in keeping the status quo so you would expect that you will have some rough roads in moving through a group or company that had some vested interests in service provision,” Mr Redman said
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