Western Australia and the Northern Territory are home to the majority of remote communities and camps. Many of these towns and camps were conceived by Australia’s historic and not-too-long-ago apartheid. Many of the townships and camps are former missions where children were removed to as part of the Stolen Generations. Towns were created by moving people off their Country, so their Country could be stolen, pastoralised, mined and turned into freehold land. The eugenics still odours its stench into today and will do into tomorrow. The shutting down of towns and camps, an ongoing theme in the Northern Territory, is about to grip Western Australia.
Communities up to four generations old that have been dealing with the traumas of the past will have more trauma and displacement to deal with again. They will be starved out of their communities, services phased out, their townships shut down, and then the majority of people relocated to larger towns.
Western Australia is home to 274 remote First Peoples communities – the most in the nation. Of these communities, 94 are categorised as ‘camps’ and 180 as communities or towns. The Commonwealth Government is doing a number on these communities by withdrawing its responsibility and funding for the majority of these communities – 180 of them. The Western Australian Minister for mines, energy, housing, Bill Marmion issued a statement condemning the Commonwealth’s move. Minister Marmion said that the Commonwealth’s action was “reprehensible” and would more than likely leave little option for Western Australia but to close “unsustainable camps.”
Minister Marmion said that it would cost Western Australia $10 billion over twenty years to “sustain” these communities. But the Commonwealth has withdrawn $45 million per year from the remote communities, which will affect these already starved communities. But the Commonwealth spend would have totalled to $900 million over twenty years, not $10 billion.
The State Government has a terrible record in doing next-to-nothing for remote communities, in treating these communities as second-class citizens, in dishing out inequalities, and lo and behold in closing down community services and towns. Just prior to Christmas last year, a family of eight left their community from near the Northern Territory border and lived homeless for six month on the outskirts of Perth while getting their children to school every day. Their community’s school had been closed down and they were told that the children could go to a school in Warburton, 194 kilometres from their own community. Eventually, we crossed paths and I found them interim housing because the Department of Housing and other agencies were not able to.
Last year, the State Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs, Peter Collier, reduced funding to resources to schools right across the State, but with the biggest cuts hitting Aboriginal remote schools.
Three years ago, the Kimberley town of Oombulgurri was shut down and its 62 homes and other buildings are now being razed into oblivion. Many of the former residents are homeless and there have been suicides. Seven per cent of the Kimberley is homeless, with nearly 100 per cent of this homelessness comprising First Peoples.
Eleven years ago Perth’s Swan Valley Nyungah Community was shut down and all the residents evicted, with many finishing up homeless. Former residents have died homeless on Perth’s streets. But there is minimal press coverage of this tragedy.
The Commonwealth will fund Western Australia $90 million for a two year “transition” – in other words the closing down of as many communities as possible. The old arguments of isolated communities disadvantaged by distance just do not wash. Mining towns whisper their way in but next-to-nothing done is forever the way for remote communities. They are not remote communities to those that live in them. You never hear of non-Aboriginal towns threatened by closure – it’s a racialised issue, it is more of the same-old apartheid.
Minister Marmion said the State Government had no choice but to accept the Commonwealth’s position. This is a bullshit statement, as the State Government has in the past refused to agree to Commonwealth partnerships and agreements – education, health and homelessness policies and deals that other States and Territories did agree to.
“This was not an agreement, it was an ultimatum. We had a gun pointed at our head,” said Mr Marmion.
The Commonwealth has withdrawn $45 million in funding per annum but Minister Marmion then slated out the potential total cost of municipal and essential services to all 274 communities of which the State certainly has various existing responsibilities for – and that with forward estimates could cost between $3 billion to $10 billion over two decades.
Minister Marmion said that because of the “Commonwealth withdrawing its responsibilities (closing some communities) may well be an outcome.”
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion said, “Providing essential and municipal services in towns and cities across Australia has always been the responsibility of State and local governments and it should be no different in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
Labor shadow minister for native title and treasury, Yamatji man Ben Wyatt pointed out that Western Australia did not have to accept the agreement. Mr Wyatt said South Australia has refused to accept the agreement.
Mr Wyatt said that the State Government should commit to funding the shortfall but the State Government will not comment.
“This funding cut will have devastating long-term impacts on remote Aboriginal communities and many will not survive,” said Mr Wyatt.
“This funding cut will simply mean remote communities will be unable to deliver essential services.”
“It will force Aboriginal people to move from remote communities into regional centres that do not have the capacity to take on large increases in their population.”
Mr Wyatt stated that once again remote communities have not been consulted. He said that Western Australia “has failed to stand up for people in WA’s Aboriginal communities in the same way the South Australian Government has.”
Western Australia is a Australia’s backwater, maltreating worse than anywhere else on this continent its remote communities as if they comprise second-class citizens or as if they are to be considered as third-world living.
On November 5, a rally will be held on the steps of the Parliament House of Western Australia – an outcry that communities should not be closed down, which appears self-evident to most people and which has been on the table for a long time. The November 5 rally follows the September 16 rally which saw hundreds of protesters, many from Land Councils and Aboriginal organisations, gather at Parliament House to reject the State Government’s proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act which amount to nothing more than open slather for the robber baron mining giants.
They have declared that the Prime Ministerial Indigenous Advisory Council led by Bandjalung man Warren Mundine is not only an embarrassment to First People but it is an insult to suggest itself as an advisory body representative of the First People of this continent. According to these icons of the freedom and rights struggles, the Indigenous Advisory Council, now one-year-old, has abysmally failed First People.
The National Summit will be held in November with a call out to all the legitimate representatives of First People to attend. It is expected that from the Summit an Assembly of First People representatives will be formed. There will be a representative for each Country speaking to their issues and hopes. This Assembly will then head to Canberra in the anticipation that the Federal Government – the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Tony Abbott will meet with them.
“It will not be possible for Prime Minister Abbott to refuse to meet with the duly elected representatives of every Aboriginal region of this land. To reject meeting with an Assembly of all our people, of all the people of this land, would be an insulting slap to the face to all our people, past, present and future. It would be an unbelievable act of racism,”
said Mr Sansbury, chair of the Narrunga People.
“The Indigenous Advisory Council has only one option, and that is to resign. If they have any dignity left, they should resign immediately. It is one year in office and they have not delivered a single outcome for Aboriginal people anywhere in the nation.”
“If you want to remain credible in the eyes of Aboriginal people you take the bottom-up approach, you elect people from the communities to represent their people. You do not do this handpicked approach of ‘advisers’ as the Prime Minister has, picking people only who will say and do the Government’s bidding.”
“Government is now a threat to small communities. They are looking at closing them down, moving people on into other hardships. This has been disastrous thus far, creating many social problems.”
“This whole agenda of moving our people around is what has led to so many of the current problems, the poverty, the arrests, the suicides.”
These three seasoned stalwarts of the First Peoples rights struggle each have more than forty years of fighting for their people. Now, they are bringing together representatives from all over the continent. In my travels around the continent of late, as word spreads of what these gentlemen are doing there is a buzz and people saying this is the way it should have been all along. If the Assembly of First Peoples arises from the National Summit many already believe it will be significantly historic, hugely supported and more than likely arrive as the greatest challenge this Government will face “in having to at long-last at least deal with our people.”
Australia’s prime minister took his government and the media to the NT to better understand the needs of Indigenous Australians. We’re already awash with that knowledge
Reminiscent of a vintage anthropologist, the prime minister grasps the head of an Indigenous child trying to shake his hand. He beams, as if incredulous at the success of his twin stunts: “running the nation” from a bushland tent on the Gove Peninsula while “taking the nation to war”. Like any “reality” show, he is surrounded by cameras and manic attendants, who alert the nation to his principled and decisive acts.
But wait; the leader of all Australians must fly south to farewell the SAS, off on its latest heroic mission since its triumph in the civilian bloodfest of Afghanistan. “Pursuing sheer evil” sounds familiar. Of course, an historic mercenary role is unmentionable, this time backing the latest US installed sectarian regime in Baghdad and re-branded ex-Kurdish “terrorists”, now guarding Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Hunt Oil et al.
No parliamentary debate is allowed; no fabricated invitation from foreigners in distress is necessary, as it was in Vietnam. Speed is the essence. What with US intelligence insisting there is no threat from Islamic State to the US and presumably Australia, truth may deter the mission if time is lost. If yesterday’s police and media show of “anti-terror” arrests in “the plot against Sydney” fails to arouse the suspicions of the nation, nothing will. That the unpopular Abbott’s various wars are likely to be self-fulfilling, making Australians less safe, ought to be in the headlines, too. Remember the blowback from Blair’s wars.
But what of the beheadings? During the 21 months between James Foley’s abduction and his beheading, 113 people were reportedly beheaded by Saudi Arabia, one of Barack Obama’s and Abbott’s closest allies in their current “moral” and “idealistic” enterprise. Indeed, Abbott’s war will no doubt rate a plaque in the Australian War Memorial alongside all the other colonial invasions acknowledged in that great emporium of white nationalism – except, of course, the colonial invasion of Australia during which the beheading of the Indigenous Australian defenders was not considered sheer evil.
This returns us to the show in Arnhem Land. Abbott says the reason he and the media are camped there is that he can consult with Indigenous “leaders” and “gain a better understanding of the needs of people living and working in these areas”.
Australia is awash with knowledge of the “needs” of its First Peoples. Every week, it seems, yet another study adds to the torrent of information about the imposed impoverishment of and vicious discrimination against Indigenous people: apartheid in all but name. The facts, which can no longer be spun, ought to be engraved in the national consciousness, if not the prime minister’s. Australia has a rate of Indigenous incarceration higher than that of apartheid South Africa; deaths in custody occur as if to a terrible drumbeat; preventable Dickensian diseases are rampant, including among those who live in the midst of a mining boom that has made profits of a billion dollars a week. Rheumatic heart disease kills Indigenous people in their 30s and 40s, and their children go deaf and suffer trachoma, which causes blindness.
When, as shadow Indigenous health minister in 2009, Abbott was reminded by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous people that the Howard government’s fraudulent “intervention” was racist, he told Professor James Anaya to “get a life” and “stop listening to the old victim brigade”. The distinguished Anaya had just been to Utopia, a vast region in the Northern Territory, where I filmed the evidence of the racism and forced deprivation that had so shocked him and millions of viewers around the world. “Malnutrition”, a GP in central Australia told me, “is common.”
Today, as Abbott poses for the camera with children in Arnhem Land, the children of Utopia are being denied access to safe and clean drinking water. For 10 weeks, communities have had no running water. A new bore would cost just $35,000. Scabies and more trachoma are the result. (For perspective, consider that Labor’s last Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, spent $331,144 refurbishing her office in Canberra).
In 2012, Olga Havnen, a senior Northern Territory government official, revealed that more than $80m was spent on the surveillance of families and the removal of children compared with just $500,000 on supporting the same impoverished families. Her warning of a second Stolen Generation led to her sacking. This week in Sydney, Amnesty and a group known as Grandmothers Against Removals presented further evidence that the number of Indigenous children being taken from their families, often violently, was greater than at any time in Australia’s colonial history.
Will Abbott, self-proclaimed friend of Indigenous people, step in and defend these families? On the contrary, in his May budget, Abbott cut $534m from the “needs” of Indigenous people over the next five years, a quarter of which was for health provision. Far from being an Indigenous friend, Abbott’s government is continuing the theft of Indigenous land with a confidence trick called “99-year leases”. In return for surrendering their country – the essence of Aboriginality – communities will receive morsels of rent, which the government will take from Indigenous mining royalties. Perhaps only in Australia can such deceit masquerade as policy.
Similarly, Abbott appears to be supporting constitutional reform that will “recognise” Indigenous people in a proposed referendum. The “Recognise” campaign consists of familiar gestures and tokenism, promoted by a PR campaign “around which the nation can rally”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald – meaning the majority, or those who care, can feel they are doing something while doing nothing.
During all the years I have been reporting and filming Indigenous Australia, one “need” has struck me as paramount. A treaty. By that I mean an effective Indigenous bill of rights: land rights, resources rights, health rights, education rights, housing rights, and more. None of the “advances” of recent years, such as Native Title, has delivered the rights and services most Australians take for granted.
As Arrente/Amatjere leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says: “We never ceded ownership of this land. This remains our land, and we need to negotiate a lawful treaty with those who seized our land.” A great many if not most Indigenous Australians agree with her; and a campaign for a treaty – all but ignored by the media – is growing fast, especially among the savvy Indigenous young unrepresented by co-opted “leaders” who tell white society what it wants to hear.
That Australia has a prime minister who described this country as “unsettled” until the British came indicates the urgency of true reform – the end of paternalism and the enactment of a treaty negotiated between equals. For until we, who came later, give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.
Andrew Bolt is advocating cultural genocide of the Aboriginal peoples on his 1/8/14 blog.
He is the the rapist blaming his victim.
“We see this too often – that the blame for a general dysfunction in Aboriginal communities is put not on Aboriginal culture but non-Aborigines.
This is not merely false. It also encourages us to fix everything but the real problem.
The blunt truth is that the “stronger” the Aboriginal culture the poorer a community tends to be.”
What does he mean by ” the stronger the Aboriginal culture the poorer the community tends to be”?
Yes there are problems. Problems that date back to settlement. Alcohol, drugs, social engineering all have had an impact on fragmenting Aboriginal culture.
The Amish in the US are fragmenting as their youth are being seduced by influences outside sex, drugs, crime and disaffection is a problem for them as well. Does Bolt suggest Amish are weak I doubt it. Largely this arrogant Malvern spruiker addresses no specific issues offers no specific solutions other than get rid of Aboriginal Culture…Cultural Genocide
This reply by Sam put’s Bolt’s idiocy into perspective. Self interest financial personal gain are foreign values. 50 years ago Aboriginies were just fauna as far as our census was concerned. They had no vote. They had no land or right to equal wages ,yet they could go overseas fight & die for this country. Changes have been made and communities influenced. Where does Bolt get off blaming their culture?
Sam a reply to Bolt is worth reading.
“It is not the aboriginal culture but rather an imitated American gang style culture, fuelled by alcohol, drugs and a complete disrespect and ignorance of the historic aboriginal culture. I could show you hours upons hours of videos of disturbances, so disgraceful and appalling of men, women and children fighting in the streets, talking like gangsters on the streets of LA, all in clear view of small children. Make no mistake, the drug culture is not something just thrust upon these communities by outside influence but rather a entirely new under culture fuelled from within, supported by so called ‘elders’ within the communities for pure financial greed and when brought to account, out trots the cultural aspect card so distorted again, for pure personal greed. Thankfully in that time I saw a great many well respected leaders within the communities stand up to the disgusting behaviour and lead by example, talking down those who sought to erode their cultural beliefs for their own personal gain. All too often though, the activist types attached to various other departments made more noise, again to serve their own positions and self interests, overshadowing the good people in the community and warp the issues instead of tackling the problems that existed. Interestingly there was an identified 62 different community groups representing indigenous people in that one community, of which we saw very little to no interaction in that area. I will always take away something I was told by an elder one day, who stated, “We just want to be treated like everyone else, not special or different because we are aboriginal…”
Being Aboriginal is not an illness, nor Assimilation the cure. Communities have problems which need to be addressed and addressed as they are anywhere. Are the current drug issues in Melbourne significant of a total cultural change or lack of infra structure to tackle the issue? Crystal meth is an issue that cuts across all youth and cultures in Australia.Where does Bolt suggest we find an answer.