NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Roadmap for Regional and Remote Aboriginal Communities launched

WA

 “The roadmap outlined new approaches to support families to succeed, including working collaboratively with Aboriginal communities and focusing resources on prevention, earlier intervention, capacity building and family empowerment.

“The Government will also engage with Aboriginal communities that want to reduce alcohol-related harm by introducing or strengthening restrictions on alcohol supply and consumption,”

Regional Development Minister Terry Redman and Child Protection Minister Andrea Mitchell released the ‘Resilient Families: Strong Communities’ roadmap, which sets out 10 actions the State Government will undertake in partnership with Aboriginal people to strengthen families, improve living conditions, increase job prospects and accelerate education outcomes.

The ministers launched the roadmap in Kununurra after more than 12 months of discussions with Aboriginal leaders and communities about their aspirations for the future.

The WA Government has laid out its plan to overhaul the servicing of Aboriginal communities, with Indigenous leaders involved in the process describing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for change.

The future of WA’s 274 Aboriginal communities has been under the microscope following Premier Colin Barnett’s comments that the State Government could no longer afford to keep funding all communities, and some would have to close.

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The unit formed eight months ago to review the future of Aboriginal communities will today release details of the changes planned.

The report — described as a “roadmap for Regional and Remote Aboriginal Communities” — outlines a focusing of funding and support on larger communities, and a withdrawal of the minor services currently delivered to more than 1

Mr Redman said the roadmap was a milestone in the Government’s regional services reform and was a long-term commitment to change, supported by immediate actions and engagement with Aboriginal people on specific focus areas.

“The poor living conditions and general lack of opportunities for Aboriginal people in regional WA are not acceptable and must change,” he said.

“The status quo is unacceptable.  This roadmap marks the beginning of a transition to a new way of working – one which builds opportunities and strengthens outcomes, while maintaining access to country, culture and kin.”

Ms Mitchell said the roadmap outlined new approaches to support families to succeed, including working collaboratively with Aboriginal communities and focusing resources on prevention, earlier intervention, capacity building and family empowerment.

“The Government will also engage with Aboriginal communities that want to reduce alcohol-related harm by introducing or strengthening restrictions on alcohol supply and consumption,” she said.

The 10 priority actions are:

  • creation of a $175 million fund for extra housing for Aboriginal families in the Kimberley and Pilbara over four years, tied to greater participation in school and work
  • a three-year $25 million Kimberley Schools Project targeting improved attendance, engagement and learning in Kimberley schools and communities
  • ensuring residents of Aboriginal town-based reserves receive the same services and have the same responsibilities as other residents of nearby towns, starting with a $20 million project in the Pilbara
  • creating work opportunities for Aboriginal people by changing how the Western Australian public sector recruits staff, lets contracts and buys goods and services in the regions
  • identifying up to 10 communities by the end of 2016 with which to work to upgrade essential and municipal infrastructure, and introduce commensurate charges
  • working with community leaders and organisations in Roebourne in 2016–17 to co-design a reorientation of Government-funded services to respond better to local needs and achieve better local outcomes
  • publishing mapping of Government-funded services in the Kimberley and Pilbara during 2016–17 to support work between government agencies, other organisations and communities on developing place-based service systems
  • commencing an initiative in Kununurra in 2016–17 with community leaders and organisations to co-design a family-centred, earlier intervention service delivery model to support and enable better outcomes for local families
  • continuing to support the trial and evaluation of the Australian Government’s cashless debit card in the East Kimberley
  • working with the Australian Government to implement the Compulsory Rent Deduction Scheme in WA.

Mr Redman said the State Government would invest over time to upgrade essential and municipal infrastructure such as power, water and roads, starting in larger remote communities that had the most potential to grow and be sustainable.

Fact File

  • About 12,000 Aboriginal people live in remote communities in WA
  • Regional services reform is focused initially on the Kimberley and Pilbara and will expand to other regions over time
  • The $175 million housing program, $25 million Kimberley Schools Project and $20 million town-based reserves project are supported by the Royalties for Regions program
  • ‘Resilient Families: Strong Communities: A roadmap for regional and remote Aboriginal communities’ is available at http://www.regionalservicesreform.wa.gov.au

However Regional Development Minister Terry Redman has emphasised no-one will be forced to leave the smaller bush out-stations, even though small government contributions, such as fuel subsidies, will be withdrawn. 

“One of the not-negotiables in the work we did, was that we’re not going to remove, or force Aboriginal people to be removed from land, and access to their culture and heritage, access to their kin,” he said.

“So what’s imperative in this, is if someone wants to stay living on the land, living where they’ve always lived, they can do so.”

The 120 communities that have less than 10 residents, or which are only occupied occasionally, will therefore be required to be self-sufficient, while resources are focused on larger centres.

“By the end of the year, we’ll identify 10 of the larger communities and sequentially start coordinating investment into key municipal infrastructure, to give them much better service delivery around water, power, sewerage and the like going forward,” Mr Redman said.

“It may even be some of the bigger centres, where there is access to employment and good quality education, that they could get transitioned into a town.”

Tough decisions needed to ensure future success

The Premier’s comments in December 2012 prompted a widespread backlash, with protests held in capital cities across the country to emphasise the rights of Aboriginal people to remain living on their traditional country.

But Aboriginal leaders who helped develop the remote reform roadmap being released today have urged communities to come on board with the process.

Putijurra woman Kate George, who has been providing feedback from communities in the Pilbara, said the proposed changes are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Aboriginal people.

“I’m optimistic, because the principles in the roadmap document are the things we’ve been advocating for a long time,” she told the ABC.

“So here is an opportunity, but we’ve actually got to go for it. And for me as an Aboriginal woman, I’m saying to the Aboriginal leadership we actually have to grab this, because I don’t think the sushi train’s going to come along too often.

“When you look at our culture and our communities, and the way we’ve lived in the past, there have always been rules. We’ve just been caught up in chaos for the last 55-plus years, and I think everyone wants some order.

“There will have to be some tough decisions made, but ultimately we need to get back to a situation of peace and prosperity.”

Reform process still a mystery to many

But those sitting outside the process appear far more ambivalent about the reform process that will change their lives over the next few years.

The ABC this week visited the community of Pandanus Park, 60 kilometres south of Derby and home to about 100 people.

Local woman Patricia Riley, who runs the community office, said neither she nor the other local families knew anything about the remote reform process.

“I don’t know if it will benefit our community, not just our community but the remote communities,” she said.

“We’d love to have more funding allocated back to our remote communities, and have employment for a proper CEO.

“I’m doing my best trying to get childcare funding up and running, a telecentre to have literacy and numeracy programs, and have the internet services running properly.

“Because now, the majority of people are on Centrelink, and we’d like to get them off Centrelink and get proper employment for them.”

Patricia Riley

Pandanus Park’s size and location means it will continue to receive funding, as it sits just off the region’s main highway and is only half an hour’s drive from the town of Derby.

But Ms Riley said many people had already started leaving small bush communities in the area as Government funding dried up.

“It makes me feel sad, heartbroken,” she said.

“The majority of people have moved out through lack of funding and communication, no support, so they’ve moved because they have to look for a job, so they move into towns or a bigger community that’s got jobs and they leave the little places which is their home.

“We are all struggling, especially the smaller ones. All the service providers that are supposed to be out here helping us, I don’t know what they’re there for, probably just window-dressers.

“The bigger communities, they’ve got the majority of people who got educated and got all these skills, but some of us are still left in the Stone Age.

“We’re still trying to pick things up and trying to keep the community going with whatever knowledge or education we got.”

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