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Issue #1668      December 10, 2014

This is just “redneck racism”

The Western Australian government’s move to close down up to 150 of 274 remote communities has been labelled “redneck racism”. It is the ugliest act of racism to be seen in this nation in 70 years, with many fearing it will be even more severe than the ugly racism of the Northern Territory Intervention.

Wayne Bergmann ... among a swathe of prominent First Nations Peoples’ leaders who has condemned plans by West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett to close down up to 150 remote communities.

Elders, advocates and former politicians have warned the Colin Barnett state government closure of the communities would lead to a further spiral of suicides, despair, homelessness, to an irreparable breakdown in trust between First Peoples and governments but also to hate.

According to Elders and advocates, Premier Barnett has resorted to scaremongering and lies about child abuse and substance abuse to justify the need for the closures. But 90 percent of the communities are not affected by suicides or by substance abusing or by any pronounced social dysfunctions. The vast majority of these communities are poor and they are neglected by governments but they are not in any social chaos.

“It is just all lies by Premier Barnett about what is happening in our communities,” Wongatha Elder, Pastor Geoffrey Stokes said. “Kick the people out of the communities and they will finish up homeless. Kick the people off their Country and you will break them further.”

Pastor Stokes journeyed 600 kilometres from Kalgoorlie to speak at a rally on the steps of state Parliament last month calling for the protection of the remote communities while inside Parliament at the same time the Premier was justifying his call for the closures.

“For nearly two centuries here in Western Australia the Black man and Black woman have been trodden on, smashed, even had the White man trying to bleach out the Black from us,” Pastor Stokes said. “It does not stop. They drag us off Country in chains, relocate us, dump us, then move us again and they see the impacts, the despair and suicides and now they are going to do it to us again.”

Premier Barnett said he acknowledged the decision to close down communities “will cause distress”. He is partly right on that point. It will cause much more than just distress. He is claiming high rates of suicide, poor health and a lack of job opportunities as to why he wants to close the communities – a claim roundly rejected by First Peoples.

“What a liar! Everyone knows this is an assimilationist agenda and secondly this is a total demolition job on what is anyway the charade of Native Title rights,” Noongar advocate, Marianne Mackay said. “He is opening the interior to the miners. He is using lies to portray First People as incompetent, as aimless, as jobless, as substance abusers just so to get rid of the communities.

“The suicides are not everywhere, the substance abusing is not pandemic, like in White and Black communities it exists but you address the substance abusing where you can, you help, you do not lie and blame the whole community. Are they going to close White towns with populations of 100, 200, 400, like Quinunup, Nannup, Balingup? Of course not, this is a Black-target only agenda.

“When did this government ever do anything about poverty in our communities or about the suicides? They pretend it’s all in the too hard basket but they do so much for the White populations, build big White towns all over our Country but they want to demolish towns and communities where First People live. The racism speaks for itself.”

Many believe Western Australia is this nation’s redneck backwater – that the more west one travels across the continent, the worse it gets for First People.

All the statistics demonstrate this. Western Australia has the highest suicide rates of First People, the highest homelessness rates, the highest arrest and imprisonment rates, the most extensive and acute poverty.

Former chairperson of the Kimberley Land Council, Wayne Bergmann, said more First People would be marginalised than before. “Homelessness will increase, overcrowding will increase. People will move into towns and houses will be overcrowded, causing social disruption,” he said. “The senior people will not want to leave their Country, their homes, because this is their Country, their home. They have lived on Country, in their homes all their lives; this is not right by any thinking to do to them.”

Bergmann warned there would be “devastating social chaos” if Barnett went ahead with his proposal.

Former Indigenous Affairs federal minister, Fred Chaney also described social chaos would follow such a decision. He said the towns the remote community residents would be relocated to would lead to “squalor”. He suggested the transition from remote communities to the big regional towns should be done “in a proper, civilised, planned way”.

But Mackay said no relocation should happen at all.

“There is no civilised way for this, it just should not happen at all. People have a right to live where they want and in how they want to live,” Mackay said.

One of the Freedom Summit’s organisers, Narrunga Elder Tauto Sansbury labelled the proposal as pure racism.

“This is ugly racism, not just deplorable; it is evil, cruel, murderous. It is treachery, betrayal, connivance,” he said. “Native Title is rubbish; it cannot even protect communities on Country. The Freedom Summit is coming because we, as the First Peoples, are betrayed at every turn.

“We will reclaim the Aboriginal rights struggle, we will come to Alice Springs as one and stand as thousands. We have no one and nowhere else to turn to but to ourselves.”

It seems remote communities are safe ... as long as they have a white population!

What do Carnamah, Condingup, Jardee, Jerdacuttup, Mingenew, Perenjori, Quindanning all have in common? Well these are remote communities in Western Australia which all feature very small populations of mostly white Australians.

The other thing they have in common is they are apparently not on Premier Colin Barnett’s hit list for closure. It appears the only remote communities the Premier has in mind are those which are remote, have small populations and are predominantly populated by First Peoples. When Barnett announced he intended to close remote communities he spoke only about First Peoples’ communities. Never once did he talk about remote communities populated by White Australians.

Why is that? If this is such a major issue why hasn’t the Premier targetted other small, remote communities which are populated largely by white people? Why is the Premier only targetting remote communities populated by First Nations Peoples?

  • Carnamah, 307 kms northeast of Perth, population 496
  • Condingup, 782 kms southeast of Perth, population 429
  • Jardee, 423 kms southeast of Perth, population 176
  • Jerdacuttup, 584 kms east of Perth, population 6
  • Mingenew, 238 kms northeast of Perth, population 283
  • Perenjori, 348 kms north of Perth, population 260
  • Quindanning, 158 kms south of Perth, population 158

National Indigenous Times

Next article – Workers’ control at the Hotel Ramada, Ecuador

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