The CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Services Western Australia, Noongar man, Dennis Eggington has called the call to close the communities of First Peoples an outrage. He warned “it will be catastrophic” for people to be “forced off their land, their Country.” Outrage and even hatefulness of Western Australia’s Government and of the Commonwealth Government have spread to communities. Residents of remote communities are horrified and so too are fair-minded people right throughout the nation.
“Western Australia is more concerned about profits than people,” said ALSWA CEO, Dennis Eggington.
“How can you even contemplate removing people from their land when it is the very essence of their being?”
“What kind of society have we become when our most disadvantaged are targeted even more than we ever thought possible?”
“If our people were pastoralists living in remote WA, we would be supported, accommodated and rewarded for our efforts. Yet, because we are Aboriginal people who perhaps don’t share the same materialistic values as our non-Indigenous counterparts, we are seen as not being ‘viable’ and we should be ‘removed’ – there’s that term again.”
“Mining companies have the green light to carve up Aboriginal land. We supposedly live in the ‘lucky country’, yet our poorest, most disadvantaged are once again being targeted and shunted around, with little or no regard for the health and well-being of those community members, or the regions they will be moved to.”
“We are First Nations Peoples, who have survived for thousands of years by living on a land that owns us. We respect our land, we respect our Culture and to be ordered from our Traditional lands is an international disgrace,” said Mr Eggington.
Amnesty International has pleaded to the Western Australian Government to drop plans to forcibly evict First Peoples from their homeland communities. Amnesty Australia’s Indigenous Peoples Rights manager, Tammy Solonec said “it is hypocritical for Premier Colin Barnett to admit that closing communities would be traumatic for people” but “still move ahead with plans to evict Traditional Owners from their homes, breaking their connection to land and culture.”
Ms Solonec said that the Government’s assimilationist agenda was a haunting one with “echoes of tragic policies of the last century, which removed Aboriginal people from their homelands.”
“It has been nearly 50 years since the poor execution of the basic wage policy and lack of planned integration forced many Aboriginal people into towns in Western Australia. Those people are still healing from the consequences and trying to reconnect with their culture. The WA Government needs to learn from the lessons of the past.”
Ms Solonec criticised Premier Barnett who she said “made a public pledge last month to reduce rates of Indigenous incarceration.”
“It is not enough to pay lip service to this, while enacting policies he admits will traumatise Aboriginal peoples.”
Amnesty’s 2011 Homelands report states that First Peoples living on their homelands “extends life expectancy, improves health outcomes and reduces rates of domestic and other violence.” The report rejects press statements by Governments that state otherwise. The report states that living on homelands “allows Indigenous people agency and decision-making, provides people connection to their land and culture, and reduces their exposure to the damaging influences in larger towns.”
Ms Solonec was critical of the municipal services funding spat between the State and the Commonwealth.
“The rights of people in remote communities must not be a buck that is passed back and forth between state and federal governments.
“The well-being of Aboriginal people and their communities is an important of our country and society.”
“It is the State’s responsibility to provide all communities, whether urban or rural, with essential services such as health, education and law and order.”
Ms Solonec said that forcibly evicting people from their homes and “denying them a right to practice their culture is a breach of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples.”
Shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Yamatji man Ben Wyatt, and the member for the Kimberley, Kija woman, Josie Farrer will meet with Kimberley communities that will be affected by the Government’s decision to close down remote communities.
“Since the Abbott Government abandoned its responsibility to remote Aboriginal communities, the only response from Mr Barnett, leading a rickety old Government bereft of ideas, is to announce the closure of 150 remote communities,” said Mr Wyatt.
“Of particular concern is that the Federal Liberal Minister, Nigel Scullion, announced that Mr Barnett had been discussing the closure of remote Indigenous communities for a number of years. It seems the only people Mr Barnett hadn’t been discussing the issue with is the remote Indigenous communities he is seeking to close.”
Mr Farrer said that is “terribly worried” about the impacts.
“The larger towns and communities are simply not in a state to accommodate an influx of people from the remote communities that Mr Barnett wants to close.”
“By stating publicly that he wants to close 150 communities but not identifying which communities, the Premier has created great distress and uncertainty across the Kimberley. My office has been inundated with phone calls from people all over my electorate anguished about their future.”
The Northern Territory parliamentarian Alison Anderson said that closures to 100 to 150 communities across the border would impact Alice Springs.
“Western Australia is creating problems for everyone, for the Territory and for South Australia.”
Ms Anderson said there will be large-scale social chaos and it that communities from across the border such as Kiwirrkurra if closed down, the residents will influx Territory borders towns and communities and Alice Springs.
“Where are these people going to live?”
Ms Anderson made the salient point that the majority of the communities that the Western Australian Government is seeking to shut function well.
“They want us to be like them, White fellas, and not live in remote communities.”
Ms Anderson said in many of the communities people are employed and that the communities are well maintained and happy.
But Premier Barnett said they “are not viable.”
The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre coordinator Wes Morris said, “In financial terms what the Premier is saying is pure and utter nonsense. The cost of building houses for displaced persons would be considerably higher than the cost of keeping communities going. Not to even begin a discussion of the human, personal costs,” said Mr Morris.