Article on the Closure of Remote Aboriginal Communities

klc-chairman-anthony-watson

Mr. Anthony Watson (Chairman of KLC)

The KLC has attacked the Closure of remote communities plan for lacking detail and said it was insulting to Indigenous people.

Premier Colin Barnett said he wanted to ensure “children are safe, that there are education and employment opportunities and social and economic stability in remote communities”.

While the Premier did not repeat his claim that up to 150 communities were “unviable” and faced closure, he did say there would be significantly less Aboriginal communities operating at the end of the process.

The Kimberley Land Council has attacked the methods of consultation, which the Government expects will start within weeks.

In a statement, the KLC said the establishment of regional advisory councils and district leadership groups “lacked thought and substance”.

Speaking on the phone from Sydney, council chairman Anthony Watson said the announcement demonstrated that the Premier and the Indigenous Affairs Minister had no real intention of addressing Indigenous issues.

“The Barnett Government hasn’t come out with a real plan,” Mr Watson said.

“They want us to have this steering committee and it’s good to have a steering committee but are we going to have real say, real engagement towards addressing the needs of our community?

“Because advice has just gone nowhere and it’s just demonstrated over many decades that the government has failed us.”

Mr Watson said real engagement with communities should bring good outcomes.

“We’re looking forward to the engagement, so we can reassure our members that we’ve got certainty towards having a better future and addressing a lot of the social issues within the communities so I do expect the Government to come and engage with us.”

Mr Watson said there needed to be a combined effort to deal with duplication of services.

“If there are duplication of services right through the region, then this is an opportunity to work with us to make real changes and we’re still waiting on the Government to work closely with us.”

Former federal Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney warned in November that if Aboriginal people were not involved in any process of closures, the consequences would be catastrophic.

Mr Chaney has now welcomed the Barnett Government’s announcement, particularly the reassurance that there is no imminent threat of closures.

“I think there has been a high level of uncertainty and fear and I think there’ll be a lot of relief at what the Government has announced,” he said.

The former co-chair of Reconciliation Australia said the commitment to consultation was most important because Indigenous people felt they were being left out of the process.

“I think the ministerial committee has got the appropriate people on it and I think they’ll be people capable of guiding this in a good way, they’re all people who’ll bring value to the exercise,” Mr Chaney said.

“The important thing is the commitment to careful consultation with the Aboriginal people involved, with the communities involved because to work against them would be a disaster so I think there’s been a real step forward.”

But the Indigenous advocate warned that if any communities were to eventually close, the basic question remained as to where people would have to go.

“The critical problem for the Government is first of all to decide whether communities are going to continue or not, but then, should some communities not continue, what is going to happen to the people?

“If they’re going to become fringe dwellers in Broome or fringe dwellers in Fitzroy Crossing or Halls Creek or wherever, their circumstances will not improve.

“Their educational prospects will not improve their employment prospects will not improve.

“The obligation on both the Federal and the State government is to ensure that people who live in remote communities are sufficiently educated to be able to live in the two cultures and are sufficiently work ready to be able to work if they leave those communities.

“To do otherwise is to condemn them to a really impossible and dreadful life on the fringes of towns.”

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This last point is worth exploring more as towns such as Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby and Broome are already experiencing unacceptable pressure on their services as a result of an influx of people from outlying communities.